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– WE FEEL CONFUSED WHEN WE SEE A WOMAN WHERE WE EXPECT A MAN.

The Danish musician, producer, writer and self-declared feminist Henrik Marstal, is coming to Boost. There he will try to enlighten us on why diversity should play an important role when forming a creative music scene. His latest book looks at the role of men in the gender debate. We had a chat with him about the gender imbalance in the Danish music industry and how we can raise engagement and awareness on this matter not only among women, but also men.

Photo: Carsten Seidel

Photo: Carsten Seidel

KODA is the Danish collecting society for composers, songwriters and music publishers. When looking at the numbers of male and female members in the society from 2011 to 2015, it is slightly shocking to read that more than 80 % are men*. The number has barely changed during that timeframe. What are your thoughts on this imbalance?

– It is definitely an imbalance, but I can't say I find it very surprising. In the past few decades of popular music, men's abilities to develop and express themselves through music has been favoured over women's. Also, the many gatekeepers of the music business have typically been men, not really looking at the imbalance as much of a problem. Another thing is that rock and hiphop especially, has derived from and is still heavily influenced by a masculine music culture.

 Why do you think there's still a lot of female instrumentalists that experience prejudice?

– Unfortunately I've both seen and heard of episodes where this is happening. I think one of the reasons might be that our perception of quality is somewhat genderized. We are so used to seeing male instrumentalists, that we feel confused when we see a woman where we expect a man. Also, instruments like electric guitar or drums, have been defined from the very beginning as masculine bastions. For many instrumentalists it is considered a virtue to be technically clever, to play loudly, to take up a lot of space. Virtues that are often expected to be fulfilled best by men.

When participating at debates or conversations about gender balance in the music industry in Norway, there are often not that many men present. What can we do to engage more men?

–I recognize this problem from Denmark as well. I think one way of engaging more men is that the gatekeepers of the music industry and artists themselves take affair by acting more self critical. The music business should have a greater focus on what genders they are signing, booking or playing on the radio. It could be a good idea to get a few influential men in the music business to come forward with their considerations – how they bring the aspect of gender into their daily work and how the fact that they are men affects their daily practice. Another idea is to increase the focus on the few female role models that exist already. In Denmark for instance, it's been important to a lot of female musicians that Prince's bass player, Ida Nielsen, was a Danish woman. Luckily she's just one of an ever-increasing group.


*These numbers are gathered from direct e-mail exchanges with KODA. 

– WE WANT TO GROW THE SYNTHESIZER POPULATION

Teenage engineering creates high quality, well designed, electronic products for all people who love sound and music. At Boost, Teenage Engineering will be a part of our Tech Showroom, presenting their Pocket Operators – a line of micro sized synthesizers developed in collaboration with the clothing brand Cheap Monday. What began with the engineers' need for new lab wear grew into a project where a line of innovative new portable synthesizers and matching gear was born. We had a little chat with the Swedish trailblazers, about hardware, creativity and the future of instrument development. 

What is the idea behind Teenage Engineering and how did it all begin? 

– Teenage Engineering is a mindset where anything is possible. We produce music related consumer products and everything started with the OP-1 portable synthesizer. We had a vision of creating the perfect synthesizer, something we wanted ourselves. Our dream machine.

You refer to the Pocket Operator as the smallest, smoothest and cheapest synthesizers ever, that still deliver premium sound, features and effects. Who is the Pocket Operator for and what has the response been?

– We want to grow the synthesizer population and pocket operators is an excellent tool for starting with electronic music. The response has been overwhelming and we've sold more than hundred thousand units all across the globe. Everyone from absolute beginners to professional users like Dead Mouse, Slow Magic and Zombie Nation is enjoying them.

When designing the first Pocket Operator, what did you regard as most important?

– The most important thing was keeping cost down. We started with setting the desired target price tag (USD 49) and took it from there. All design is based on engineering decisions and we don't have a separate design division. Ultimately we failed our price tag goal and the final price was USD 59.

In a time and age with so much development in software instruments and apps, what makes you continue to choose the hardware route? What is it that is so special about hardware?

– We are a hardware company and this is our natural choice. With an app you're not forming a relationship with a new 'thing'. Our physical objects invoke an emotional response much stronger than any app can do. We have numerous users who to this day tell us that our products changed their lives.

The Pocket Operators can all be linked and synced to one another. Photo: Teenage Engineering

The Pocket Operators can all be linked and synced to one another. Photo: Teenage Engineering

From a developer and manufacturer's point of view, do you feel that the Pocket Operator has had an impact on how people create music or are first exposed to electronic music and sounds?

– People can feel intimidated by complexity. Our seemingly simple units offer a great way to start exploring, creating and eventually expanding, since Pocket Operators are compatible with everything else on the market. This low cost tool inspire creativity, offer rich flexibility and produce a sound that can easily reach the masses.

Are you seeing any trends in the electronic instrument development field going forward?

– Products with a strong identity and optimized physical footprint. We think brands that dare to innovate and constantly review themselves are going to be more successful in the long run.

CREATIVE TECHNOLOGY FOR EVERYONE!

Mehackit is a Finnish company developing educational courses in creative technology. They are offering workshops for upper elementary and high schools in the Nordic countries and have been to more than seventy schools in Finland and Sweden alone. In June, they are finally coming our way. Mehackit will host a workshop on creative programming, using the open source software Sonic Pi. We had a chat with Tommi Toivonen, one of the instructors, about Mehackit and why Sonic Pi will make our future a brighter one.

Tommi Toivonen from Mehackit

Tommi Toivonen from Mehackit

What is the idea behind Mehackit and how did it begin?

– Mehackit wants to make technology education equally available to everyone. We started out in 2014, with the aim of making an impact on youth that were about to finish school and apply for universities. Most of them didn't have any experience from school with computer programming or robotics (1). Therefore, Mehackit started offering courses to high schools in Finland. It was an attempt at giving pupils a positive, fun and inspiring experience with technology that could influence their choice of studies. Since the beginning, we have gradually grown to offer courses in three topics: robotics, visual arts and music.

Jenny Berger Myhre, one of our conference speakers, has told us how a lot of musicians see it as an obstacle to try and integrate technology in their music once they have reached a certain age. It's as though the thought of what they feel they should've known already, prevents them from trying to learn something new? 

– There seems to be a certain fear connected to technology and programming. It prevents some people from even trying to learn the basics of coding or developing other creative skills using technology. We think it's important to break these learning barriers by teaching students how there's no need to be a genius in order to start programming. In that regard, Sonic Pi is a brilliant tool for beginners. Instead of feeling let down by the tech-side of it, the students will most likely experience how it's fun, creative and easy to learn right from the start! 

Do you organize courses in coding (with Sonic Pi) only for kids or also for grown-ups? 

– Our main focus at the moment moment is with the upper elementary and high schools, but every now and then we do courses and workshops for adults as well. Sonic Pi is a brilliant learning platform for all ages, so there is definitely no upper age limit there.

What responses have you gotten from the Sonic Pi workshops you have organized so far?

– Most of the kids and adults love it! In so many ways it's a lot more engaging to hear a pulsating drum beat or a synth line coming from your headphones, than seeing your computer display show ”Hello World!” (2). Sonic Pi is showing both students and teachers how programming is not just a technological skill, but also a creative tool that can be used for artistic self expression. Besides, the fact that the software is free and available to most operating systems, makes it easy for the students to continue learning after they finish the workshops. I think our future will be much brighter by having tools like Sonic Pi available and taught in schools, homes and who knows what other places. 

Sonic Pi is created by Sam Aaron at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. It can be downloaded for free here. We are incredibly excited about the upcoming workshop with Mehackit. More info about signing up will come soon!

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1) Robotics is the science of building devices that require the skills of programming, engineering, crafting and electronics. This video explains what robotics means in the Mehackit context. 
2) A so-called "Hello, World!" program is often used to introduce new programmers to the programming language.

-A LOT OF US UNDERESTIMATE OUR OWN KNOWLEDGE

Jenny Berger Myhre is the latest addition to our conference program. A talented experimental photographer and musician being active in a various amount of creative projects. Currently she is studying composition with fellow boost speaker Rune Rebne. In her sparetime she experiments with soldering, and builds her own modular synthesizer. Oh, and did we mention that she recently released her debut album?

Photo: Emil Kraugerud

Photo: Emil Kraugerud

When reading about all your projects, one easily gets the impression that you are deeply curious about a lot of things. Where does your curiosity come from?

– I have always been a curious person. When meeting interesting people with a certain skill or talent, I often feel an urge to explore their field of work myself. Even though I never seem to have the patience to specialize in one thing only, I have picked up on quite a few things due to my curiosity. The way I see it, having enough time is crucial for pursuing one's will to explore and delve into new things. I feel priviledged to be able to dispose a lot of my time doing things I find interesting.

What is a synthesizer module and how did you gain an interest for it?

– My partner, Niklas, has a master's degree in music technology. He is building a lot of electronics: Microphones, MIDI controllers, movable sound sculptures and synthesizer modules. Synthesizer modules are the different effect parts some synthesizers are made of. When getting to know Niklas, I got super fascinated by all his knowledge. He encouraged me to try building modules myself, and that's how it all started.

Do you think there is a particular reason why girls working with music technology are still in a minority? What does it take, in your opinion, to change this lopsided balance?

– Right from the very beginning, I think many girls end up watching the boys from the sidelines. For some reason, a lot of boys aren't afraid of asking stupid questions or throwing themselves into something new, while a lot of girls are afraid of trying something they don't master from before.

I think that the longer you postpone trying to learn something, the harder it is to begin, as you feel like you should have known it from before. In order to change the lopsided balance between genders in the music technology field, we need to create safe places where girls and women are being encouraged to take up space and explore. Places where they can learn without the fear of making mistakes or not knowing enough beforehand.

Luckily there are several good initiatives working to shift things around, but there is also a need to change attitudes towards women in the music business. Quotas might be a good tool to use when needed.

Any words of advice for musicians eager to learn more about technology?

– Most importantly: Seek courses and knowledge! Don't be afraid of being the person that knows the least. Not knowing something from before shouldn't be a learning obstacle. I actually think a lot of us underestimate our own knowledge.

I would like to encourage people with an interest for music technology to gather with other likeminded people and try to learn from each other. Also, if you happen to know someone working with music technology – ask them if you can take a look at how they work at their rehearsal space. Last, but not least: Don't ever be afraid of asking questions!

We are looking forward to following Jenny Berger Myhre further on her creative path, as well as listning to her speaking at our conference in June! To learn more about Berger Myhre's creative work, check out her website!

 

 

– THE SOONER MEN REALIZE THAT THE FEMINIST AGENDA IS IN THEIR OWN INTEREST, THE BETTER.

During the past fifteen years, Robert Franken has been involved in a considerable amount of digital platforms. He is also an outspoken feminist, and co-founder of Male Feminists Europe. We had a chat with Franken about his interest for feminism, why men should engage in gender issues and the gender situation in the digital world.

One of the striking things about debates and panel discussions regarding gender issues, is the lack of men both on stage and in the audience. Why should men engage in gender issues? 

– Men seem to be a bit anxious, indeed, when it comes down to talking about gender issues or even engaging in becoming change-agents. We still have a long way to go: from "There's no problem." to "It's a women's issue." to (finally) "It's my personal priority.". I strongly believe that we won't be able to change the ratio with only 50 percent of people involved. And: The sooner men realize that the feminist agenda is in their own interest, the better. 

A lot of women feel like they have to behave ”more like men” in order to assert themselves in working situations. What are your thoughts on that matter?

– I believe that this kind of behavior is self-defeating. It manifests a system that is discriminating against women (and a lot of men) rather than trying to change it. But it's a widespread phenomenon which needs to be tackled. 

How did you gain an interest for gender issues?

– Through a variety of perspectives. I've been a colleague, a partner, a boss, a friend, a CEO, a father - and probably much more. Every role provided me with a different look on gender issues. And every perspective motivated me to engage in the process of changing the ratio and of ending discrimination. 

 What are your experiences with gender in the digital world?

– On one hand, there's a certain awareness and transparency within some networks. But there's also the math: Only 13 percent of German startups are founded by women. The discrepancy between what people believe and their actions is striking. 81 percent of founders think that diversity is a driver for innovation and creativity, but only five percent have more than five employees with diverse backgrounds. And the "Big Four" are no role models: 84 percent of Facebooks developer teams are male, and so are 70 percent of all Google employees. 

We are looking forward to having Robert Franken as one of our main speakers at Boost 2017, and hear him speak about how each and everyone can contribute in order to reduce the gender gap.

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For more information about Robert Franken, follow @herrfranken on Twitter or read his blog, Digitale Tanzformation

OUR FIRST SPEAKER ANNOUNCED: RUNE REBNE

Photo: the Norwegian Academy of Music

Photo: the Norwegian Academy of Music

Not only is Rune Rebne (b. 1961) the composer in the world to have jumped the longest on skis – a 120 meters to be exact. He is also the initiator behind The girl project – composition, a composition program for girls at the Norwegian Academy of Music. At Boost 2017, Rebne will talk about his experiences with this project, after the program’s initial year.

The girl project – composition is heavily inspired by Rebne’s experiences drawn from leading a recruitment program for female ski jumpers through the Norwegian Ski Federation (Norges Skiforbund). From having only twenty-three female ski jumpers across the entire country, we now have roughly a thousand female ski jumpers in Norway, as a result of this program. With Rebne’s composition program for girls, he aims to create a safe arena for building knowledge and competence in music composition.

– The use of technology is often presented as crucial for the creative process when composing music. Unfortunately, boys are often ahead of girls when it comes to making use of technical gadgets. Instead of functioning as a tool, having to deal with technology can work as a barrier for the ones not feeling confident about it. However, the art of composing does not start in a computer program, Rebne says.

Rebne’s project for girls deals with elements such as understanding of art, music making, technology and text. It is genre independent and open to all girls above the age of sixteen, regardless of their previous experience with composition.

– I believe what is important, is to create a good meeting place for making music. When girls are welcomed to work together in an inspiring and safe learning environment, a lot of positive effects take place, Rebne concludes.

The girl project – composition started out with thirty girls in September 2016. The program hopes to increase the number of female composers, and potentially to recruit a higher number of girls to composition studies.  

We are very proud to present Rebne as a part of our conference program at Boost 2017, and look forward to hearing more about his thoughts on how we can motivate more girls to compose music!