In Pictures: The Latin American women of 20th century electronic

By in Features





Featuring Beatriz Ferreyra, Alicia Urreta, Ileana Pérez Velázquez and more.

Berlin-based publisher Contingent Sounds has released a new book capturing “the female protagonists of Latin American electronic music”.

Switched On: The Dawn of Electronic Sound by Latin American Women has been edited by independent curator, researcher and label head of Buh Records, Luis Alvarado, and experimental musician, multimedia artist and researcher Alejandra Cardenas (Ale Hop), and features interviews with the likes of Beatriz Ferreyra, Alicia Urreta, Ileana Pérez Velázquez and more.

To coincide with the release, we take a look at some archival shots of Latin America’s female 20th-century electronic pioneers.

Beatriz Ferreyra

Courtesy of the artist

In chapter four of Switched On, “Beatriz Ferreyra on Listening, Composition, and the Women Who Saved Electroacoustic Music,” music critic Isabelia Herrera interviews composer Beatriz Ferreyra, covering topics such as her youth in Argentina, her time at the GRM [Groupe de Recherches Musicales], the presence of women at the GRM, her life in the countryside, the lessons of working with magnetic tape, and the societal acceptance of electroacoustic music.

Beatriz, from the interview:
“I fell into electroacoustic music because I heard a concert of electroacoustic music with Edgardo Cantón, who is Argentinian, who took me there in 1963. I had no idea what electroacoustic music was, so he, Edgardo Cantón, made me enter the music studio with Schaeffer as an assistant. He taught me how to cut the tape, how to mix, how to create a filter, but there was no school—there was nothing”.

Graciela Castillo and Fernando Beato at the concert “Concierto de grabadores antiguos”, Goethe Institut

Courtesy of the family of the composer

The Argentinian composer Gabi Yaya writes about the work of Argentine composer Graciela Castillo (1935 – 2023), with a meticulous historical account of the four decades in which she composed electroacoustic music in the city of Córdoba, the epicentre from which outstanding 20th-century composers, such as Hilda Dianda (b. 1925), Beatriz Ferreyra (b. 1937) and Patricia Sacavino (1964 – 2008) originated.

Gabi Yaya states about Graciela:
“Graciela Castillo had a prolific instrumental and electroacoustic compositional output. She was also a renowned pianist and improviser. As a teacher, Castillo left an important mark on a generation of local artists. She taught at the Escuela Superior de Comercio Manuel Belgrano, the Conservatorio Provincial Félix Garzón, and the Music Department of the School of Arts of the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. An important promoter of contemporary music in Córdoba, Castillo participated in several groups, such as the Agrupación Nueva Música de Córdoba, with the Federación Argentina de Música Electroacústica Córdoba, the group Klaster or the group Alea Rictus Cactus.

Ileana Perez Velazquez at EMEC studio (ISA), ca. 1991

Courtesy of the artist

Saxophonist and musicologist Adaivis Marrón Pérez offers an integral vision of electroacoustic music in Cuba, interviewing Cuban protagonists Marietta Veulens (Matanzas, 1959), Ileana Pérez Velázquez (Cienfuegos, 1964), Mónica O’Reilly Viamontes (Havana, 1975), Ailem Carvajal (Havana, 1972), and Irina Escalante Chernova (Camagüey, 1977), who discuss their experiences at TIME (later the National Electroacoustic Music Laboratory – LNME), as well as the EMEC studio founded at the Higher Institute of Art of Havana (ISA). In the photo, Ileana Pérez Velázquez (Cienfuegos, 1964), is at EMEC studio in 1991. She is currently a professor of Musical Composition at Williams College in NY.

Here are two quotes from Ileana extracted from the book:

“It took about two years to get to the US because whenever I [applied for a visa] at the US embassy, they would ask me if I wanted to make my situation a political situation. They would ask me: Do you want to be a political refugee? And I would answer, “I don’t want to be a political refugee. I don’t have any political problems, I just want to study.” That happened to me in Havana, then in Colombia twice. They told me, “then you can’t go.” I helped organize an international festival of contemporary music in Bogota, and we invited John Appleton, who was in Italy at the time, and he came, and then he took me to the embassy as if I were Colombian. And there he told them that I was a very talented person. And that’s how they gave me the visa to be able to come to study electronic music at Dartmouth.”

Regarding the subject of gender, Ileana Pérez also recognises: 

“Cuba is itself a machista country. The president is a man, in the congresses, there are men, they are always men. So, yes, I imagine that for some women, it has been an impediment to becoming composers. Certain composers of instrumental and orchestral academic music had many struggles in the decade [of the 1970s], Magaly Ruiz, for example, had difficulties. I think that one positive thing about the Cuban Revolution -of which I can say many negative things as well, but I’m not going to go into that- was the sense of equality between men and women. And it seems that when my generation arrived, we had already grown up in that environment.

Jacqueline Nova

Courtesy of the family of the artist, archive of Ana María Romano G 
Courtesy of the family of the artist, archive of Ana María Romano G

The book also features two texts from Colombian composer Jacqueline Nova (1935 – 1975), “The Wonderful World of Machines” (1966) and “An aberrant phenomenon” (1969). Both were published in local newspapers and magazines by the composer herself while forging a career as an electroacoustic composer in the 1960s and are now translated into English for the first time. 

In these articles, Nova defies criticism of the avant-garde practices of the time in Colombia by those who viewed these musical developments with suspicion. This is the first time these texts have been published in English; the chapter also includes an introduction by researcher Ana María Romano, who has done in-depth research on Jacqueline Nova and the protagonists of Latin American electronic music.

Ana Maria Romano, who introduces these texts says about the composer:

“Jacqueline Nova (1935 – 1975), developed her professional artistic life in Colombia between 1964 and 1974—a brief and very intense career that unfolded in a conservative musical environment and whose legacies we are still discovering. “

Jocy de Oliveira

Jocy de Oliveira in the 1980s. Courtesy of the artist.
Courtesy of the artist

Brazilian-born, Denmark-based vocalist and performance artist Marcela Lucatelli interviews Brazilian composer and multimedia artist Jocy de Oliveira. In this encounter, Lucatelli begins by relating how she came to know Oliveira’s music and how it has influenced her throughout her artistic career. 

Lucatelli says about Jocy: 

“Jocy de Oliveira is a Brazilian composer and multimedia artist known for her innovative blend of music, theatre, literature, and technology. Born in 1936, having begun her career as a celebrated pianist in the so-called American and European avant-garde, her compositions pioneered the incorporation of electronic music and multimedia elements into staged works, leading to the creation of distinctive immersive experiences. Her work Apague meu Spotlight (“Turn off my Spot Light,” 1961) is recognised as the first performance of electroacoustic music in Brazil—a genre in which the sounds of the instruments and voices on stage dialogue with other pre-recorded and electronically manipulated sounds.”

Leni Alexander

Both photographs by Bernd Schaefer,

The book features a chapter, written by Daniela Fugellie, about the Chilean-German composer Leni Alexander (1924-2005), focused on her condition as a migrant between the Judeo-German and Chilean cultures and how this double cultural belonging is reflected in her experimental radio dramas, with the integration of diverse media and sources in her work (recorded art and popular music, documentary and fictional voices, autobiographical memories and historical events, among other things). It looks at how this represents different ways of exercising memory, from the personal to the collective, connecting with themes such as her youth in Hamburg and the oppression of Jews by Nazism, or the disappeared during the Chilean military dictatorship.

Oksana Linde

Photo by Elisa Ochoa Linde. Courtesy of the artist


Courtesy of the artist

An interview with Venezuelan-Ukrainian artist, Oksana Linde, who released her debut album after 30 years, after beginning its composition in the ’80s. She looks to the Venezuelan electronic music scene in the 1980s, a time in which synthesizers became affordable and portable. Oksana Linde, a scientist and composer born in Venezuela to Ukrainian parents in 1948 was interviewed by Venezuelan poet, literary translator, and scholar Natasha Tiniacos. The conversation examines Linde’s debut album, Aquatic and Other Worlds (Buh Records 2022).

Jacqueline Nova, Marlene Migliari Fernandes, Graciela Paraskevaídis, Iris Sangüesa Hinostroza, and Joaquin Orellana

Originally published in Panorama, 1968

Jacqueline Nova, Marlene Migliari Fernandes, Graciela Paraskevaídis, Iris Sangüesa Hinostroza, and Joaquin Orellana as fellows at the Centro Latinoamericano de Altos Estudios Musicales (CLAEM) from the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires. This image documents how female sound artists and composers from the region were active participants in CLAEM.

Rocío Sanz Quirós

XEEP (1981). Courtesy AHM-UCR

Susan Campos Fonseca and Susana Sánchez Carballo examine the contribution of women to sound technological experimentation in Central America. During the research of their text, they obtained a copy of Rocío Sanz Quirós piece “Letanía erótica para la paz” (1973) for magnetic tape, created by Sanz in collaboration with the Mexican audio engineer Rodolfo Sánchez Alvarado.

This is reported for the first time in the publication: “Letanía erótica para la paz” is the oldest electroacoustic work by a female Costa Rican composer and a Central American artist ever identified. The work has a duration of 23 minutes 55 seconds and was identified in the Fonoteca Nacional de México together with an interview on Radio UNAM, in which Sanz speaks about the premiere of the ballet and the creative process through which it was developed.

Switched On: The Dawn of Electronic Sound by Latin American Women is out now via Contingent Sounds. Order it now.