Marthe Lisson and the White Room: a new face for female music journalism

(Raffaella Mezzanzanica – September 14, 2020)

Marthe Lisson is a London-based musicologist, podcast producer and writer.

In 2013 she co-founded the university radio at Goethe-University Frankfurt and started the White Room as a radio show. Having read a lot of music magazines over the years and not finding one that reflected her approach to music, dealing with music instead of genres, she set out to create her own, combining her love for music, magazines and journalism.

She has also worked for arts institutions in both Frankfurt am Main and London, including the Schirn Kunsthalle, the Frankfurt Book Fair/THE ARTS+, Oper Frankfurt and Whitechapel Gallery. As a writer she has contributed to German and English language arts publications, such as Openhouse, Bachtrack, das Orchester and Schirn Mag.

Q.: How did you come up with the idea of creating “The White Room Magazine” and why did you choose this name?

M.L.: Funnily, I didn’t choose the name. The WR started as a radio show for the university radio in Frankfurt am Main which I co-founded in 2013. In the beginning, I shared radio time with a colleague and to find a name I sent him a list with song titles that I found in my iTunes library. The Cream title was the one he chose.

The idea for the magazine was a process of several years. I wanted to grow the White Room radio show into something bigger, I had started to write and was pursuing a career in journalism, I had always loved printed magazines and was dissatisfied with the music magazines available. I kept asking myself, how to transfer the concept of the radio show – which was a genre-less, musical diary of mine – into print and what did I want in a music magazine? It took more than a year for me to arrive at the final concept: a music magazine written by women to promote female perspectives in music journalism. It then took another three years to actually make the magazine.

Q.: When I think about female music journalism there’s always an article by Anwen Crawford, published in The New Yorker Magazine on May 26, 2015 whose title is “The world needs female rock critics” which comes up to my mind. Do you agree with this statement?

M.L.: Absolutely!  It’s a great article and five years down the line hasn’t lost its timeliness. Unfortunately. As a musicologist I have read a lot about music over the years. Whether books on music or music criticism, it is a very male field. Just check the music section in your nearest book shop, read the masthead of music magazines or google “famous music critics“ and you know what we are dealing with.

Q.: Why do you think women could offer a different perspective on critical music journalism?

M.L.: Being a woman in this world is a different experience than being a man and I do not mean the negative aspects only. All of us have a different experience of life that results in different perspectives on life and the things that make up life: Music, for example. Music is a universal language but, interestingly, it is interpreted by only a few.

I do not know what perspectives women will bring into music journalism. That’s essentially what the White Room wants to find out. But it is out of question that it is different because we listen to music differently based on our experiences.

Q.: In the press release for The White Room Magazine, it’s clearly stated that “each issue’s theme is inspired by a long conversation with an artist. This theme is then explored in articles, essays, comments etc.”. Tell us more about how this content has been developed in the first issue of the magazine.

M.L.: The first issue’s conversation is with French electronic artist Sarasara. Her music is inspired by her interest in Philosophy and so I wanted to explore the connection between music and philosophy as well as take a look at electronic music. To name just a few, there are pieces on what philosophers of music actually think about, why German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno hated pop music so much. One essay discusses the question whether composers might be the better philosophers. Another author analyses why the music studio is still this mythical male space and there are short interviews with women film composers who are also electronic music artists.

The idea is to explore whatever theme the conversation inspires from as many different angles as possible.

Q.: And now, going back to you and your passion for music. Bee Gees is the band of your life. Why do you love them so much?

M.L.: The simple answer is because their music has always been around at home. My mum became a fan when the band had their comeback in 1987, the year I was born. The Bee Gees kept on releasing music until 2001 and so their music did not remain my mum’s music, but I was at some point old enough to decide for myself whether I liked their music or not. Over the years their music soundtracked great moments and helped me in difficult times. Their music is always positive and it became some sort of sonic home.

Q.: And, apart from Bee Gees, what have you listened to during the lockdown?

M.L.: To be honest, I had phases during lockdown when I didn’t listen too much. However, I discovered some great artists in other phases: Leif Vollebekk, Jordan Rakei, Young Gun Silver Fox who sound like the perfect fusion of America and the Little River Band. I listened to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour album, Celeste’s song Stop this Flame and all of the London Grammar material. And I got to know US-singer-songwriter Juliet Hawkins and her music. There will be a portrait of her in the magazine.

If you want to pre-order the first issue of The White Room Magazine, please use the following link:

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