Art Share LA opened its doors on March 8 for International Women’s Day, featuring music and the opening of the visual arts exhibit “Female Gaze.” The unified theme drew a packed gallery, with donations raised to support the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles. Performances were organized by Femme Frequencies visionaries Breana Gilcher and Rachel Van Amburgh. The goal was to honor as many musical communities as possible, and, with two stages, the sonic spectrum was well represented. Gilcher admitted that free improvisers anchored her initial concept of the evening, and this could be heard in the lineup. The creations of these female-identifying artists were able to move in so many directions, from more formal arrangements to loops and patterns, beats, choreography, and spoken word, which made for a powerful and inclusive Femme Frequencies festival.
Highlights from the evening included a performance by Lauren Elizabeth Baba: violinist, violist, composer, and improviser. Her multi-media performance of “always remember to stop and play with the flowers” involved string scratch tones, dancing, and a hypnotic ostinato interlaced with double stops that worked in tandem with the live visuals by Huntress Janos. A computer rendering of an ant loomed large onto the projected main stage in a grid of purple. What could have been interpreted as a non sequitur worked well with the music as it crawled, danced, and rotated slowly through the air, equally hypnotic in its journey.
Bonnie Barnett’s “Femme HUM” turned listeners into singers as we gathered in a circle to meditate on a single pitch. The singular note blossomed as the overtone series was introduced into the hum, allowing for the sonic partials to take shape and move across the room. Performers contributed to the fundamental in a soft yet supportive fashion, remaining a part of the circle rather than occupying a solo space.
While experiences created by Baba and Barnett resonated on the main stage, the secondary room possessed a more intimate quality. Poetry and storytelling by Argenta Walther transported listeners to vistas containing farms and big sky; Topaz Faerie gave a soulful set of beats and rhymes; and Audrey Harrer’s experimental pop and amplified harp managed to be both folksy and edgy.
Percussionist and vocalist Gingee closed out the evening with a high-energy set that showcased her skill on the kulintang, a set of pitched gongs native to the Philippines. Her hands flew over the metallic kettles, creating patterns that interlocked with her pre-produced beats and projected visuals. While the crowd remained appreciative, it had naturally petered out over the course of the four-hour festival. The dancing that Gingee encouraged didn’t quite evolve the way it might have if placed earlier in the set, but that didn’t deter her from owning the space and providing a spirited conclusion to the Femme Frequencies evening.
In a series of delightful events, none stood out more than MAIA, renowned vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist on flute, harp, and vibraphone. She emerged from the back of the hall, using the flute to signify her presence. What came next was a rich blend of languages, songs, and modalities to express herself on harp and vocals that evoked a mix of jazz and world music. Call and response techniques brought the audience into her set, built around “Nature Boy,” first made popular by Nat King Cole. “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn” she advised, “is just to love and be loved in return.” It was a poignant takeaway on Femme Frequencies, where the long-term goal is not to have an annual celebration of womxn in music but to make it more commonplace — certainly something to celebrate.
In honor of International Women’s Day, this Friday, March 8th, Femme Frequencies are putting on a festival throughout spaces of Art Share LA. The festival, which runs concurrently with opening night for Art Share’s new exhibition Female Gaze, celebrates spontaneous creation, experimental expression, and music for inner and outer harmony created by the hands and voices of those underrepresented in their sound-making fields. In an effort to affect direct action via art, they’ll also be collecting goods to donate to the Downtown Women’s Center.
Organizer Breana Gilcher found time this week to answer some questions about the festival. Complete details are on the facebook event page at facebook.com/events/2157131481018938. Here’s Breana:
First off, your lineup is fantastic, and fantastically diverse. I see a heavy dose of bass and electronics, some experimental pop, no shortage of classical instrumentation….there’s even some stand up. How’d you go about reaching out to such a wide ranging group?
The idea of presenting a festival like this first occurred to me a couple years ago when Vinny Golia, a teacher of mine from CalArts, wrote me with the name of an improvising oboist named Catherine Plugyers. There aren’t many oboe players who are also improvisers, so I was very interested and sought out her work. I discovered that not only is she an incredible musician, but she has been a part of annual concerts celebrating womxn in improvisation in London on International Women’s Day. It sparked something in me.
Though I’ve only been in LA a few years, that is enough time to have noticed the gender imbalance in the performing communities and the absence of concerts like ours. From that moment the concert was already happening for me, and I saw it happening in Art Share. It was loud, with music spilling out of every corner, creating currents that guided visitors through Art Share’s art galleries and music rooms. An aural tipping of the scales in the opposite direction. Now it’s all happening, this week!
Initially, my concept of the festival was centered around free improvisers, but this issue of representation is not just present in niche or avant garde genres – it’s everywhere. It became important to me to honor as many musical communities as possible and create a multi-representational event in which not only the performers are from a wide range of communities, but the audience as well. So often we go to shows and see the same people, and remain within our own sonic bubbles. I want the audience to show up and see some faces they know and many the don’t.
I chose the lineup by intentionally seeking out musical communities I was not well-acquainted with in addition to my own community. It turns out you don’t have to look hard to find incredible womxn artists in LA. I started with a short but substantial list, and very quickly found many years worth of festival headliners. It was difficult to narrow down for this one evening!
It’s important for me to admit that I was surprised by this. I too had been tricked into thinking that there wasn’t as large a community of womxn making work in LA because I was not seeing womxn filling the shows I was going to. In reality, womxn are innovating, creating and producing all over the place, in every field. Every one of the womxn you will see in the show on Friday is a headliner.
What can listeners expect, and what do you hope they’ll take from the show?
Listeners will experience an immersive, vibrant environment. There will be two performance spaces, a large open gallery for audience members to explore, and drinks so they don’t wander empty-handed! Musically, there will be something for everyone – attendees are encouraged to try it all. There is also a festival-wide sound healing event in the middle of the evening that everyone will be able to participate in, no experience necessary. Our hope is that you will walk away feeling inspired by the incredible sonic explorations of these womxn and compelled to find the femme frequencies in your own communities.
The goal is #balanceforbetter, this year’s International Women’s day theme. The angle of the show is to tip the scales. For one night, experience a rich dive into the voices of womxn in a submersive way. I want audience members to have the same feeling I did when I finished (or at least, stopped adding to) my list of possible performers: inspired and more closely connected to our diverse greater-Los Angeles musical community!
What are the biggest challenges you face curating and producing this event? How do you overcome them?
My co-producer Rachel and I have done a lot of small DIY show stuff (she also runs Classical Revolution) but neither of us had taken on as big a production as Femme Frequencies. We’d never done anything with so many artists, never fundraised on this level, never dealt with obtaining sponsorships. It was a harrowing undertaking at times, but our strong belief in the necessity of this event pushed us forward. The enthusiasm we have already received throughout this process is reassurance that a wide spectrum of musical communities in LA have been craving an event like this for some time.
As two cis white women, we were particularly self-conscious about our expression of radical inclusivity within this event. The celebration of womxn to us means ALL womxn, of all colors, ages, abilities, wherever they place their throne on the femme gender spectrum. Our hope is that we can build an environment that fosters healthy dialogue and the opportunity to learn about being supportive allies for all womxn.
Could you talk a bit about how the work of the partners you’ve cultivated for it, such as the Downtown Women’s Center and Art Share, relates to the show? [this is the spot to talk up the women’s center if you’d like, glad to link to them]
As a performer and oboe player predominantly, my work does not always directly take on an activist’s function. I wanted to take that opportunity with this show and create an event for Los Angeles and ALL of its womxn.
The Downtown Women’s Center (DWC) is the only organization in Los Angeles focused exclusively on serving and empowering women experiencing homelessness and formerly homeless women. Their mission states: “We envision a Los Angeles with every woman housed and on a path to personal stability. Our mission is to end homelessness for women in greater Los Angeles through housing, wellness, employment, and advocacy.” And since Art Share has partnered with DWC before, they were able to help connect us. So far we’ve raised over $3,600 and our goal is to break $4,000 by the end of Femme Frequencies!
I knew, from meeting you through Kristen Klehr, that you had an interest in concert production and putting on shows, but have mainly heard you around town as a performer. Do you see your role running Femme Frequencies as a contrast and alternative to your performance practice, or are they two expressions of the same interest?
Performing and teaching have been my primary roles in the last few years, yes. I occasionally put on small DIY improv shows for my ensemble Petrichor, and I wouldn’t say producing is a large part of my creative practice, though it became a part of it in the process of creating this show. My common motivation has been to do what I can to help foster community, and that drove my idea for Femme Frequencies in the first place. When the inspiration behind Femme Frequencies hit, I was compelled to make it happen and so the producer hat appeared in service of this event. In the words of my co-producer Rachel: Trying to balance performance, teaching, and producing (the last of which is still fairly new) takes a lot out of you, but it is also the first time I’ve felt like I am authentically expressing myself. In each of these three vocations, I’m 100% driven by the need to curate experiences that offer a deeper level of connection and authenticity for everyone involved.
Perhaps it’s far off in your mind as this first Femme Frequencies approaches, but do you see this as the start of an ongoing series?
We’re not sure yet. After having listened to so many incredible artists, we do feel compelled to showcase them. But the long-term goal is not to have an annual celebration of womxn in music like this, but to have shows like this integrated into our music culture. Our goal is more to inspire our community to choose their collaborators from the rich well of local femme artists, and increase the likelihood of more shows like Femme Frequencies happening organically.
Where can people get more info on what you’re up to?
People can check out our Facebook event and our instagram account @femmefrequencies, where we’ve been posting all about our artists, Art Share’s gallery opening, and the other exciting facets of this show we have in store!
Anything else you’d like to add?
If there is doubt remaining for anyone about the pervasiveness of incredible fem-identifying artistry in Los Angeles, this show should do the trick. We need to have these kinds of events in order to begin tipping the scales. We need to have the voices on stage reflecting a diverse audience. We need to experience and be made uncomfortable by perspectives foreign to our own.
This festival, being 100% defined by and comprised of womxn, also provides a safe space, which is still desperately needed. This show is also a place for people who don’t regularly play with womxn to discover new possible collaborators, and a place for womxn to experience camaraderie. It is a place for all to feel inspired.
To support Femme Frequencies you can make a tax-deductible donation via Fractured Atlas at fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/femme-frequencies. Details on this Friday’s festival are at facebook.com/events/2157131481018938.