Her Jazz Noise Collective: “We Are The Majority.” – Mel Mundell

Who mixes blanket forts and band practice, hand holding and harsh noise, circuit bent toys and dissonant solos, feedback and the female voice? Her Jazz Noise Collective.

Her Jazz is a group of self-identified (trans-inclusive) women who are sound artists, noise musicians and those eager to learn in Vancouver and, more specifically, the Coast Salish Territory. Not in fact a band, Her Jazz is “a radical, posi-core community interested in dialogue about equality, privilege, gender, power and personal experience,” according to their mission statement.

Founding member Aja Rose Bond (of Diadem, In Flux and DJ Tapes) said Her Jazz Noise Collective’s original inception was inspired by “a lack of women making noise in Vancouver.” Named in reference to Huggy Bear’s British Riot Grrrl anthem, ‘Her Jazz’ holds the same motivations as early ‘90s American riot girls who formed bands in response to the male-centric DC punk scene. “As far as we knew there were no other ladies making noise in the city,” stated Bond who, alongside In Flux band mate Erin Ward (of Shearing Pinx, In Flux and Les Beyond), had been making noise together for roughly four years. “There were ladies at our shows, there were ladies buying merch, so why were there never ladies on the stage?” Bond said. In Flux members joined forces with Ora Cogan, Larissa Loyva (of Kellarissa, the Choir Practice and P:ano) and Arlie Doyle (of Burrow Owl and the Internet) to form Her Jazz. But the spring after the collective began they were faced with the tragic death of a young audience member, musician and collective-friend. Although Her Jazz was already in action, they couldn’t help feeling they had come too late. “What difference would a group of really supportive women peers do?” Bond recalled wondering at the time. Early Her Jazzers could see with events happening like the Her Noise Festival in the UK in 2006 that “things were happening in the international community, [there was] something in the way in Vancouver. Initially […] women […] who didn’t identify as musicians [joined Her Jazz] because they were essentially promised that this was a safe space”, explains Bond.

“There are less women in ‘noise’ than other genres, especially harsh noise,” said Amberleigh Forsyth (of Red Clover and Dawt). “Noise is pretty much a dude fest.” Bond, who has a habit of tallying the gender ratio at noise shows, agrees. “It is one to ten female to male performers on stage consistently,” she said. When asked about her motivations for joining Her Jazz, member Rachael Wadham (of Attn: Diamond Shoppers and Brooch Post) explains, “There is a connection that women have with one another that really creates a solid ground to stand on. That’s not to say that there isn’t a connection between men and women, it’s just different.” For Jennifer Clarke, choreographer, dancer and yoga instructor, she finds in Her Jazz Noise Collective, “A welcoming, positive energy that makes me feel like I can make art.”

“Besides Laurie Anderson, there really weren’t any women to look up to,” Ella Collier said when asked about role models in the noise movement when she was growing up. The group agrees. Yoko Ono, as well as contemporary Finnish based Islaja, Bay area artists Grouper and Eva Incaore, and now defunct UK all female noise collective Leopard Leg, have all been sources of inspiration. Interestingly enough, almost all the members cite each other as major influences. Because a background in sound art is not required to join Her Jazz, the collective provides mentorship with skill sharing as a key component, evident in the number of local kick-ass experimental projects in Vancouver containing Her Jazz members. As a trained musician in the western tradition, Sidria Pony finds comfort, “playing music that isn’t perfect,” in Her Jazz. Bond, also coming from a theoretical music background, defines noise as “a complete rejection of western music theory” and has gone through a process, similar to what many experimental musicians describe, of unlearning mainstream musical practice. PrOphecy Sun (Dance Troupe Practice) approaches sound art with physicality, and describes creating noise as, “an extension of my body and my practice.”

Although Her Jazz has received negative backlash for not admitting men into their primary membership, the collective encourages men’s involvement in other ways and chose to “focus on the people that do support us” according to Bond. Collective member and Fake Jazz Wednesdays co-producer Anju Singh (of Ahna) has received a lot of interest from men attending workshops, for example, in the use of contact microphones, and welcomes their involvement. When asked about trans-inclusivity, Bond explains that “anyone who has identified as a women at one point in their lives” is welcome to full membership. Pony explains that the collective has an “ongoing dialogue about space and gender. [In Her Jazz], we are always talking about what we are doing.”

I asked members what instruments they play and they gave me a look that was part incredulity, part playful. In short they play anything that generates sound and, more specifically, field recordings, vocals, homemade instruments, found objects, loops, cassettes, effects, ukulele, contact mics, open-tuned guitar, circuit bent toys, violin bow on random amplified objects, trumpet, clarinet, rhythm synthesizer, software and electronics.

Held at VIVO in conjunction with the VAG’s WACK! show on December 12, 2008, “This Summer’s Going to be a Girl Riot” showcased Her Jazz Noise Collective collaborating, DJing and making some fucking noise. Collective members Forsyth, Bond, Collier, Singh and Sun sat on the floor in a circle facing one another. Each equipped with a microphone, they generated sound by manipulating their voices through effects pedals, loops, amplifiers and mixers. Distorted, at times magnified, and almost always partially looped, the statement “We are the majority, so where are we?” is repeated. Her Jazz performances are present with intensity, communication and curiosity, not volume wars. It’s like the soundtrack of an abstract painting that one would stand in front of for hours, absorbed.

Since spring 2007, the collective has tripled their membership and organized a busy schedule performing fifteen shows since their inception. They started a record label and have produced three international/Canadian split cassette and CD noise releases. Her Jazz has also curated shows featuring female-noise experimenters Jenny Hoyston (of Paradise Island and Erase Errata) and Portland-based visual artist and musician Tara Jane O’Neil. In addition they began a weekly jam session/skill share, as well as conducting regular monthly meetings. Perhaps their highest achievement to date is the successful curatorial hosting of six interdisciplinary all-female art events entitled “Women’s Studies,” which have been held at VIVO since last March. According to Her Jazz’s blog, “This series has featured over 20 all female acts, many of which were debut performances.” Shows vary and often incorporate improvisation, movement, video, installation and even wine glass orchestration.

Her Jazz Noise Collective has also become part of VIVO’s official events programming for 2009 and they will be co-curating with sister collective Dance Troupe. The group describes seeing that many women perform in experimental forms exhilarating and surprising because: “You don’t realize you’ve never seen it until you do,” states Bond. Installation and performance artist PrOphecy Sun, who holds membership in both collectives is pleased to “encourage an exploration to open up in different mediums”. An exciting interdisciplinary season lies ahead. The first event took place Saturday, February 7, 2009 with performances and work by Ora Cogan, Square Root of Evil, a piece curated by Dance Troupe, DJ Vera and Her Jazz Noise Collective performing with a super 8 film by local artist Amber Dawn with film features by Lief Hall and Asa Mori.

Proposals for future Women’s Studies are encouraged from inside as well as outside British Columbia. Contact Her Jazz at: herjazznoise@gmail.com.

For further radical information visit: http://herjazznoise.wordpress.com.

Mel Mundell can typically be found somewhere on the Amtrak line between Portland and Vancouver, begging for a job to support an MFA researching Queercore culture at Portland State, visiting their Oregonian girlfriend and smuggling vegan donuts and cheap effects pedals over the border. Mel plays in a Anne of Green Gables concept band called, ‘Oh I See’ and compared to their more ‘Anne’ worthy bandmate, has been relegated to ‘Diana’ status, with the secret hope of one day becoming Gilbert Blythe. Mel is the newest member of Her Jazz Noise Collective.