By Allen Farmelo
Some have asked how Pink Noise got started, and the truth is that a Facebook rant got it going. I have experienced a long and slow two-decade crescendo of frustration witnessing our career field remain stuck as an unbelievably male-dominated one. The further I got into the world of pro-audio and recording, the more I was exposed to the misogyny and chauvinism that perpetuates that male-dominance.
One day I woke up quite early and spewed out the following rant on Facebook and hit send. That rant got forwarded around the world, and I received a slew of private and public messages thanking me for speaking up. One of those messages came from Catherine Vericolli, who asked “What can we do?” The answer turned out to be this publication we call Pink Noise.
This rant is pure caffeinated emotion minus any measured study, but Catherine and I feel there is a place for that kind of expression within an intellectual forum like this. That’s why the Spiels section exists here. We encourage legitimate outrage.
Here’s the rant, verbatim, that started Pink Noise.
A RANT FOR THE AUDIO-COMMUNITY – I have grown fascinated with the fact that audio gear has become increasingly billed in overtly violent and masculine ways. For example, upon compressing an audio signal, people often talk about it having “balls” or “totally slamming the fuck out of it” or even gear that uses words like “nuke” for extreme settings, or compressors with pin-up girls on the meters, or with names like “The Crusher” or “Rough Rider” or “Audio Carnage” or “Deep Six” or “The Rocket” and other bizarre weapon’s related names. And then there’s “The Dragon,” which raises a whole host of medieval-face-melting-prog-rock-kung-fu-compression images. Really? For an electronic device that reduces an audio signal’s dynamic range, these names really raise questions about our culture’s fascinations, and specifically about the culture of the audioworker community – a notoriously male-dominated field in which, more often than I care to recall, I find myself ducking out of all-male conversations that sound something like I imagine I’d find at a beer-fueled monster-truck event, at times replete with sexed-up rent-a-babes (this has actually happened multiple times). And, of course, pre-amps and mics are not immune: the TNT, the SLAM, AK47, M80, etc… And now you can even get digital converters named the B2 Bomber – it takes an audio signal and converts it into code, and it’s somehow analogous to a war plane? I’ve lost the plot. Some of this gear is best-in-field stuff that sounds amazing, but the names….ah, the names and the marketing are such a drag. When we start to think of audio tools as analogous to weapons and tools of war (guns, planes, etc), and what we do with them as acts of violence (slam, destroy, nuke), and the quality of sound to possess “balls” and “cajones” and then we heterosexualize all that with stereotypically hooker-ish-looking women who appear ready to submit to some raunchy sex-games because the sound that’s coming out of the speakers is just so manly and strong and ballsy, I find myself wondering how this obnoxious stream of marketing managed to find its way into a field where all we do is sit on our asses in dimly-lit, climate-controlled, overly-designed rooms and twiddle knobs…..? I don’t get it.
And we wonder how and why more women don’t enter into our field, which I feel is a greater violence to our craft than anything. We’re at like 2% or something. TWO% in 2014! Way to go audioworkers. And we call this a profession! There’s nothing professional about any of this, and in most work environments this kind of language and imagery was ratted out around 1970 in order to create a more fair and equitable environment.
I know this is wrapped up in the machismo generated and perpetuated by a good portion of the music that audioworkers produce – and I point unabashedly at rock and rap music in the USA for this. Of course there are exceptions – lots of exceptions – but these musical styles tend to want to “melt faces” or “blow people away” or “blow shit up” or “kick you in the chest” or whatever. I get it that the music has a lot to do with it – and I love deep bass coming out of an 18″ subwoofer as much as the next wasted white dude dancing to some random bass-laden dance-hall track – but I can’t make the leap from reducing the volume on an audio signal by a certain number of decibels to “crushing the living shit out of it.” And I get that this is all caught up in a much larger heterosexualized, violence-fascinated pop-media born of a profit-motive unbridled by things like ethics or social concern (and fuck the NRA, while we’re at it), AND I get that sex and violence are not going away, are part of the human make up, and that Darwin told us we’d end up like this, and that someone is going to cite Spinal Tap and say, “What’s wrong with being sexy?” while I mire in my evaporating puddle of now-very-uncool early-90s PC-dom, and yet I still feel compelled to raise this topic in an informal way among a handful of my peers and ask that, as a loose-knit community of people working in the same field, that we slow down and think about what we’re really doing the next time we claim to have “sewn a pair of major balls onto a neutered goat” or whatever ridiculous thing gets said when reducing the dynamic range and adding some bass to an audio track. We’re supposed to be creative people. We can do better.
I want to relay a success story: I once saw an audio company had posted a picture of a woman in her underwear with her legs spread open to receive some of their audio gear into her vagina (I assume that was the orifice at which this gear was aimed). I wrote to the company and explained basically (in abridged form) what I’ve explained above, and asked that they reconsider the image. They immediately pulled it, and have continued to be one of the best selling audio products on the market. In fact, they now operate completely without any reference to sexualization, violent acts or weapons in their marketing and are truly thriving (because their products speak for themselves). I share this because I think that’s how things get changed: regular people say something and other regular people respond. It’s called grassroots activism, and you don’t need to wear wool socks and Birkenstocks to participate.
I realize we live in a time of deep irony, a time in which we are all supposed to “lighten up” under the umbrella of “yeah, we know you know that what we say is probably offensive, but since we know, and you know, then what’s the harm done?” I just want to remind my community of the possibility of a 12-year-old girl living outside the US who just got Garage Band and who caught the same exact spark we all caught at hearing two tracks playing back together. And I want you to imagine she just did a Googl [sic.] image search for “recording engineer.” Go do that image search and get back to me with why we shouldn’t be talking about all of this.
Lastly – as a gear reviewer, I am now making it a policy to not review or promote in any way equipment from companies that employ marketing that sexualizes, masculinizes, or refers to weapons and/or acts of violence. In the past I’ve used those opportunities to try to work against that marketing in my reviews, but don’t feel that has been an effective strategy. I will now simply not contribute to the promotion of that kind of marketing.
We can do better.
Sincerely, Allen Farmelo – Audioworker