International Women's Day

Sound and Music


Celebrating International Women's Day with the British Music Collection.

Using the idiom of “A wo(man)'s work is never done”, an exploration was called for of what might be considered 'feminist' and 'radical' - recordings, notes, videos and scores from anyone who considered themselves to be on the margins - artistic, social, cultural, political. There were specific interests in finding: ‘Unfinished’ scores and pieces, and Noise based, Dada, Fluxus, ‘nonsense’, poetry, text sound works and graphic scores. One of the aims was to highlight work that is on the fringes of contemporary new music scenes and interweave this with the archived works of composers in the British Music Collection. 

The intention was also to broaden the archive within the restricted time and resources available by encouraging composer/sound artists to register their works with the British Music Collection. The call out and research of the archives has been intense and complex bringing unexpected, diverse surprises, and has radically altered the initial approach to the curation. In creating this exhibition and researching the archive, aural, visual and conceptual links across generations and contexts have been examined. 

The British Music Collection like many archives is in a state of change, with inherited cataloguing nomenclatures needing to be updated (classical music categorisations seem quite resilient!), and some fragile works that need digitising for access. The politics, history and semiotics of the archive and the content within - as symbols of flux, in terms of technology, aesthetics and historical context, became part of the exploratory journey to reflect upon. This is just the beginning of an 'unfinished' story and there is much more to be revealed in the British Music Collection...Poulomi Desai.

Notes for navigation:

A gallery/catalogue approach has been adopted with six sections to highlight the breadth of the collection and focus on particular aspects.

Links and lists have been included for further reading. This software doesn't allow for some external hyperlinks, therefore a cut and paste approach will have to be adopted in some instances. More information can be found under the “Details” heading on images. Only You Tube videos can be embedded, therefore some contributors have uploaded videos that reside elsewhere for reference.

The focus is on the work created and more information about the artists, composers and musicians highlighted can be found online. With regard to some materials, justifiable restrictions on the usage has dictated the format of this presentation.

Ethel Smyth and Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested
Ethel Smyth - March Of The Women - Extract from Score

'March of the Women' composed (to words by Cicely Hamilton) in 1910 by English composer and radical suffragette, Ethel Smyth (23 April 1858 – 8 May 1944). It became the theme song for the suffragette movement (Womens Social and Political Union). As well as being jailed for throwing stones at high profile politicians, she produced an array of compositions for opera, ballet, orchestras, piano, strings and brass, She was also a prolific writer of books, plays, librettos, essays and articles.  On 11 March 1903 Ethel Smyth became the first woman composer to have her work performed at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, when the Met. staged her second opera, Der Wald. Openly lesbian and radical, she personifies the idea of 'the personal is the political' and her legacy continues.

“Shirley J.Thomson is the first woman in Europe to have composed and conducted a symphony within the last 40 years. New Nation Rising, A 21st Century Symphony performed and recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is an epic musical story celebrating London’s thousand-year history, and one in which the RPO is accompanied by two choirs, solo singers, a rapper and dhol drummers, a total of nearly 200 performers” ( This TED talk gives a powerful insight to Shirley J. Thomson's motivation, practice and politics that affected many black people and still does. It also reflects some of the changes in Britain since Ethel Smyth's time. The British Music Collection reveals the contrasts in the background and concerns of black women composers and their non-black counterparts through the recordings, titles, lyrics, styles and approaches. Class, privilege, racism, trust-fund, gender identity, ability...What would you search for?

'A Child of the JAGO' by Shirley.J.Thompson  - composite photograph + link
Storytelling with the Power of Music - A 21st Century Symphony: Shirley J. Thompson at TEDxJamaica

'A Woman’s Work is Never Done' video Eliza Bennett, music Rebecca Horrox.

Electronics, voice and classical guitar composed to the short film, A Woman’s Work is Never Done. Visual artist Eliza Bennett uses the technique of embroidering her skin with callouses as a tribute to those often invisible in society, the employees in low paid 'ancillary' jobs, such as cleaning, caring and catering, all traditionally considered to be 'women's work'. 

The accompanying composition is a subtle contribution, intending generous space for the moving image. Field recordings of wind, a steam train, Swiss yodeling celebrating harvest and captured intimate sounds of the body’s breathing and movement, are electronically manipulated and juxtaposed with bagpipe drones and vocal excerpts which La Horrox sings in Gaelic and backwards, from the traditional Scottish folk song, Alain Duinn, the song of a woman waiting for her fisherman lover, whom is never to return.

'A Woman’s Work is Never Done' video Eliza Bennett, music Rebecca Horrox.
Booklet: visual-audio-thing by Claudia Molitor
Oh Du Kleines Kabinett' Score by Claudia Molitor + link
'Unwitting Scores' by     Iris Garrelfs

Unwitting scores by Iris Garrelfs is a performance commissioned for 'Forms of Ventriloquism' curated by Maria Papadomanolaki at IMT Gallery London. The performance is based on a written record by a participant of a sound walk at Elephant and Castle. Iris Garrelfs re-interprets the relationships between puppeteer and dummy, performer and score,“throwing her voice” (as the act of ventriloquizing is also known) and giving expression to another time, another place, and another’s experience, relayed by visual and textual recordings of the initial activities. Iris Garrelfs now zooms into their fragmented traces, which become unwitting scores and prompts to a performative transposition of place.

Iris Garrelfs: Unwitting Scores + link
Alwynne Pritchard - collection of scores archived at BMC + links

Since the late 1950's, graphic scores fundamentally impacted on contemporary music. New notation techniques and practices raised questions about composition, sound, time, noise and music, as well as providing freedoms beyond formal music training. Though there seems to have been a lull in producing graphic scores after the 60's, a revival seems to have ensued beyond instructions or free improvisation. What is the relationship to scores and notation for composers and performers working today in a world that is overwhelmed with access to recordings?

Map of the Moon (2004) for Orchestra and Piano by Alwynne Pritchard

The graphic score of the recording of 'Dancing on Moonbeams' by Janet Beat (1980) is one of the more unusual scores in the collection and was found by chance in an archive box, a thin sheet of folded paper tucked in-between some heavy books of scores (nearly all by male composers). Janet Beat owned the first synthesiser to be made commercially available in the UK and her early electronic pieces were composed on it. She is one of the pioneers of electronic music composition in the UK and her earliest ‘musique concrete’ pieces belong to the late 1950s. 

The score also includes an explanation of the 'symbols' and notes as follows: “Realised on a Roland 100M syntheziser with echo and reverberation units. Recorded on a TEAC 3340 with Accessit companders and mixed down through a Studiomaster 16 into 4 onto a TEAC 7300 RX dbx on. Tape: Amex 456. Master tape: 1/2 track, 2 channel, 38 cm (15 ips), NAB. Tape available from the composer. Duration: 9 minutes 46 seconds.”

Dancing on Moonbeams by Janet Beat 1980 + links

Ain Bailey's compositions encompass field recordings and found sounds, inspired by ideas and reflections on silence and absence, architectural urban spaces, and feminist activism. Works include the soundtrack for the film Oh Adelaide!, a collaboration with the artist Sonia Boyce; a live soundtrack performance in March 2011 at The Showroom Gallery, for Lois Weber’s classic silent film Suspense (1913), and Trun an 8-channel playback composition at Shunt, June 2010. In addition, Bailey also created a soundtrack for the award winning video Red She Said, 2011, by Kerstin Schroedinger and Mareike Bernien. Live electronic performances include those at Sonic CueB, June 2011 and Electroacoustics at the Sho-Zyg exhibition, September 2012. Compositional commissions have also come from mouvoir: a Cologne-based dance company, to create sound works for inclusion in the productions Beautiful Me and Cactus Bar, which toured extensively throughout Europe, including Dusseldorf, Lisbon, Stockholm and Barcelona.

Diagram for arrangement  - Ain Bailey + link to Soundcloud (see 'Details')

“What else could radio become, we ask, if not only a disseminator of information and entertainment, acoustic or digital? If radio so far has largely acted as an accomplice in the industrialisation of communications, artistic appropriations of radio can destabilise this process with renewed explorations of radio and electromagnetic  phenomena, constructions of temporary networks small or large, and radical explorations of broadcast beyond the confines of programming and format norms.” 

Anna Friz, Artist.

Nicola LeFanu - Betamax + Notes 

Nicola LeFanu - Composer 'The Story of Mary O'Neill' (1989).  Libretto by Sally McInherney. This 75 minute radio opera about a young Irish woman who leaves for South America during the potato famine of 1860. 17 voices read, speak, chant, sing in many different ways. The opera explores contemporary narrative structures. Commissioned for the BBC Singers by BBC Radio 3 and designed for radiophonic transmission (1986). 

"It never entered my head that to be a woman composer was unnatural”  Nicola LeFanu

I was very keen to hear this when I found the reference in the collection. It connected with the other works that make use of radio in different ways. When the item was retrieved, it was a betamax of works that could not be listened to, or watched, as it was fragile and had not been digitised yet. Here is the photograph of the object - the form that the works are preserved on has become part of the history of the work in the collection.

Meet Magz Hall, the artist transmitting a book across analogue radio waves

Magz Hall - Sound, radio artist and co founder of Radio Arts. 

This video is about a recent project - a ‘book-radio’ that transmits the words contained into an eternal loop, which cannot be conventionally read, rather the listener must tune to the right frequency in order to access it’s content. 

The text itself is ‘Spiritual Radio’, initially published in 1925, which sets out cleric and radio enthusiast Archbishop F.H. du Vernet’s vision of the nascent technology as a spiritually charged electrical force capable of mediating human sensibilities and the transcendent will of God in a text that is by turns visionary and often absurd in the bathetic disjuncture between spiritual promise and quotidian reality.

Molly's Song 3 - Shades of Crimson, Rebecca Saunders / Soundinitiative

Rebecca Saunder's  'Molly’s Song 3 – Shades Of Crimson' (citing Molly Bloom’s monologue at the end of Joyce’s Ulysses) continues the focus on the use of radio as an instrument for performance, sound making and broadcast. A piece for guitar, viola and alto flute with 4 radios and music boxes. Screams - breath - silence. The instructions for the use of radio noise are clear in their gentle gesture appearing in bar 165 only for 21 seconds (06:58 mins on the video) followed by a tinkling music box, creating a sense of something other-worldy.

“Radios performed by the flute and guitar players.

4 radios tuned differently:

1 and 3: white noise

2: white noise and indistinct speech

4: very high and moving frequencies

as diverse as possible. quality of radios not important.

loud but not painful. turn on (sub. F) and off together exactly”.

Extract from score - 'Molly's Song 3 - Shades of Crimson' by Rebecca Saunders.
Collage - BMC
'Seasonal Sequence - Snowdrop' - Phyllis Tate
'Gravestones' - Phyllis Tate with cuttings and a personal note

“I must admit to having a sneaking hope that some of my creations may prove to be better than they appear. One can only surmise and it’s not for the composer to judge. All I can vouch is this: writing music can be hell; torture in the extreme; but there’s one thing worse; and that is not writing it.” Phyllis Tate (1911-1987)

Original cassette donated by Errollyn Wallen
Diana Burrell - Composer file - materials available at BMC
'Yumi no Yoni' by Yumi Hara Caukwell. Link to website
Jo Thomas - Links to BMC + website

'WOMAN' AND 'WOMEN'S' search results in the archive - click and scroll - look out for:  “Man Made Uppers, Woman Made Souls” 

 A Dream of Fair Women BMC/SC/75677

A Sketchbook Of Women BMC/SC/65473

A True Woman's Eye BMC/SC/60499

A Woman Young And Old BMC/SC/36571|BMC/SC/66713 | BMC/SC/58874

A Woman Young And Old A Woman's Last Word BMC/RE/116058

A Woman's Last Word BMC/RE/116058 | BMC/SC/31915 | BMC/SC/63683

A Woman's Life and Loves BMC/SC/76987

A Woman's Life BMC/RE/106235A | BMC/RE/120126 | BMC/SC/32063

A Woman's World BMC/SC/25766

And Certain Women Followed Him BMC/SC/26393

Bustle for W.A.A.F BMC/RE/124371

Elephant Woman BMC/RE/125495 | BMC/SC/82236

God's Liar BMC/RE/121138 | BMC/RE/121139

Good Swiss Watch An' A Woman From Anywhere 2 BMC/SC/61557

Good Swiss Watch An' A Woman From Anywhere BMC/RE/115010

Green Women BMC/SC/60595

Harp Song of the Dane Women BMC/SC/72530

Harriet, The Woman Called Moses BMC/SC/63158

Heroic Women BMC/SC/81160

It All Depends On You BMC/RE/115079

Lines from the Tomb of an Unknown Woman BMC/SC/79980

Man Made Uppers, Woman Made Souls BMC/SC/62360

My Dark Heart BMC/RE/110620

Old Woman at the Flower Show BMC/RE/123091 | BMC/SC/79188

Plainsong for strings BMC/RE/116786

Propheta Mendax BMC/RE/110631

Songs Of Women BMC/SC/63699

Sun, New Moon and Women Shouting BMC/RE/120513 | BMC/SC/71379

That Women Are But Men's Shadows BMC/SC/79025

The Armagh Women BMC/RE/115482 | BMC/RE/124189

The Deaf Woman's Courtship BMC/RE/116732 | BMC/SC/69974

The Falcon Woman BMC/SC/76573

The March Of The Women BMC/RE/119527 | BMC/RE/120644

The Old Woman And The Pedlar BMC/SC/58510

The Old Woman At The Christening BMC/RE/108356 | BMC/SC/36726

The Old Woman Of Beare BMC/RE/110190 | BMC/RE/110191|BMC/SC/41330 | BMC/SC/81650

The Seal Woman BMC/SC/15327

The Singing Woman BMC/SC/37611

The Trojan Women BMC/SC/34788

The Winkle Woman BMC/SC/42123

The Woman and The Hare BMC/RE/120595|BMC/SC/73311 | BMC/SC/75935

The Woman At The Well BMC/SC/58635

The Woman by the Sea BMC/SC/80249

The Woman On The Hill BMC/RE/108653 | BMC/RE/121016 | BMC/SC/37727

The Women Of Yueh BMC/RE/105484

This Praty Woman BMC/SC/38196 | BMC/SC/70744

Three Women BMC/SC/73958

Three Women's Poems from World War One BMC/RE/119215

Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman BMC/SC/72999

UK Today Women's Special BMC/RE/118512 | BMC/SC/72402

When Lovely Woman Stoops to Folly BMC/SC/14932

Winter Sun, Summer Rain BMC/RE/115082

Woman has naught to do with fame BMC/SC/76696

Woman Young And Old BMC/RE/108260 BMC/RE/122944 | BMC/SC/74212

Woman's Moods BMC/RE/119845 | BMC/SC/74461 

Women in Love BMC/SC/78644

Feminist Improvising Group - New Sonata with Lindsay Cooper
Profile of Angela Morley - Extract
Riz Maslen in the BMC online + link
Michelle Lewis-King in the BMC online
Extract from score: ''  composed by Judith Weir, texts by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Clarissa Estés. Sung by Jesse Norman + links
'Blowing The Fuse' - Priti Paintal + link

LINKS AND RESOURCES. (Click + scroll / cut + paste)

This list is by no means definitive. If you would like more information, you can email me:


Ailís Ní Ríain |

Alison Bauld

Andrea Pazos |

Anna Friz |

Anna Meredith |

Annea Lockwood |

Audrey Chen |

Bellatrix |

Betty Roe |

Caroline Churchill |

Cecilia McDowall |

Cheryl Frances-Hoad |

Dani Howard |

Daphne Oram |

Delia Derbyshire |

Eleanor Alberga |

Elizabeth Maconchy |

Emily Hall |

Elisabeth Lutyens |

Evelynn Glennie |

Felicity Ford |

Fiona Soe Paing

Hilary Tann |

Jessica Pinney |

Joanna Lee |

Jobina Tinnemans |

Jocelyn Pook |

Judith Bingham |

Kaija Saariaho |

Lauren Redhead  |

Lauren Sarah Hayes |

Laurie Spiegel |

Liza Lim | https:

Maggie Nicols |

Maryanne Amacher |

Margaret Lucy Wilkins |

Maya-Victoria Kjellstrand |

Melinda Maxwell |

Mica Levi |

Minna Keal |

Mira Calix |

Naoko Takahashi |

Odaline de la Martinez |

Pauline Oliveros |

Poulomi Desai |

Raisa Khan |

Ryoko Akama |

Sally Beamish |

Sally Golding

Sarah Angliss |

Sharon Gal |

Sheema Mukherjee

Sheila Chandra |

Shiva Feshareki |

Sofia Gubaidulina |

Tara Rodgers |

Thea Musgrave |

Verity Susman

Vicki Bennett |

Viv Corringham |

Wendy Carlos |






Suggested addition for the BMC by P.Desai
Suggested addition to the BMC by P.Desai
Suggested addition to the BMC by P.Desai
Credits: Story

Curated by — Poulomi Desai
Thanks to — All the artists, composers, sound magicians, Robert Clegg, Harriet Harmer and Ann Clayton at Heritage Quay, Angharad Cooper at SAM
Inspired by — “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I think, oh bondage, up yours!” Poly Styrene (Marianne Joan Elliott-Said), musician ( 1957 - 2011)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.