Moogfest Tech Panel Preview: 5 Questions with Claire L. Evans

Photo courtesy of Yacht.

Claire L. Evans is the lead singer of electro-pop group Yacht and the editor-in-chief of OMNI Reboot, the online version of OMNI science magazine. Evans will appear at the Science Fiction & the Synthesized Sound panel held in the Masonic Temple on Saturday, April 23 from 1-4 p.m. In an email interview with Xpress, Evans shared some insight on the panel, wearing the multiple hats of musician and journalist and what the future will sound like.

Can you give us a brief preview of what to expect at the OMNI panel? What are you most excited about?

Whenever a science fiction movie has a scene that takes place in a dance club, or at a party—from the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars to the cave rave in the second Matrix film—the music is all wrong. If you really think about it, will music 1,000 years from now even sound like music to our ears? Likely not. So how can we create music, and to a larger extent art, that is future-proof? I’ve always been very interested in this question, so when Moogfest asked if I’d be interested in putting together a panel, I knew right away that it was the perfect excuse to try and find the answer.

The OMNI panel at Moogfest brings together a ragtag group of scientists, artists, and writers to dicuss the music of the future—and the future of music. King Britt, our resident Afrofuturist, will perform new compositions which accompany iconic images from the OMNI archives, in a contemporary re-imagining of retro-futuristic imagery. The artist Martine Syms will talk and perform MOST DAYS, her new “Mundane Afrofuture” screenplay which images the everyday life of a Los Angeles woman in 2050, with musical ambiance by Neil Reinalda. And Doug Vakoch, the director of interstellar message composition at SETI, will talk about the aesthetics of aliens. I’m most excited to see what kind of conversation develops across all these boundaries between art and science.

Which came first — your interest in science (or science fiction?) or your interest in music? Do you recall your earliest inspiration (book, record, artist) in each field?

It’s hard to say—I’ve been an avid reader of pulp science-fiction paperbacks since I first picked up Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles as a kid, and I grew up participating very actively in the DIY music scene of my hometown, Portland, Oregon. Both were portals to a world outside of suburbia. Science fiction liberated my mind, and music has quite literally transported me around the world.

How did you first become interested in science journalism? How have the subjects you’ve explored through your writing influenced your music?

I was never a very good student of math and science. I always justified my failings in that department by saying I had a literary mind, not a rigorous one, but I suppose I suffered from the same systemic lack of encouragement in those fields as so many young women do. It wasn’t until I was in college, practically flunking Astronomy 101—but absolutely fascinated with the bigger picture, the scope of the scientific project and the accidental beauty of so many of its propositions—that I began to develop an interest in science. Being a writer, I developed that interest by writing screwy little essays about string theory, narwhals, the moon, and polar exploration. These turned into a column at a local alternative weekly, and then eventually a career.

Many years later, as I was trying to balance a career as a science writer with the obligations (and joys) of touring with my band, I realized the two pursuits informed one another and stopped compartmentalizing them. YACHT is a product of whatever Jona and I are interested in—we write songs about space, death, utopias, connection and alienation. I figure if I stay curious, and always investigate the things that fascinate me, it can only strengthen all my projects, be they journalistic or musical.

It seems to be a national trend that young girls are less proficient in science than boys and fewer women go on to work in science-related fields. As a female science journalist (and one of a handful of female panelists at Moogfest), do you think it’s important to keep women and girls engaged in science? Do you feel that, as a woman, you’ve had experiences in the field that men don’t have?

Being someone who operates very much at the margins of the science world, writing my essays from the totally different (although equally male-dominated) environment of music, I’ve been absolved of much harassment outside of blog comments—which of course, are equally horrific for basically any woman doing public things online.

But there is still so much subtle and overt discrimination against women in the sciences, at every level. At the academic level, women earn about half of the engineering and science degrees in this country, but only hold 21% of science professorships and earn only 82% of what their male counterparts do. And the workplace can be supremely marginalizing. The light at the end of the tunnel is that we now have the tools to call bullshit. There were a few really high-profile instances last year of social media being leveraged to shine a light on sexism in the field—namely the #ripplesofdoubt Twitter explosion that gave women a public channel to share zillions of instances of discrimination, and the social media outcry that unseated Bora Zivkovic from his post at Scientific American after it became clear that he had repeatedly overstepped boundaries with female colleagues. We have a long way to go, but it’s a start.

How do you think the Moog technology panels will bridge the gap between a music-listener audience and science and technology enthusiasts?

I think there’s a lot of overlap between people who are interested in electronic music and people who are, generally speaking, interested in the future. After all, these are progressive tendencies; we all share a desire to test the limits of sound and vision. And more and more, we are living in the future—science and technology are no longer niche interests. They are engulfing every aspect of our lives.


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