For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 4: Pamela Z (part 4)
Looking for a way to listen to diverse creators and to support equity in the arts? Tune in weekly to For Good Measure!
In this week’s episode, we talk to Pamela Z about being a female composer of color today. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Pamela Z, visit http://www.pamelaz.com/ . Parts of this episode originally premiered on January 2021, found on Youtube, click here.
This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors, like you. Want to support For Good Measure and E4TT? Make a tax-deductible donation or sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the podcast!
Intro music: “Trifolium” by Gabriela Ortiz, performed by E4TT (Ilana Blumberg, violin; Abigail Monroe, cello; Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Below the Surface: Music by Women Composers,” January 29, 2022
Outro music: “Lake Turkana” by Marcus Norris, performed by E4TT (Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Alchemy,” October 15, 2021
Transcription courtesy of Otter.ai.
Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Intern: Roziht Edwards
[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to "For Good Measure," an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists sponsored by a grant from the California Arts Council. I'm Nanette McGuinness, Artistic Executive Director of Ensemble for These Times. In this week's episode, we continue our conversation with Pamela Z, who we spoke to in January 2021. [INTRO MUSIC ENDS] Often in your career, you must have been the only woman "in the room." What has your experience been as a woman, and especially as a woman of color, in a field that is so often male-dominated? Ah, well, I can say that, as somebody who has been doing this for many, many decades... people are wrong if they try to tell you that there hasn't been any change. It's certainly not over, it's just like, you know people who thought, "Oh, racism is over, because Obama was president [laughs], It's certainly not fixed, it's not done. But oh, it is so different. it's so much more... I can say that when I first started doing this, just the stereotyping of like, I used to walk into, when I was playing in clubs all the time, I would walk in with my gear, and somebody who was there would see me come in and say, "Oh, you're the musician? You must do Reggae. And I'd be like, "No, I don't..." And the other thing that I would get is... I would set up all of my gear myself, because, for years, pretty much for my entire career I've been pretty independent, and doing all of this stuff on my own. So I would show up at the gig, and I'd set up all my gear. And after I had it all set up, some guy would come up and go, "oh, this is cool. Who set this up for you?" [laughs] [laughs] Or wait, "Can I help you get it the way it should be?" [laughs] Exactly. [laughs] Or I would go to an electronics store or a music store and I would ask for a particular thing, "I need a quarter inch connector that's this and this or that," and they would be, "Well, what are you going to use it for?" Which was like, basically, they assumed I probably didn't know what I was doing and maybe I might be buying the wrong part, you know [laughs]. [laughs]Pamela Z:
And so that, that used to happen all the time. Also, whenever I was on a compilation album of electro-acoustic composers or whatever, I would generally be the only woman on it. And probably the only person of color on it as well. And, I mean, it certainly still is a heavily white male-dominated field, the field that I'm in, but it's much less so than it used to be. And, in some cases, women have really taken the lead, like, you know, I noticed at one point that people who were doing live performance, especially with voice and processing, but sometimes with other instruments and processing, that women were the leaders in that for a long time, you know, so that was kind of interesting.Nanette McGuinness:
But, yeah, I've noticed that people are much more... I mean, I think it happened for women before it happened for people of color. But, with festivals, you can look at the roster of who's performing especially like in my situation ... so I'm on the steering committee of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. I was one of the founders of it. The actual founder of it is a woman of color as well, Miya Masaoka, and we started this festival 20 years ago. And Miya assembled a bunch of us and said, "Let's do this festival," and we put together a steering committee. And we have been producing this electronic music festival for 20 years. I'm the only sort of “lifer” it seems, like all the other people, including Miya, that were on the original, founding steering committee are gone. But I'm still here and it's a bunch of new people. But I'm proud to say that, of all the electronic music festivals in the world, ours is, except for ones that are, specifically women's festivals, ours I would say has consistently been the most diverse and the most balanced gender-wise...Nanette McGuinness:
And so if you look at the list of artists who played on the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, you'll see just as many women as men. But if you look at all the other electronic music festivals in the world, you will see that it's not so. I mean, they are all having some women now but it'sNanette McGuinness:
hmm still, you know. What about racial or cultural diversity?Pamela Z:
That becomes a trickier territory, because I think that people are sometimes not discriminating against... a culture so much as they are discriminating against a style, a perceived style.Nanette McGuinness:
So there’s like, this thing, like people see you and assume because of what you look like that you're going to make a certain type of thing. And they're like, "Well that's not what we're looking for on our..." you know, whatever it is [laughs]. So I, it can be tricky, because it's hard to know where those lines fall. But, I can say that it's about time, that a lot of these people are suddenly getting recognition. And I do notice, and I do think that it even predates this year's BLM consciousness, that it has somehow elevated itself to the degree that now actual people outside of certain communities are suddenly aware that those communities exist and that they're being treated certain ways. Even before that, I would say maybe just a few years leading up to this, I've started to see a lot more consciousness in some – not all – but certain nonprofit organizations’ curatorial vision started to be like… it just was interesting to me that, I've been on more than one artist residency in recent years, where I was one of like, five or six African American people, not just even non-white people, but specifically African American people who were chosen in a group where, in other words, the numbers were not dwarfed completely by the numbers of people that were actually there. To the extent that I kind of noticed it, and I was like, “this is weird”. I would come out of my studio and one of the other fellows would come up and say hi, and introduce themselves, and I'd say, "Oh, hi." And then I go to get the first meal and sit down next to somebody, and that person was also... And I was just like, "Oh, there's a lot of black people here." [laughs]Nanette McGuinness:
And that sort of struck me, because that hadn't been the case in the past. So I felt like that couldn't just be an accident. It had to be like some raising of awareness that was already happening in curatorial circles, I guess. So, I thought that was a good sign. And the other part of it is that the people who were there ... you know, it's like, they weren't like just having a token, like, we need to have somebody representing this kind of work. Because the work of all of these people was so different. My work was so completely different from these other people's work. And they were all so completely different than each other. So, so that's encouraging to see.Nanette McGuinness:
[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to "For Good Measure," and a special thank you to our guest Pamela Z, for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our podcast by clicking on the subscribe button and support us by sharing it with your friends, posting about it on social media, and leaving us a rating and a review. To learn more about E4TT, our concert season online and in the Bay Area, or to make a tax deductible donation, please visit us at www.E4TT.org. This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors like you. "For Good Measure" is produced by Nanette McGuinness and Ensemble for These Times, and designed by Brennan Stokes. With special thanks to audio engineer extraordinaire Stephanie Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure." [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS]