10 of the Most Interesting Women in Experimental Music

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Laurel Halo’s debut album Quarantine is out this week, and it’s just as good as we were hoping it might be, full of strange and wonderful sounds, all topped by Halo’s distinctive vocals. Experimental music has a long and proud history of female involvement, from the work of electronic pioneers like Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire through Cosey Fanni Tutti and Ikue Mori and Laurie Anderson to latter-day examples like Diamanda Galas and Gudrun Gut. To celebrate the release of Quarantine, and the fact that there seem to be more fascinating female experimentalists around than ever, we thought we’d put together a selection of contemporary talents whose work we love — some you’re probably familiar with, some you might not be, all of them are great. And, of course, let us know your suggestions.

Laurel Halo

We’ve been very much looking forward to Quarantine, both because all of Halo’s work has hinted that she had at least one excellent album in her, and because said album is out via Hyperdub, who are one of our favorite labels — albeit, it has to be said, a rather male-dominated part of the music industry up until now. The record doesn’t disappoint, and we’re also rather amused that the first comment that appears on the Soundcloud stream of the album is “Lol don’t get this.”

Nik Colk Void

It’s entirely appropriate that Factory Floor’s resident guitar wrangler was part of a collaboration with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti — recently released as Transverse, under the name Carter Tutti Void — because if there’s any such thing as a spiritual successor to Throbbing Gristle’s unholy racket, it’s Factory’s Floor’s, um, unholy racket. Colk’s work, both with her band and on her own, is constantly innovative — we were particularly taken by her solo release “Gold E,” an ominous feedback piece that came pressed on a playable plastic record sleeve (as seen above), the idea being that the sound will change and degrade as the material changes over time.

Noveller

If your tastes lie in less abrasive directions, Sarah Lipstate — aka Noveller — might be just the ticket. Lipstate’s work is cerebral and experimental in a quietly unobtrusive manner, a sound that’s both interesting and genuinely pleasurable listening. (She’s also done time in Glenn Branca’s 100-guitar ensemble, which is right up there with a seat in one of Boredoms’ drum extravaganzas as far as experimental rites of passage go.)

Motion Sickness of Time Travel

Rachel Evans, aka Motion Sickness of Time Travel, managed the rare feat of releasing two of our favorite albums in the space of 12 months last year — both Seeping Through the Veil of the Unconscious and its follow-up Luminaries and Synastry are still on high rotation chez Flavorpill, especially on quiet evenings at home. Her ambient soundscapes are immersive and hypnotic, revealing new depths with every listen.

Grouper

And while we’re on atmospheric ambient sounds, we’d be remiss not to mention Liz Harris. As anyone who watched her play one note for an hour at the Guggenheim (above) can attest, Grouper’s music isn’t always easy, but it’s always intriguing. In a way, one could argue that hers is the most minimalist approach to music you could possibly imagine: an exploration of the infinite possibilities of a single tone. The result is almost meditative — you close your eyes and just drift away, and all of a sudden five or ten minutes have passed while you’ve been somewhere else completely.

Leila

The enduringly excellent Warp Records has been the home to some of the world’s most fascinating experimental talent over the last two decades, and foremost amongst them has been Leila Arab, who’s released two excellent albums for the label. If there’s one constant in her music, it’s unpredictability — she works from a bewildering array of sounds, fashioning them into idiosyncratic compositions that shouldn’t work but somehow hang together with their own internal logic.

Mira Calix

While we’re looking at Warp’s roster, we should also mention Mira Calix. Born with the splendid name Chantal Passamonte in South Africa, Calix makes music that works in an interesting space between genre boundaries, particularly in its combination of electronic sounds and traditional classical music — most recently, she collaborated on a year-long project called Exchange and Return with classical composers Larry Goves and Tansy Davies, which you can read about here. She is also responsible for “Chorus,” which is apparently a “a groundbreaking 16 speaker pendulum installation” — we’re not sure what such a thing might sound like, but we’d love to find out.

Inga Copeland

Half of Hype Williams and a fine solo artist in her own right. As with her Hype Williams partner Dean Blunt, Copeland is something of a mysterious figure — we don’t know a great deal about her, but we do know that we like her strange, ominous dance music very much indeed.

Amanda Brown

It was a sad day when Pocahaunted fractured into Best Coast and a band who were called Pocahaunted but really weren’t nearly as good as the real thing. Amanda Brown remained behind as the latter, but we still reckon she deserves a place on this list because a) in their heyday, Pocahaunted were amazing and b) her label Not Not Fun and its electronic offshoot 100% Silk remain two of the most interesting places in the music industry.

Aurora Halal

And finally, speaking of 100% Silk, here’s someone who — in addition to having one of the best names in music — is also part of one of our current favorite groups, Brooklyn-based duo Innergaze. We tipped them as an artist to watch in 2012, and while global domination hasn’t beckoned just yet, we still heart Innergaze. So there.