Janet Beat - Pioneering Knob Twiddler
For most of its history, electronic music has been regarded as a male dominated world, the falsehood of which has been increasingly illuminated by numerous archival releases and reissues of works by astounding female identifying composers that were there all along. Freed from suffocating influence of patriarchal attitudes, the contributions by composers like Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, Éliane Radigue, Laurie Spiegel, Pauline Oliveros, Maryanne Amacher, Beatriz Ferreyra, Wendy Carlos, Suzanne Ciani, Else Marie Pade, Annea Lockwood, Ruth Anderson, and dozens of others can be seen to have been among the most important, pioneering gestures within art form, often far outstepping those of their male peers. Now, via Trunk, we are offered another crucial piece in the puzzle with Pioneering Knob Twiddler, the first ever album dedicated to work of the English, Scotland based composer Janet Beat. Comprising works that span the 1970s and '80s, it is absolutely stunning and as historically important as archival releases come.
Currently in her 80s, recognition is a long time coming for the Scotland based, English composer Janet Beat. One of the great unknown pioneers of electronic music in the UK, upon the completion of her studies she first become immersed in the art form - specifically tape manipulation and concrète composition - during the early 1960s, but found herself sabotaged by men at every turn; first by her father who believed that music wasn’t a job for a woman and spitefully used her early tapes to tie the tomato plants in his garden, and then by male musicians during her performances who would sabotage her equipment, steal power leads, and attempt to damage her chances of playing live whenever they could. Despite this, she persevered and eventually founded, during the 1970s, the electronic and recording studios at the RSAMD (now the Royal Scottish Conservatoire).
Working contentiously across the last seven decades and supporting herself as a lecturer at Worcester and Glasgow Universities, Trunk’s much needed celebration of Beat’s work owes some thanks to a chance encounter with an obscure compilation, Music By Scottish Composers Volume One, privately issued by The Scottish Society of Composers in 1981. Overwhelmed by what they heard, they tracked her down and set to work.
Pioneering Knob Twiddler, issued on vinyl, is the first ever album exploring Beat’s work. Comprising seven compositions created between 1978 and 1987, it reveals a visionary that has been lingering in our midst and unheard for far too long. Specifically focused on the composer’s earliest electro-acoustic compositions that have survived, even at first listen Beat’s distinction from the dominant perceptions attached to electroacoustic music during this period becomes rapidly apparent. Imbued with a profound sense of abstraction, rhythm, and harmonic sensitivity - often deploying two distinct sonic pallets within an intertwining discourse - each work is underscored by a striking sense of curiosity and playfulness, without sacrificing the clarity of their rigor or statement.
From arpeggiating rhythms and the meandering of complex melodic lines, to passages of rippling, synthetic sonority and ambience, Pioneering Knob Twiddler presents a composer of towering historical significance for the very first time. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of this LP, finally placing within the history to which she has belong all along, and granting access to her work for new generations of fans. Truly stunning on every count and not to be missed. Arriving at the height of summer, this one is as game changing as albums come.