Here are my conference abstracts. Get in touch if you’re working on similar topics! lv2252 [at] columbia [dot] edu
“The Labor behind the Label,” Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society, San Antonio, TX, November 2018.
ABSTRACT: It is notoriously difficult to trace the manufacturing pathways of sound technologies from speakers to electronic instruments. The cultural cachet of MADE IN labels on audio equipment occludes the gendered and racialized reality of subcontracting in the electronics industry, which overwhelmingly employs women on its factory floors. This is a paper about the economic and human conditions that make electronic music possible. Drawing on corporate and public records, popular music and technology publications, legislation, and activist archives, I survey the labor histories of several American manufacturers of audio equipment, and place them in dialogue with users’ fetishization of equipment made in the United States.
In the late twentieth century, the electronics assembly industry has employed increasingly vulnerable populations of women. The companies in my focus went from employing immigrant men in the United States, to women in the United States, to rural migrant women in Mexico, to rural migrant women in Southeast Asia. Although Donna Haraway reminds us that “some must labor invisibly for others [to be freed] through technology use,” feminist scholarship on music and sound still largely revolves around “exceptional” women musicians. Published histories about the music industry likewise scarcely mention women’s labor, and where they do, they typically gloss it with the same gendered and racialized stereotypes advertised by offshore plants: women’s supposed patience, respect for authority, ability to focus on the small scale, hands suited for delicate work, etc. Happily, a growing body of work in media studies exemplified by Lisa Nakamura’s research on Navajo women circuit-builders and the 2015 Routledge Companion to Labor and Media Studies recognizes digital culture as reliant on systems of labor centrally indebted to (and exploitative of) women. Building on this work, I recast the histories of manufacturing and consuming American audio equipment with women’s labor at the center, and question its gendered relationship to audiophile cultures.
“Rethinking the Musical Museum in 2018,” Panel convener and speaker, The Music Survey at a (Post)Global University, Musicology in the Age of (Post)Globalization: The Barry S. Brook Centennial Conference, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, April 2018.
PANEL PROPOSAL: This panel seeks to reflect on and experiment with the purpose and the shape of core music courses in undergraduate curricula. Surveying the landscape of pivotal changes at Music departments over the past couple of years, panelists will also propose concrete alternative approaches to the common survey of Western art music. All panelists are current and recent instructors of one such course titled “Music Humanities,” required of all undergraduates at Columbia University. Speaking from the vantage points of ethnomusicology, historical musicology, composition, and music theory respectively, each panelist will imagine a redesign of the learning objectives, texts and contexts, and music-technical and theoretical frameworks that define “Music Humanities.” These proposals will explicitly respond to the increasing diversity, internationalization, and global thinking of many university campuses on the one hand, and to the paucity of ethical and critical thinking in the American political mainstream on the other.
ABSTRACT: By way of introducing the panel, I will briefly gloss the landscape of recent curricular changes at Music departments across the United States, focusing on requirements for Music Majors, the content of qualifying exams for PhD students, and the content of 101/introductory/core Music courses. Where student opinions on curricular matters are often sidelined, often under the banner of resisting the idea of neoliberal universities catering to student-clients, I will argue that student voices should matter to us. Placing student commentary in dialogue with Lydia Goehr’s concept of the “imaginary museum of musical works” and Claire Bishop’s work on progressive museums of contemporary art, I will reflect on mission statements and strategies (of museums and music courses alike) that respond to the current geopolitical moment and the 21st century university.
“Composed Instruments, Failing Circuits: Out-of-Control Controllers and the Theatricality of Latency” After Experimental Music, Cornell University, February 2018. Invited presentation.
ABSTRACT: This talk explores musicians’ interest in electronic technologies behaving unpredictably. Where much of the musical and academic interest in malfunction has focused on artifacts (prepared technologies of recording and playback, glitch music), embodied performance with disobedient systems brings the human-machine relationship into focus.
Composer-performers Laetitia Sonami, Michel Waisvisz, Alexis Langevin-Tétrault, Jaime Oliver, and others have at different times welcomed technological disobedience, latency, and even malfunction. Their “composed instruments” – systems that simultaneously occupy the place of controller, instrument, and score – are difficult to perform with, at times technically unreliable, and always entangled with the performer’s body. Their performances challenge the idea that technology needs to be controlled, the fetishization of zero latency in digital performance, and the need for seamless, transparent performer-instrument relationships. When composed instruments behave unpredictably, human-machine interaction becomes a negotiation of agency rather than an exercise of control, deconstructing our experience of perception. These musical practices, I argue, build on indeterminacy and improvisation as mainstays of experimental aesthetics but also augur new instrument-building and professional practices alongside new musical poetics.
“The Multimedia Essay,” Innovative Teaching Summer Institute, Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning, Columbia University, June 2017. Invited presentation.
“The Music of Pamela Z: Biofeedback Intimacies in the Age of Self-Tracking,” Music in Polycultural America series, H. Wiley Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music, Brooklyn College, April 2017. Invited lecture.
ABSTRACT: Pamela Z is a classically trained experimental vocalist who performs with a biofeedback system called the BodySynth. My talk will consider musical performance with biofeedback as an experimental way of knowing that de-essentializes contemporary discourses surrounding self-tracking and embodiment. Together with Z’s characteristic use of delay and looping, the system produces a sense of aural intimacy centered on the muscular and vocal labor of performance.
“Women and Gender in Sound Art,” Panel chair, with Rachel Devorah and others, Re-embodied Sound: A Symposium and Festival of Transducer-based Music and Sonic Art, Columbia University, April 2017. Invited presentation.
“Multimedia Learning,” Panel presentation, with Mark Phillipson, Paul A. Scolieri, and Reyes Llopis-García, Celebration of Teaching and Learning Symposium, Columbia University, March 2017. Invited presentation.
“Blackness, Telepresence, and the Carceral State,” Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society, Vancouver, British Columbia, November 2016.
ABSTRACT: My paper addresses a recent outcropping of concerts and installations presenting deceased American artists in artificially-voiced, 3D-animated, hologram-like form. The late rap artists 2Pac (Tupac Amaru Shakur), Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Russell Tyrone Jones), and Eazy-E (Eric Lynn Wright), as well as pop artists Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston are among the Black American musicians rendered as singing holograms since 2012. To unpack the complex relationship of Blackness and telepresence in the American musical imaginary, I also draw on recent multimedia installations by Pamela Z, Kevin Beasley, and Laurie Anderson and Mohammed el Gharani.
I argue that this emerging music-technological tradition hinges on the fact that Black life in the United States is always implicitly haunted by death. Tracing the figuration of the hologram as deathly in American popular culture, I draw on critical histories of sound recording to theorize listening to voices from ‘beyond the grave’ (Sterne, Théberge, Stanyek and Piekut). In hip-hop hologram performance, death appears in many guises: as overdose, AIDS diagnosis, murder, but also as conviction, imprisonment, second class citizenship, and the very policing of Black life.
How, then, do we listen to these performances through the prism of death, both literal and social? Beasley’s I.W.M.S.B., a 2012 electronic composition that digitally blends the voices of dead rappers into a nebulous flow, provides a point of access for my discussion of artificial vocality in hologram performance. I also draw on recent theories of musical Liveness to address the participatory character of rhyming and singing along with the hologram as well as the political stakes of the not-so-Live performance of Blackness (Auslander, Sanden, Porcello). On the surface, I conclude, the hip-hop hologram appeals to the Afrofuturist tradition, but the corporate interests at play betray at least a partial exploitation of Black performance with a strong footing in American music.
“Reading the Prosthetic in Sound Technology,” Embodied Cognition Reading Group, Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University, September 2016. Invited presentation.
“Black Box White Box: Electronics Assembly and the Factory Museum,” Yale Graduate Music Symposium, Yale University, March 2016.
ABSTRACT: How can scholars of sound address the factory labor of the global underclass of women building electronics used in sound technologies? 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 discourses on electronic sound. My paper calls not for more marginalized research on women’s labor but for a new disciplinary understanding of electronic sound and audio as fundamentally neo-colonial.
A shift in Anglophone discourse surrounding consumer sound technologies and electronic instruments reflects the history of transnational subcontracting in electronics assembly. By staking the racialized production of electronics against the technoscientific claim that electronic technologies ‘democratize’ musical production, I illustrate how sonic Whiteness is constructed from the neo-colonial networks of electronics assembly. I then explore the Western luxury of converting former factories into museums from an acoustic- architectural standpoint. These hollow, resonant monuments, I argue, betray the human cost of capitalism – all the bodies spent elsewhere. I interpret several site-specific installations for these spaces (by Kara Walker, Kevin Beasley, and others), which address women’s factory labor through sculpture and sound.
“Women in Electronic Sound Production: Expanding Categories,” Women in Sound / Women on Sound, Lancaster University, England, November 2015.
ABSTRACT: Gayatri Spivak calls the Third World woman factory worker the “paradigmatic subject of post- modern neo-colonialism.” How should feminist sound studies address the factory labor of Third World and immigrant women manufacturing 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 they are already de facto entangled in contemporary sound production, scholars have yet to enfold their lives and labor into discourses on electronic sound and women in music.
My paper explores the affective and material affinities between the global underclass of factory women and American composers of electronic music. My aim is to explore ways of thinking across U.S./Euro-centric feminist theory and third-world/diaspora feminism, and thinking across the different theoretical and ethical objectives of feminist sound studies and musicology. I propose that we situate composers’ work with consumer and DIY electronics in the contexts of the global division of labor and the intimate disciplining of women’s bodies. I will argue that expanding the category ‘women in music’ is a necessary step for sound studies, and I will show how this disciplinary decentering alters our interpretation of electronic sound.
“Gendering Gesture in Electronic Music: Sonic, Scenic, Cyborg,” Institute for Research on Women, Gender & Sexuality Graduate Colloquium, Columbia University, March 2015.
“Female Labor and Video Games in the Work of Electronic Composer Laetitia Sonami,” Work and Play: Economies of Music, The Harvard Graduate Music Forum Conference, Harvard University, February 2015.
ABSTRACT: The theme of female labor looms large in the electronic music of composer Laetitia Sonami. Sonami has designed and built a number of personalized instruments that defy the post 1980s centralization of the music technology market. She often mounts electronics – such as hardware from video-game controllers – onto tools of domestic work. Cynically, she thus thematizes the modern home as a site of female labor and male leisure, and invites her audiences to confront the (in)appropriateness of her tools.
Sonami has most frequently performed with the Lady’s Glove (1991), a gesture controller fitted with magnetic sensors, resistor strips, ultrasound speakers, and accelerometers supplying fluctuating voltage that is converted to MIDI with SensorLab software. Its technology is based on the early video controller the Power Glove (1989), but it was actually conceptualized as a feminist riposte to the machismo and militarism of videogame controllers.
The original Lady’s Glove was mounted on a rubber glove such as those worn to wash the dishes and bathrooms. Continuing the running metaphor of housework, Sonami often compares tinkering with electronics to cooking, and in the instance of several of many musical objects mounted on ready-mades, she embedded speakers inside rubber toilet plungers. Her conceptual interest in building instruments that only to a disproportionate amount of physical effort actualizes the theme of female work and binds the gendered life of the female electronic composer to the gendered experience of the American everywoman. Furthermore, I propose that the detail-driven work of building electronics creates an affective bridge between the composer and the “cyborg women making chips in Asia” – a relationship of “affinity, not identity,” as Haraway put it in her Cyborg Manifesto.
It was, I will argue, Sonami’s encounters with feminist practice early in her career (her study with Elaine Radigue; meeting Joel Chadabe; the atmosphere of Mills College under Robert Ashley; collaboration with Rebecca Friebring) that empowered her to be explicit about her gendered experience of the field of electronic music. As a result, whether microscopic or macroscopic, Sonami’s work resists any other outcome than play.
“Laurie Anderson Has Not Been Listening: The Anti-Mediatory Position as a Sound Technology of Power,” Technologies of Sound: Systems, Networks, Modernities – the Stony Brook Graduate Music Symposium, Stony Brook University, February 2015.
ABSTRACT: Scholars writing about Laurie Anderson often focus on the gender-bending vocal filters that produce her signature ‘voice of command.’ This paper understands vocal gender as one aspect of Anderson’s broader interest in thematizing sound technologies of power: specifically, I explore her creation of vocal characters who speak as if through amplifiers, megaphones, and intercoms. These technologies – even when only present dialogically – indeed command one’s listening. And yet, they refuse to listen back. 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.
Drawing on Jean Baudrillard and Philip Auslander who have argued that mass media are defined by non-responsiveness, I show how Anderson thematizes not listening as a sound technology of power. With reference to her site-specific juvenilia for car horns and megaphones, the mediatized vocal characters of her 1980s albums, and her 2011 participation in Occupy Art protests relying on the acoustic technology of mic-check, I explore Anderson’s nuanced critiques of the auditory subjugation of mass publics by acousmatic address.
Expanding on feminist musicologists’ gender-analytical work on Anderson’s voices, I note that her characters’ very access to sound technologies is enabled by their gender, race, and class subjectivity. In my discussion of listenerships constructed by acousmatic address, I place these feminist perspectives in dialogue with recent work on acousmatic sound by Seth Kim-Cohen and Brian Kane.
“On Liveness and Labor in the Era of Hologram Singers,” Bone Flute to Auto-Tune: A Conference on Music & Technology in History, Theory and Practice, University of California, Berkeley, April 2014. Here is a pared-down version of the paper itself.
ABSTRACT: Hatsune Miku is a humanoid hologram pop star voiced by Vocaloid software. She regularly signs in front of large audiences in Japan, complicating the concept of Live performance. I discuss how the ideology of Liveness perpetuates the cultural inequality of performers and audiences, and the dualities of gender, race, and class that govern musical culture. I show that Hatsune’s position within the Manga/Anime genres enables the radical redefinition of the valued sites of labor in her concerts and focuses attention on audience intimacy rather than on the stage.
Hatsune sings the songs of independent songwriters who participate in online communities and so she participates in a utopian-futuristic creative ethos uncharacteristic of the modern music industry. Her fan communities consistently foreground the traditionally invisible labor of songwriting and make transparent the step-by-step vocal, visual, and animated assembly of the pop star on music-sharing websites and in online discussion forums. And yet, Hatsune’s undergroundism rubs elbows with major corporate stakes: Yamaha/Vocaloid, Crypton Future Media, and SEGA all profit from her brand.
Building on Philip Auslander’s critique on Liveness and Nina Eidsheim’s exposition of Vocaloid’s interpretation of race, I argue that post-Live musical practices are technologies of Otherness. de Beauvoir’s maxim “one is not born but rather becomes a woman” gathers new meanings in the post-Live era when women are literally programmed – complete with unlikely legs and floor-length teal ponytails. Hatsune does not have a body, she merely represents embodiment; she does not perform gender, she is only a representation of its signifying practices. The audiences of Hatsune thus enter intimate attunements that eschew subject-object relations. I propose that Hatsune’s Manga aesthetics only encourage this redefinition of concert relationality because the genre commonly experiments with representations of subjectivity, biology, and genealogy. The familiarity of Manga in Japan then practically ushers post-Live musical agent into mainstream pop, while at the same time lending them a certain radical edge.