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Heather Perkins

How would you describe your music?

Electro-acoustic nerdcore nature beat. Quirky pop. Funk Rock. Cartoon music. "All of the above." I am a shameless (no apologies!) style mixer.

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

I am a one-woman operation. I do all the sound and music, and make most of the decisions. I collaborate primarily with visual artists - choreographers, animators, film-makers, video game producers.

Describe your gear.

"Electric and acoustic guitars, nyckelharpa, clarinet, sax, synthesizers, handheld and gestural electronics (AirFX, theremin, Kaoss pads, etc.) Waterphone, uke, dulcimer, Omnichord, Stylophone - and multiple other percussion instruments, noisemakers and the like.

I own an operate a computer-based electro/acoustic music, sound and recording studio, which is also a project studio for my commercial work doing music and sound design for multimedia and performance."

Related Themes: Gear

Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

"I do think it's different. I think the answer is fairly complex. As a female electronic musician, I do find some gender disparity. (May I climb up on my tiny soapbaox? OK.)

Societal conditioning that women somehow can't grasp technology, eems to still persist. It does still seem as if music, especially electronic music, is a male-dominated field in every sense of the word... so many factors. As a sometime teacher, I've found women to be disproportionately shy about learning electronic music - but once encouraged, off and running like any creative person. So I do think many of the factors are external, at least to begin with.

And to reference the thread on teaching, I absolutely feel that when I perform and/or teach, part of why I do it is to encourage others to create - and I consciously think of encouraging other women, especially younger women just starting out. There were no women doing this kind of music that I knew of when I was starting out.

My own experience has been mixed. I have been doing electronic music since I was a teenager, and my male friends did not discourage me - in fact, they would actively encourage me, gladly showing me how to work a reel to reel, or create a patch on a synthesizer. So I experienced creative community early on, and my gender was not - or at least, not always - a factor.

That said, as a musician and budding technician, I encountered a lot of negativity too. Things like playing music with a bunch of guys, leading to the inevitable ""Hey, you play pretty good for a girl!"" - or browsing a music store for a mixer or other piece of gear, and being roundly ignored by the (male) sales staff. Or, even worse, eyeing a guitar or synthesizer and having the salesman come up and ask if I was looking for a gift for my boyfriend. This is rare now, but still does happen.

In the 90s, on (mostly male) digital audio listservs, I would sometimes tentatively call someone on their sexism (like the guy who wrote at length about why it was good to have female studio interns - don't ask) and get instantly called out as a humorless feminist. (The latter may be true, but the former is definitely not!) Or when I would write in to a music magazine about sexist gear ads, which seemed to assume that only sex-obsessed heterosexual men would consider buying a piece of audio gear - and then only if a female model was draped over it - and get slammed in print for the same. I don't carry a chip on my shoulder, but that kind of derivative stuff demeans both genders.

But for me, none of that was really a deterrent. In fact, I think it may have spurred me on, having a rebel streak and all.

As I grew as a composer, I continued to have mixed experiences. In graduate school I did find that the male students, who made up 90% of the classes, also dominated the discussions and critique sessions, and not just through strength of numbers. As a result, I missed out on a lot of give and take in grad school because the guys hogged the discussions. Overall, it was a fairly egalitarian environment, but it was dominated by the guys. It was not some grand scheme to shut out the women, it just seemed to flow that way. And, to be fair, the women would kind of give up and just go into the studio instead. So it does cut both ways. Another factor of social conditioning - men dominate, women acquiesce. Both parties have to play into that for it to work.

So yeah - all of the above. For whatever reason, women are not encouraged to do electronic music. But maybe some of this lies in definition, and in exposure. There are many great composers and performers in this genre who are women: Pauline Oliveros, Laurie Anderson, Annea Lockwood, Maggi Payne, Laetitia Sonami, Pamela Z. I know once I hit ""send"" I will think of many more. And the underground and indie scenes yield some pretty exciting artists beyond these more established names. There are a ton here in Oregon alone.

So, a thought - as true as all this is, I have to say I see more and more women doing electronic music, embracing the technical, each rocking it in her own way - viola and LoopStation, turntables and samplers, acoustic instruments driving Max patches, straight up Hip Hop.

Oh, and as a side note, I have been producing the ""Electrogals"" series - concerts featuring women electronic music composers and performers - on and off for a few years. I'm working on another edition for 2010, here in Portland. I encourage others to do the same! "

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

"I see younger women being a bit more free to express themselves musically, and also having more institutionalized support (e.g., Girls Rock Camp.) I think this is of mixed value.

I also see a ton of the same old tired stereotypes - ""chick"" musicians have to be young and hot - so.... yeah. It's mixed."

Related Themes: Off The Clock

Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

"No one piece of advice stands out, but then I am making my own niche and making that work, rather than ""making it.""

Advice I would give is strictly the old cliches - be true to yourself, follow your dreams, don't let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. As long as you have a passion and something to say, you will find a way."

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

I play so many, they seem to choose me.

Related Themes: The First Time