On November 27th, 2021, FRAUFELD – the platform dedicated to making female musicians engaged in contemporary forms of improvisation and composition, visible – will be releasing its third album, “Vol. 3” within the context of the internationally renowned and Austria’s largest contemporary music festival, Wien Modern. The musician-run collective, which started in 2016, focuses on creating role models for women, building a network and empowering women in a male-dominated field. Arianna Fleur sat down with Fraufeld founder VERENA ZEINER and core member ANNA ANDERLUH for an honest, if not un-easy discussion about the state of the world, the state of Fraufeld, and the state of the music scene for female contemporary, improvisational artists – the good, the bad, and the getting better.
Fraufeld is a multifaceted platform. How did it start and what has it become?
Verena Zeiner: We first began with the recordings. That was the initial idea. Then we incorporated the Stammtisch (regular meetings) and networking events.
Anna Anderluh: Then, as well, we had the concert series, which was called “Fraufeld Feldforschung” (“Fraufeld field-research”).
Verena Zeiner: And now we have the label that we founded to release “Vol. 2” on. Originally we collaborated with the label, Freifeld – that’s also the origin of our name, as we were kind of a branch of them at the start. And then we found out it’s just better and easier for us if we have our own thing, so we decided to create our own label. But we called the label arooo.records [note: arooo = “a room of one’s own”] because we thought it might be easier for people, especially men, to approach us under this name, rather than “Fraufeld”. The label is still mostly just for our productions because, well, it’s a matter of resources.
Anna Anderluh: Exactly, almost as soon as we began, we started to get a lot interest from artists asking if they could release their albums on arooo. And so we had to evaluate: what are our main goals with the whole project? And that’s where we’re currently at – considering the whole picture.
Verena Zeiner: The impulse was that I met Sara at an art opening in Vienna, and she had just graduated from the Bruckner University in Linz, for which she had written her Bachelor’s thesis on the situation of women in music in Austria. She had some very interesting facts and figures. And then I said, “Ah, we should do something about it. Let’s do this Tonträger [note: recording medium] series. Ah, let’s call it ‘Fraufeld’!” And then I slept one night on it, and the next day I wrote her: “Hey, let’s really do it!” And she said, “Yeah, let’s!” And that was it! [laughs]
Sometimes people are critical of groups that tend towards ‘one thing’ – a specific group, demography. But there is this quote from Sigtryggur Baldursson, the drummer from The Sugarcubes: “The music industry needs to be aware that to correct something, like a gender balance, you need to push it one direction.” What do you say to that?
Anna Anderluh: That’s what I always say when people ask me about this.
the ultimate goal is that we don’t need platforms like ours. But at the moment, we are not there yet.
Verena Zeiner: Yes. I also think we are still not there yet, where we don’t have to create such groups as Fraufeld. As long as things remain as they are now, it still needs pushing. I mean, the ultimate goal is that we don’t need platforms like ours. But at the moment, we are not there yet. But I’ll be glad when we don’t need it any longer.
A lot has changed since you started Fraufeld in 2016. So many movements have occurred in the meantime, from Me Too to Black Lives Matter. Do you feel like Fraufeld has been a part of fueling the engine of the societal shifts we’re seeing?
Verena Zeiner: I think we really were part of changing something in Austria. And it all moved pretty fast, actually. In the beginning, I thought I needed to practice having good arguments for when my male colleagues would ask me why we think we have to do this. But it turns out I never needed those arguments, because, instead, people would only come up to me and say, “I heard you’re doing this. It’s so great and so important.”
So, everyone was ready for it – even waiting for it.
Verena Zeiner: Yes! Even the men were ready and understood why it was important. That surprised me the most. This is why the word spread fast. And all of a sudden it was clear that you call Fraufeld when you have important topics to deal with. Like the collective, mitderstadtreden [note: Initiative for a free Vienna music scene], for example – they called us from the beginning and asked us to be part of it. I think that shows that we made some kind of impact.
the men were ready and understood why it was important
Anna Anderluh: I think it was a good moment for it to enter the scene. What happened in the world also helped us – in that people got more interested in this topic and they understood it more. And like Verena said, we didn’t have to justify or explain why it was needed.
Part of the original manifesto of Fraufeld was making the invisible, visible. Have you seen improvement there?
Verena Zeiner: I think so. But it’s because many artists are more visible to me, as well. I have a broader perspective and see them now. This is why I don’t know if it’s a general trend. But my view is bigger.
Anna Anderluh: I would say the same. But it’s not only our view. It’s also that a lot of people who are curating festivals are turning to us, asking us for recommendations, for example. People have become more aware and say, ‘we want to have more women in our lineup, but how do we get them if they are not obviously visible?’ – but through us, they become visible. I think that makes a huge difference – it might be hard for some people to get an overview of the female musicians, but we have it. Not all of course, but a lot.
Another issue on Fraufeld’s agenda is about female role models in the fields of contemporary and improvisational music …
Verena Zeiner: Actually, I find it interesting that there is already such a difference between people in my age bracket (I’m in my 30’s) and the younger generation. I mean, when I studied, I had no female teachers. And not a lot of female colleagues in my class either. In fact, I was the only one, for years. And I know that women ten years younger – they studied in a very different environment. There were far more women around. And, on the other hand, I know that the musicians ten years older than me – they have again another experience. So I think it’s changed so fast, even in just ten years.
Being non-mainstream, female musicians in this day and age, do you feel optimistic?
Verena Zeiner: I am optimistic. But my optimism comes from what I see happening around me in the music scene – that the communication has changed completely, already. People have become more aware that they need to think more about what they say and how they act. I think it’s starting to show. Not only women, but also men – or the male musicians I work with – have become much more sensitive. There was a time when I only worked with women. But it’s turned out that all my projects are currently with men. My male colleagues have been so great in supporting and pushing me. And not in the way of ‘we’ll help you’ but in the way that they treat me as a complete equal. I really can feel it.
You cannot be careless anymore. There are consequences.
It’s such a different experience than what I had five years ago. But, again, it’s probably also that I have developed and learned a lot. But there are a lot of good ones out there. They’ve also learned that they can get in trouble when they are careless. There are consequences. You cannot be careless anymore. And that’s very good.
Are you getting excited for the release of “Vol. 3”?
Verena Zeiner: Yeah, especially excited because it’s been so much work!
Was this album more work than past volumes?
Verena Zeiner: [pause, sigh] No. Every volume was a lot of work! I think the process was longer this time, though. One and a half years, I think. So, I guess when something is longer it feels like more work.
We had to accept what they brought us, no matter what
Anna Anderluh: There were, in fact, probably more people involved than in the last volumes – because we had this co-curating concept this time. That is, we chose some of the musicians, who we then asked to choose other musicians to be part of it. We wanted to broaden the view so that we don’t stay in our bubbles. But that also made the process longer.
So, something like a co-curating chain…
Verena Zeiner: Yes, basically we, as a team of five from Fraufeld, chose those five musicians, and told them that, first of all, we want them to play in whatever setting they choose, with maximum three people in their formations. And then we asked them that they invite another musician to be on the album.
So this is how we achieved a wider spectrum, and gained musicians on the album that I, personally, wouldn’t have thought of. And that was really interesting for us – interesting and also adventurous. We had to accept what they brought us, no matter what. We had to let go of that “control” and say ‘Ok, if you want to have them, then that’s fine for us.’ So, that was exciting.
As complicated as it sounds, it also sounds very enriching, to the network and the music…
Verena Zeiner: Yes, I was part of mastering last week, so I listened for hours to the whole album. It was the first time that I really heard what we created.
And… how does it sound?
Verena Zeiner: Great! I love it! [laughs] Really! It was so good to hear all the pieces in one session – for ten hours actually – and find out that, yes, it was a good decision that we made. And Martin Siewert, the one who mastered it, he said the same. He just stopped at one point and looked at me, and said, “This is a really good project.”
And he’s heard and mastered a lot of things… What can we expect from the music itself of “Vol. 3”?
Anna Anderluh: I think that the program – apart from the fact that it’s Fraufeld, and putting the spotlight on female musicians – is very diverse. And some parts are also rather untypical for Wien Modern. So the release concert is going to be interesting!
About that – how does it feel to have the release concert at such coveted spots as Konzerthaus and Wien Modern?
Verena Zeiner: Doing the concert at as part of Wien Modern is a really great opportunity for us – but it doesn’t make things less complicated! It’s another huge institution – it’s a lot of organization, with so many people involved.
One notable thing about the album is that there is, as far as I can tell, for the first time, a male musician present.
Verena Zeiner: That’s true. Though that is really just by chance – as in, it’s just by chance that it never happened before.
That’s one of the misconceptions about Fraufeld, right? – that men are not allowed.
Verena Zeiner: Yes, it’s a misconception. It was never that we told musicians that they can’t take their male band members with them. We just said, ‘Play with whoever you want.’ And they, for some reason, either chose to do solo projects, or work with other women. That was not our intention, but it happened that way. But this time, Ursula [note: Reicher] just said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come with my duo, and that’s with Thomas [note: Gieferl].’ And we said, ‘Cool!’
Still, the core aspect of Fraufeld is that it is female-led …
Verena Zeiner: Yes, it’s that women are the bandleaders and composers, and that it’s their projects and they choose whomever they want. The fundamental aspect is that women are empowered.
And what about you? How has Fraufeld empowered or enriched your professional and/or personal lives?
Verena Zeiner: I can honestly say for myself, besides all the work, it has been very fulfilling. Learning to articulate what I think and feel about all these topics we were involved in, as a musician – that was so important for me. Finding my own stance, my boundaries, discovering what my own blind spots are – and I had a lot. And then, it is great, as well, to see the network that has grown out of this.
Anna Anderluh: Also, for me, like Verena said – there were some blind spots because some things were so “normal” for me. And then I realized, ok, these things are not normal, and not acceptable. These are really old structures that we grew up with, and started our musical careers in, but that doesn’t mean they’re “normal” or that they have to stay that way. So that was really significant for me. Also, to be in a community that thinks similarly, where you can address those topics together.
there were some blind spots because some things were so “normal” for me
Verena Zeiner: Also, such an important lesson for me was when I found out that things are even more complex than I thought. Things are not black and white, and you cannot solve one problem and then everything will be fine – no! Because it’s so personal and so different for every woman – or every person – involved. It has so much to do with personality, personal history. And, in the end, everyone has to find out for themselves, how they want to deal with things. There will never be one solution which works for all. It’s so much more complicated than that.
What challenges are there to Fraufeld? What needs improvement or reassessing?
Anna Anderluh: We are actually thinking of reorganizing the whole thing. After we’ve released “Vol. 3”, we are thinking of taking a break, and really seeing how we can make it work for us. For some of us, it’s been really exhausting. It’s too much work to not get funding for it.
Has funding been an issue?
Verena Zeiner: It’s partly our responsibility. But it’s also that the funding bodies only identify the Tonträger-Serie (compilation), as the main thing we do. And for that, there is only one funding body. But what is ignored is all the work behind and around it – all of the networking, curating, creating, growing artists, pushing careers, etc. But it is not work you can really quantify easily. And anyway, there is no funding for this kind of work. So this is a real problem.
Anna Anderluh: There is no box that we fit into, concerning the whole funding topic.
Verena Zeiner: Yes, and all our resources – time, money and just personal energy – are simply depleted under these circumstances. You know, we are all musicians, and we are all doing Fraufeld on the side. And at the moment I would say we have something of a collective burnout. And we all just need a break – to find out how we want to go on, and if we want to go on – or is this just the end now? And if it is the end, it’s also ok, because when I look back at the last five years – we did a hell of a lot!
Fraufeld represents certain ideologies, but how has it been, practically, to work together in this collective made up of only women?
Verena Zeiner: Actually, this was the first time – for “Vol. 3” – that we had a woman recording us: Christina Bauer. She is just great. She’s someone who doesn’t get stressed by the workload. And for us, it was a big one. She had to record everything in one week, plus, on top of it, the live performances were streamed concerts!
So, you have to imagine – we were in Echoraum, and she had to set up for recording for the album, and, at the same time, make the sound for the streaming team, while, all the time changing the entire stage every ten minutes because there was a new band for every set. We even made five-minute videos in between each change, talking about Fraufeld, so the audience would have something to watch, while behind the scenes, we were working like crazy. But amazingly, it worked out so well. The evenings were really beautiful. We were very proud of what we did.
I think it was Viola Hammer who said it to me – ‘You know what was really nice, was seeing you work as a real team.’ She had never seen something like this before, she said – that a team could work so well together, that there was no competition between anyone, and also that we communicated on so many levels. On one hand we did all the work and had everything under control, but, on the other, we also communicated emotionally with one another. We made time to check in on each other.
And still I have this image of us at the end of the night, rolling the cables up, being the last to leave. We did everything. And we did it all together. And it was good. We never had tension or conflicts through it. Or, is that just my impression?
Everyone says, ‘oh no, we don’t have time for this.’ But women do it anyway, all the time, and no one really takes notice.
Anna: No, it’s true. It was really great, because we all appreciated each other and showed it. I think it’s really a quality, and that is one thing I hadn’t been aware of before – that emotional work is usually done by women, but nobody gives them credit for it. It’s not on paper. Everyone says, ‘oh no, we don’t have time for this.’ But women do it anyway, all the time, and no one really takes notice. So, it was really cool to be in a group of women who are all aware of the emotional work, and showing appreciation, and giving space for connection.
Verena: And also, it’s important to say – this is how people connect. It’s not by talking about ideas, it’s actually doing them. The connection we have is because we are working together. That doesn’t happen on paper. You have to be present. Only through an experience, do you feel each other. Then you really know that you are supported. It’s not because somebody wrote you an email and said, ‘you are supported’. No. I have to feel you, and then we are connected on an emotional level. And that’s what gives me strength to go on with my work – because I feel it.
Thank you for the interview!
Please note: The event at Wiener Konzerthaus will be postponed. At the time of the concert, the album corresponding to the concert will be made available here as an audio stream.