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Book Review

Giving Birth to Sound: Women in Creative Music


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Giving Birth to Sound: Women in Creative Music
Renate Da Rin (ed.) and William Parker (coed.)
294 Pages
ISBN: 978-3-00-049279-2
Buddy's Knife

Every time a book about music is written, the history of music is also rewritten and musicians are included or left out, and old and new myths rejected or confirmed. This is something that many authors are conscious about, but seldom an issue that is addressed. Therefore, it is refreshing when a book like Giving Birth to Sound: Women in Creative Music pops up. It is a text that is conscious about putting a spotlight on women in creative music, since there is tendency to focus less on women and more on men when the history of music is told. The sleeve of the book humorously points this out, saying the book is about her-story, as opposed to his-story.

There are many good people behind the book, but the diverse musical threads are gathered by the editors; journalist and publisher, Renate Da Rin, and bassist, composer and philosopher, William Parker. Together they have invited an overwhelming number of female musicians, forty-eight in all, who tell about the creative process, spirituality and the role of gender in music. Each interview is composed as the thoughtful and free-flowing individual answers to a fixed list of questions, including questions like: "What is your process and system of putting music together?," "what were your personal breakthroughs in music and in life?" and "does your music have political or spiritual undertones?"

The list of fixed questions is both a strength and a weakness. A strength because the questions are considered and engaging and produce many deep insights, a weakness because they produce a somewhat recognizable pattern that is experienced as perhaps a bit mechanic if too many interviews are read in a row. However, the solution is quite simple: preferably, the book should not be read in one sitting, but instead be digested in delicate pieces where the singularity of each artist comes to the fore. The interview form works well, but not as a long narrative and it is refreshing when flutist Nicole Mitchell breaks the rules and writes a poetic essay without specific answers to the questions and when vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu starts with a poetic tale before she answers the questions.

These technicalities aside, there should be no doubt that Giving Birth to Sound: Women in Creative Music is a beautiful and necessary book that is filled with wisdom about music and life. The reader is encouraged to seek out the music of these strong individuals who work in many different genres. However, there is a bias towards improvised music. The list of musicians is long and there will be names that will be familiar to the dedicated listener, for instance, many followers of the ECM-label will know the pianist Marilyn Crispell, but there will also be many new musical discoveries. It is a generous and life-affirming book, a joyful and intellectually rewarding rewriting of history into herstory and like all the other jazz books on the excellent imprint Buddy's Knife, it is a true labor of love.

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