I Finally Realized I’m a Sound Artist

Nadia Botello. Photo by Mike Jackson, alrightmike.com

Nadia Botello is a sound artist, experimental composer, sound designer (and former synchronized swimmer!) based in Philadelphia. She is an advocate for women in electronic music (see: the illustrated history of women in electronic music at filiamusica.com), teaches children deep listening and the science of sound, and has composed, performed, and installed numerous works in LA, Philadelphia, and New York. If this weren’t enough, she is a loyal and present friend with a playful and courageous spirit. Learn more about her at www.nadiabotello.com.
– Alisha Adams, curator

I’ve been involved in the electronic music and sound communities for well over a decadeI started going to raves (and producing them) as a very young teenager, learned how to audio engineer at sixteen, tour managed and did event production, went to Sweden and wrote/recorded an analog synth improv record at twenty-one, got into sound design when I lived in Los Angeles for a number of years, learned how to build synthesizers, found myself collaboratively scoring experimental opera and dance, found a reason to begin performing live, made my way into the art world “proper,” and much more.

Despite all this time and experience, I often hesitated to identify as a “sound artist,” “experimental composer,” or “sound designer” until one pivotal evening in Los Angeles when I saw Suzanne Ciani give a retrospective and Q&A on her work and career as a composer and sound designer. She was a pioneer of modular synthesis and commercial sound design, and is considered one of the “godmothers” of new age electronic music. Listening to her that night made me realize that I was on a similar path, and it was incredibly empowering to see a woman engaging and succeeding in traditionally male-dominated areas of work. After that night, I sought to learn as much about the history of women in electronic music as I could. Because even though I had been creating it for years, I had a very limited idea about the vast influence many women had on the medium (and the tools to produce it!). Suzanneand the stories of these women—gave me the confidence to claim these identities, pursue a sound-based creative practice full-time, and (most importantly) to make my own way.

Over the last six months or so, I’ve been trying to connect the various women working in and around electronic music (broadly defined) across Philadelphia. As a creative community, Philadelphia can often feel compartmentalized; the academics are hanging with other academics, DJs are out with their crews, DIY artists are clustered in basements and warehouses, “fine artists” are showing in galleries, etc. There’s certainly a bit of cross-over, but why not traverse these worlds a little more? Philadelphia is home to some talented and wonderful women studying, performing, and engaging in electronic music practices. Connecting with each other (and the greater community at large) is something I’d really like to encourage. I believe there’s power in presence, visibility, and the sharing of knowledge and resources. We have so much to learn from each other.

Below are a few resources that I consider “jumping off” points to delve into a more comprehensive (but still incomplete) history of women in electronic music. Important for anyone who listens to, enjoys, or is curious about electronic music . . . but especially for women (and young girls) to know—our paths and creative practices are strengthened because of them. These are some of the women who came before. Let’s honor their influence.

Listen: Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938-2014)

Watch: Suzanne Ciani’s sound design for Xenon (pinball)

Read (books): Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound by Tara Rodgers // The Feminine Musique: Multimedia and Women Today and “On Writing for Multimedia” by Sabrina Peña Young // Women Composers And Music Technology in the United States: Crossing the Line by Elizabeth Hinkle-turner // Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice by Pauline Oliveros

Read (online): More articles & resources on women in electronic music

Photo by Mike Jackson, alrightmike.com

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2 Comments on "I Finally Realized I’m a Sound Artist"

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Sabrina Pena Young
2 years 8 months ago

Great post and thank you for sharing The Feminine Musique: Multimedia and Women Today! There is a very strong tradition of women in music technology and experimental composition, perhaps because historically there are no centuries old precedents that preclude that one has to be male to excel at this art form. Last year I gave a TED Talk on creating my opera Libertaria via online collaboration. I think another strong aspect of technology is how it has allowed all artists to connect easily across the globe, which means that many women can surpass the barriers by sharing through social media. Congratulations on your work! Best! – Sabrina Pena Young, Composer Libertaria: The Virtual Opera. sabrinapenayoung.wordpress.com