Forthcoming Paper on Women’s Factory Labor and Electronic Music

I spent the past two years thinking through issues of women’s labor in the electronics assembly industry in the context of the history of electronic music and audio. My work started as an exam bibliography for the certificate offered by the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia, which was advised by Professor of music Ellie Hisama and Professor of sociology and gender studies and Dean of Social Science Alondra Nelson. This work evolved into a pair of conference papers – one at the Women in Sound/Women on Sound symposium in Lancaster, England brilliantly organized by Linda O’Keefe, and one at a graduate symposium at Yale convened around the theme Sound Limits.

I am happy that a paper coming out of this research, titled “‘Nimble Fingers’ in Electronic Music: Rethinking Sound through Neo-colonial Labor” has been accepted for publication. Details to come, but here is the abstract in the meantime:

How can historians of electronic music address the factory labor of the global underclass of women building electronics used in sound technologies? How can we speak to the repetitive work of women who are racially and sexually stereotyped as having ‘nimble fingers,’ being ‘detail oriented’ and ‘obedient?’ Although women workers in electronics assembly are already de facto entangled in contemporary sound production, scholars have yet to enfold their lives and labor into histories of electronic music. I situate electronic sound technologies since the 1960s in the contexts of the global division of labour and the intimate disciplining of women’s bodies, and investigate the discursive fallout of transnational subcontracting in the electronics industry. I argue that rethinking the category women in electronic music is a necessary step for sound studies and musicology, and call for a new disciplinary understanding of electronic sound and audio as fundamentally neo-colonial.


I’ll be at the Women in Sound / Women on Sound symposium in Lancaster, England next week

Sound artist Linda O’Keefe is organizing a Women in Sound / Women on Sound symposium at the Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Art at Lancaster University on November 13, 2015. I will be presenting a paper titled “Women in Electronic Sound Production: Expanding Categories,” where I propose some access points for sound studies and feminist musicology to address the work of the global class of women building electronics used in sound technologies.

Shockingly, my first time back to England since undergrad!

See and follow @womeninonsound1 on twitter.cropped-Poster-1024x528

I (finally!) completed the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality Certificate

I’m happy to announce that after years of inching towards the IRWGS Certificate, I finally completed the certificate exam on September 29. The certification confirms that the candidate is fully qualified to teach interdisciplinary courses in feminist theory and women’s studies.

A successful candidate first completes two graduate seminars: a required IRWGS seminar and a freely selected topical seminar at any department. The next step is the oral exam, which is based on a bibliography that places literature in the candidate’s field in dialogue with theoretical literature in feminist scholarship.

Towards my certificate, I took a class with Marianne Hirsch called Theories of Intimacy. The round-table seminar introduced me to a body of literature on intimacy that I keep returning to, and even more importantly it introduced me to a community of graduate students who, like me, are academically and personally attached to IRWGS. I also took several fantastic seminars on music and gender with Ellie Hisama, who somehow knows the detailed disciplinary, institutional, and personal background of the majority of American feminist musicological papers and conference presentations. The broad themes of my exam bibliography were sound technologies and music, racialized and gendered labour, and postcolonialism. In putting the reading list together, I drew on the expertise of Professor Hisama who represented my home department of Music and Dean Alondra Nelson, who knows a tremendous amount about music and who represented the Social Sciences. My actual exam was an hour-long conversation with my advisors and there is no doubt in my mind that the reading list and conversation will grow and bear on my future work!

Save the date! Women, Music, Power: A Celebration of Suzanne G. Cusick’s Work (Dec 10-12, 2015)

Since the spring, I’ve been working with Ellie Hisama on organizing a two-day event celebrating the work of Suzanne G. Cusick through a two-day symposium, a concert of new music by women, and the publication of a Festschrift volume in Professor Cusick’s honor that will appear as Vol 19 (2015) of Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture, guest-edited by Emily Wilbourne.


Visit for more details. The website is being updated continuously and I can’t wait for us to share more information about the concert (a performance by an exceptional new music ensemble is in the works!) and the symposium schedule (an exciting group of scholars, colleagues, mentors, and former pupils is coming together!).

I am truly happy to be working on this event as Professor Cusick’s work is very special to me. It was her article “Feminist Theory, Music Theory, and the Mind/Body Problem,” published in a 1994 issue of Perspectives of New Music, that started off my thinking about women’s bodies and music technologies, which later became the subject of my dissertation. Also, I am pretty sure, it was one of the pieces of scholarship that introduced me to the work of Donna Haraway. Plus, Cusick’s series of articles on the CIA’s use of music as torture in the so-called War on Terror is, to me, some of the most important, provocative, and timely work happening in music studies right now (here is her taped interview with Make Music Monthly if you don’t like reading).

Sexing Sound Art: my new course for Fall 2015 at Columbia


I will be teaching Sexing Sound Art in the Fall 2015 semester as a GSAS Teaching Scholar at Columbia. The course will be co-sponsored by the Institute for the Research of Women and Gender and the Department of Music.

Here is a short course description:

This course explores sound-based creative practices as sites where gender, race, and sexuality are always, and sometimes explicitly negotiated. We will study contemporary sound art that variously speaks to inequalities in canon-formation, participates in human rights movements of the late 20th and 21st centuries, and suggests feminist and queer readings of everyday sonic praxis. Readings in feminist theory, critical theory, art history, musicology, and media studies will guide in-class discussion of artworks accessed through online archives and New York-based installations. We will also review artist statements, exhibition catalogues, conference programs, online media, and journalistic articles. The seminar will address the following questions: What role do sound-based creative practices play in re-/de-/forming raced, gendered, and sexual subjects? What is the place of activism in sound-based arts engaged with feminist and queer politics? Can sound be feminist, queer, anti-racist, Afrofuturist? How should theorists of race, gender, and sexuality address sound in and out of the arts? Open to all majors

The current version of the syllabus is available under the Teaching tab, or here.

Big shout-out to Prof. Ellie Hisama, who suggested that I develop the syllabus in the first place and lead the Feminist Pedagogy seminar at IRWGS this Spring. She will be leading Feminist Pedagogy next year as well and I couldn’t recommend it more.

I am also preparing a paper on Laetitia Sonami and female labor for Harvard’s “Work & Play: Economies of Music” conference, February 20-21, 2015

The whole title is “Female Labor and Video Games in the Work of Electronic Composer Laetitia Sonami.”

I will talk about building one’s own musical instruments, Mills College in the 1970s, video game controllers, sweating during performance, women wire-bonding microchips in East Asia, housework, and Sonami’s own electronic controller called the Lady’s Glove.

Here is more info about the conference.

Keynote by the amazing pop music scholar and philosopher Robin James!

I will be presenting on Laurie Anderson’s pretend intercoms at Stony Brook’s “Technologies of Sound” conference, Feb 13-14, 2015

This year, the Stony Brook Graduate Music Symposium convenes on the theme “Technologies of Sound: Systems, Networks, Modernities,” with a keynote address by Arved Ashby (Ohio State University). At the conference, as per Stony Brook’s call for papers, “technology is conceived as a broad discourse shaping music history and theory, not only in reference to the tools of music making, but also to methods and procedures in the creation and performance of music, the ethics of various music technologies, and effects of technologies on performers and listeners.”

My paper is titled “Laurie Anderson Has Not Been Listening: The Anti-Mediatory Position as a Sound Technology of Power.” I will address Anderson’s creation of vocal characters who speak as if through amplifiers, megaphones, intercoms, and other technologies of acousmatic address. Anderson, I argue, harnesses the intercom’s construction of an involuntary and unheard listenership as a tangible metaphor for the lack of reciprocity of power in society.

I’m teaching Critical Approaches to Music Technologies this summer at Columbia

I will be teaching a seminar on music technologies as a part of Columbia University’s Summer Sessions.

The course surveys 20th and 21st century music technologies in avant-garde/experimental as well as mainstream/popular genres. Through assigned readings from various fields, students will explore the way music technologies shape musical discourse at large. We will trace the various ways audio-technological practices trouble traditional concepts such as ownership, authorship, musical value, embodiment, performance, or virtuosity, and call for new constructs such as sound synthesis, Liveness, or ‘fair use.’ Students will develop a vocabulary and devise a writing style to assist in the interpretation of music. Empirical listening experience, the experience of a concert or a sound-art installation, and attention to Internet-based music cultures will also feed class discussions.

It runs from July 7 to August 15, 2014.

Check it out here, and click-through for Courseworks.

Pamela Z