IMPROVISATION, according to the Scottish vocalist Maggie Nicols, “reaches out, breaks down barriers, challenges frontiers."

"Music is about liberation,” she rallied — yet she knew only too well that the social scene around experimental music wasn’t always quite as liberated as the art itself. In the late 1970s, Nicols co-founded what became known as the Feminist Improvising Group (FIG). Its members were all women and its performances roamed from freewheeling improv sets to comedy sketches parodying notions of domestic femininity. Brooms, hoovers and egg slicers were deployed as props. Some fellow musicians loved it, others were appalled.

That was back when jazz and improvised music were overwhelmingly male domains: picture the macho thrust of an elder statesman saxophonist — the great Peter Brötzmann, say — blowing fast and furious for an hour straight. There were female trailblazers, too, but they were often sidelined as anomalies. Nicols points out that in Derek Bailey’s era-defining book Improvisation, “any women involved, not even on the margins but as innovators to the scene, are just totally absent.”

She also notes that FIG’s influence on the next generation has never been widely acknowledged. “Written out of the history. We’re all socialised, and music is just another history, and it’s passed down the male lineage, and we have been written out.” Things have improved in recent decades, but I have yet to meet a female improviser working today who hasn’t confronted some or all of the same prejudices FIG tried to break apart four decades ago.

Which is why it is still worth applauding any experimental music festival that gets the gender balance right. Glasgow’s Counterflows is one such. Artist-in-residence this year is the groundbreaking harpist/multi-instrumentalist Zeena Parkins, and her performances include a first-time duo with Danish saxophone adventurer Mette Rasmussen. The festival’s opening concert in the Glasgow University Chapel features Irish singer-songwriter Aine O’Dwyer improvising on pipe organ and violinists Laura Cannell and Angharad Davies in a piece prepared at St Peter’s Seminary with fiddler Aidan O’Rourke. A series of talks called Women in Contemporary Music is presented in association with the Glasgow Women’s Library and hosted by music journalist Frances Morgan of Wire Magazine.

“No, we aren’t making a point of presenting women,” says Counterflows artistic co-director Alasdair Campbell. “We are simply presenting good artists.”

One of the most intriguing appearances over the weekend is a new band called Motherese led by Yorkshire musician/visual artist/music therapist Aby Vulliamy. The name refers to the babble language spoken between mothers and their babies – imitation, swoops, repetition – and the core trio of Vulliamy, vocalist Maria Jardardottir and pianist Laura Cole are all mothers. Like FIG, Motherese aims to make music that reflects the social reality of the musicians playing it.

Vulliamy has been writing songs about motherhood since her own children were infants. She found herself grappling with what it meant to be both a mother and a musician. “It wasn’t that my identity as a creative person was in doubt,” she clarifies, “because I sang to them all the time. But I seriously questioned my identity as a professional who could turn up on time and be relied upon.”

She talks of “a great taboo” around admitting post-natal feelings of loneliness, alienation, fatigue, frustration, self-doubt. “And I’m pretty tough! I’ve always been a sturdy girl, not a girly girl, which I guess is in my blood because my mum had five kids and she breastfed us all and somehow she coped. I know I have incredible stamina, and I had to learn to ask for support.”

One source of support was songwriting. She kept a notebook within reach and would jot down ideas while breastfeeding. One piece, Interbabble, portrays the sort of interaction that happens when a mother meets a friend yet “is totally incapable of holding down a complete conversation."

"Even when you’re craving grown-up company more than anything and you try to get stuck into a grown-up subject, your chat is invariably interrupted by the needs of your child. So the music reflects all that surreal and exhausted fragmentation and non-linearness and frustration.”

Another source of support came from Vulliamy’s National Jazz Trio of Scotland bandmate Bill Wells. “He stood by me when a lot of other bandleaders didn’t risk employing a new mother. He was happy for me bring the kids on tour even when they were infants, even when I had to interrupt rehearsals to breastfeed. Once I even breastfed during a BBC Scotland session… played my viola live on air, Poppy latched to my boob.”

I suspect that kind of gung-ho adaptability is something most mothers will recognise; it is also, says Vulliamy, exactly what is needed to be a good improviser.

“Yeah, to be open and daring in front of an audience takes a lot of balls!” she jokes. “Maybe that’s why improv has traditionally been stereotyped as a guy’s thing. You have to be assertive and bold. But I would argue that you also have to be a bit of a socialist. You have to listen and adapt, and mothers are the most open and adaptable people, and the best listeners. A good mother has to have all the ‘feminine’ attributes – we have to be gentle, kind, patient, sensitive and responsive – but also all the ‘masculine’ attributes, too: forceful, strong, determined, brave, incredible stamina, able to withstand exposure. And my point with Mothersese is that all of these attributes translate into music in a way that is, I think, really beautiful.”

Vulliamy herself has been a invaluable member of many other people’s bands, from the National Jazz Trio of Scotland to the One Ensemble to Hanna Tuulikki, and it’s heartening to now see her promoting her own project. Yet she fears Motherese might be misconstrued.

“I’ve stated in the blurb that we’re all mothers; maybe that means we will be easy to dismiss as shambolic, or as whingy, or as cringeworthy, wishy-washy, sappy, lullaby-singing mothers harping on about the simple and pure love we have for our children.”

Truth is, that love is far from simple and pure, and any wishy-washy, sappy stereotype fails to acknowledge the fury and desperation, the strength and stamina involved in parenthood. “Society generally doesn’t want to hear about the darker aspects,” Vulliamy suggests.

Don’t come to Motherese expecting a cutesy singalong. The reality is so much more complicated, and more interesting.

Motherese is a workshop and performance that takes place on Sunday April 10 at the Glad Cafe, Glasgow, part of Counterflows: