Loops, Gender, and Infinity: A Thought Experiment with Idgy Dean
Glowing vocals and looped drums floated down Classon Avenue the afternoon of the ETLE Universe looping workshop hosted by Idgy Dean. Lindsay Sanwald is Idgy Dean, the resident musical artist of ETLE Universe, that queer/feminist cyborg thing created by A.O. Movement Collective. I sat in on Sanwald’s discussion of the concepts behind her dreamy pop music, the soundtrack for ETLE.
With references to spirituality, OM, and goddesses in her work, it only made sense that Sanwald’s workshop happened on pillows on the floor of the artistic home of the ETLE Universe, Loft 172. To guide us through the workshop, Sanwald passed out paper packets containing quotes, sheet music, and theories that outlined the physics of the loop machine, gender theory, and concepts of infinity. Throughout her talk, Sanwald referenced her personal life as an influence in choosing the loop machine as her primary instrument. As she explains it, her life and social identities are interwoven with the intricacies of loops. A natural storyteller, her description of her personal discovery of music was as fascinating as the theories she presented.
Sanwald has been looping since she was a little kid. It all started with a Little Tike microphone, karaoke machine, and a drumset. Without realizing she was applying a musical principle, she’d loop herself through the machines and sing along over the tracks she’d made. After years learning to play electric guitar, bass, and drums, she started playing as the lone lady in otherwise-all-male rock bands. After a twist of fate (the death of a friend) and a personal leap of faith (choosing music over money), Sanwald went full force into her work and hasn’t stopped since. Today, she’s a loop artist, one-woman band, and positive spirit who is equally comfortable banging on a drum as she is leading a theoretical lecture. (Somewhere in our time together Sanwald let it slip that she was a Fulbright scholar who wanted to pursue a PhD in critical theory, but ended up following her calling for music instead).
As the sun made its way across the wood floor, Sanwald walked us through five concepts she’s used to create her life and her work: the early origins of percussive music; syncopation and the human heartbeat; ‘ETLE theory;’ self-reliance; and the ephemeral state of the loop. The outlaid concepts presented together were more of a thought experiment than a coherent explanation. At times, the use of simplistic definitions of feminism and gender roles appeared essentialist rather than subversive. However, Sanwald’s artistic embodiment of her theories stood up powerfully as a queer/feminist statement.
Sanwald explained that as a queer woman in a male-dominated industry, she’s occupying power by assuming the role typically associated with masculinity. She’s operating the machines that make her music, demonstrating self-reliance in creating her own sounds, and stepping into the bravado of being a rocker. By using the loop machine, Sanwald transgresses traditional gender stereotypes and explores different elements of sound as well as dimensions of her personality. In this practice, Sanwald joins a community of musicians who reject “female artist” pigeonholing and continue to jam without apology. In a comment about her philosophy for future projects, Sanwald stated, “I don’t want to apologize for being loud. That’s a requisite quality of doing music and I’m going to keep doing it.”
Before closing, Sanwald treated the audience to two songs off her newest album. As her sound filled the room and the street below, her audience couldn’t help but feel a bit more powerful, too. Give a listen to Idgy Dean’s newest record, premiered by The Village Voice, or catch her live at CMJ.
IDGY DEAN is the solo music project of Brooklynite Lindsay Sanwald. All songs are composed alone, then looped live on stage. Her first full-length record, OMINOUS HARMINUS (made in conjunction with the A.O. Movement Collective’s ETLE Universe), was released on SEPTEMBER 18th, 2015.