Tara Rodgers shares her techno beats with students

Tara Rodgers shares her techno beats with students
Photo courtesy Creative Commons

By Sam Cronin, news staff

Musician, writer and educator Tara Rodgers performed a live set of her original analog electronic music and spoke about the history of the genre to a crowd of approximately 10 students Oct. 18 in a Snell Library classroom. The conversation covered topics from 1970s synthesizers to the electronic music scene of today.

Dr. Deirdre Loughridge, assistant professor of musicology and ethnomusicology at Northeastern, has put together the ‘More Voices, Smarter Innovation’ project, which aims to bring successful powerhouses in the music industry onto campus such Rodgers, Ann Powers and Joan Tower, who will come to campus in the spring.

“The music department is pushing a number of initiatives to increase diversity, not just among students, faculty and staff, but from the larger perspective of the music profession our students are preparing to enter,” said professor and Chair of the Department of Music Daniel Godfrey.

Rodgers began her formal research of music in college, earning a Master of Fine Arts in electronic music and recording media at Mills College, where she studied the cultural history of sound and audio technologies. She completed a doctoral dissertation in the history of synthesized sound from the 19th century to present-day at McGill University and wrote “Pink Noises,” a book exploring gender in electronic music cultures and documenting work by female DJs, sound artists and electronic music producers.

Now, Rodgers records and produces techno and ambient music from home, exclusively using analog equipment that replicates the original sound waves, rather than digital, which is recorded by taking samples of the original sound wave. Her music ranges from ambient electronica, to electroacoustic, to music inspired by ecosystem dynamics and natural sounds. She said her work plays with the boundaries of frequency, timbre, duration and spatialization sound, sometimes even bringing her to the edge of what is audible to human ears.

“I attune myself to [the] world around me,” she said.

She said she was inspired by projects that used sound patterns to generate imagery, and even worked in college using sound to model butterfly behaviors. She drew inspiration from the synthesizers of the 1970s to recreate natural sound effects such as rain and thunder.

Rodgers attempts to get close to insect sounds using delay effects as well as an oscillator — a popular instrument in synthesizing music — and panning, or mixing stereo signals.

The talk also touched on “Dance floor politics” and delved into the role of the dance floor as a place for marginalized and oppressed communities to share a space for creativity and creation. She said that the idea of an underground dance floor as a place all can enjoy and make their own music is vital to the expression of marginalized communities.  

When Rodgers performed to the small crowd, her music started out very softly, utilizing the natural sounds of the ocean. Progressively, the set became more beat-driven, similar to electronic music. All of this culminated in one eye-opening bass drop, which cued the increase in speed and sound in her performance. The audience collectively closed their eyes and bowed their heads and, as the music got faster, people’s feet started tapping to the rhythm.

“Rodgers is an inspiration and I loved hearing her music,” said first-year industrial engineering major Madeline Palfsky.

Musicians often have their own perception of the value of physicality and performance. Often, the movement and the stage presence are a large part of the act. Rodgers, however, has a different view on performance. She spoke about the importance of feeling the room when it comes to her performances, with smaller venues being her usual preferred scene.

“I want to be bodily present, but it doesn’t have to be demonstrative,” Rodgers said. “It depends on the setting.”  

An audience member asked if she would ever consider projecting her work on screen while she is performing, to show the audience what she is doing as they listen.

No, that would feel invasive,” Rodgers said. “It’s not about secrecy, but I think for most situations when performing, I prefer the focus to be on the sound. When an audience is looking at [a screen], that’s not the where I want the attention.”

She said because of different energies in each venue, her performances are different and reactive to the crowd. Rodgers also emphasized the increased difficulty of adapting live analog music to the energy of a crowd when compared to digital music. Analog, as a more rigid format, is less adaptable, she said.

Rodgers has a new EP coming out next year and will continue to perform and speak throughout the country.

Leave a Reply