In July 1995, Brian Eno told The Wire‘s Paul Schütze that Donna Summer’s “State of Independence” was “one of the high points of 20th-century art”. He’d just been to the local record shop to buy the extended mix of the Quincy Jones-produced single. I understand him. “I Feel Love” and “Love to Love You, Baby”, Summer’s breathy je t’aimes for the disco generation sold in their millions, but those songs were more about Giorgio Moroder than they were about her voice and artistry. “State of Independence” started life inauspiciously as one written by Vangelis and Jon Anderson in 1981, but Summer’s original 1982 cover took the song into a different territory altogether. Fuelled by a massive choir that Jones had assembled and a numinous backing track, in Summer’s hands the song became a rocket to an earthly heaven. It’s the gospel equivalent of a Verdi chorus.
The lyrics weren’t Summer’s (and let’s face it, they’re hardly poetry), but she imbued them with a resonance that was political, social and – at a time when Aids was emerging – humane. It’s an anthem of communal ecstasy that prefigures the chemical one, and all the more joyous for it. (And on a tangent regarding finding community on the dancefloor, something I’m thinking about as next month’s anniversary of Shoom!, Danny and Jenni Rampling’s late 1980s groundbreaking club takes place, I hope that the song makes an appearance there.)
Anne Hilde Neset, co-founder of Electra; Ana da Silva; Pauline Oliveros; Anat Ben-David; Louise Gray
Getting Pauline Oliveros open for Her Noise’s current Tate Modern programme – Feminisms and the Sonic – (organised by Electra and Tate Modern) was a real coup. Here’s an artist whose work has stretched from the start of concrète and electronic music to the present. Oliveros played a new solo work for a Roland V-accordion, Listening for Life/Death Energies, and delivered a keynote speech on a series of younger women composers, each with her own way of making her own noise. A performance of Oliveros’ extraordinary 1970 piece for ensemble – To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation – was played on the bridge of the Turbine Hall.
Oliveros spoke about her decision at the age of 16 to become a composer, one taken at a time when gender conformity in music was high (earlier, she’d mentioned that in infant classes, drums were taken away from girls to replaced with more ‘feminine’ instruments like a recorder!). The growth of the women’s movement in the early 1970s gave her a new direction: “I had harboured such desires to live beyond gendered roles for a long time,” she said. And she spoke of her introduction to electronic music via four-hour Sunday morning concerts broadcast on KPFA in the Bay Area. They were weekly epiphanies: “Electronic sounds expressed my inner listening.”