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Feeling Out the Limits of History

Feminist theory at the end of the twentieth century gained a more critical self-reflexivity through the emergence of gender studies. This enabled Western feminist theorists to address history’s ongoing resistance to the changes is sought to institute, especially around ideas about the production and subordination of difference, historicising its own development within a social constructivist paradigm in modes that resonate through twenty-first century queer, queer of colour and critical race critiques (Scott 1999; Alexander 2005;  Butler 2011; Freeman 2010; Holland 2012). Within feminist musicology, Ellen Koskoff mirrors these concerns critiquing the field´s own processes of historicisation, highlighting what she perceives as the main phases of the field as correlating with the main phases of feminism as woman-centric, gender-centric and socially embedded approaches (Koskoff 2005).

Through the emergence of gender theory, theorists sought to consider the limitations of prior feminist approaches as those that had not really affected much wide-ranging or sustainable change. Simply valuing women’s work without a deeper critique of the term ¨woman¨, Joan W. Scott explains, has the propensity to reify essentialist ideas about of woman (Scott 1996, 1999). Additionally, without a critique of the construction of this identity category, the term woman can be co-opted for more conservative and transphobic purposes. On the other side of this analytical spectrum, historical analyses of asymmetrical power structures considered through broader sociological fields often eclipse racialised gender categories completely under the rubric of a shared mankind. In effect this approach produces herstories opposed to critiques of histories as mutually exclusive processes which have, as Scott explains, a limited effect upon the foundational constructions and lived experiences of gender (Scott 1999: 18).  In effect, we get a reification of difference or its sublimation, which is a pretty difficult way to live.

Past feminist musicological work has similarly sought to ‘write women into history’, either through presenting evidence of women’s musical contributions that have been historically erased, or through analyses of larger and more systemic structures by which ideas about gender, race and music have been produced. The task of Feminist Frequencies then, is to try balance some of these tensions between experience and theory, as a way to try to understand how identity categories affect listening.

Considered through processes that engage speech act theory; performative composition; representational politics embedded within audition; the critical analysis of auditory fundamental parameters through paradigms of discipline and desire; and historically shifting sociopolitical liberal economies mapped through tensions and negotiations between the individual and the collective, each of the artworks considered within Feminist Frequencies are addressed as experiments governmentality. By this I mean that each work is considered through processes of  “organisation, distribution, and limitation of powers in a society” (Foucault 2008: 16, 13) where shifting definitions of “woman” – as subject, as gender and as politics – are considered through socio-aesthetic processes of sound arts and experimental music production.

Finally, an overarching intention of Feminist Frequencies is not only to investigate the ways in which historical differences may have manifested in sound arts and experimental musics. Specifically, the intention is to connect these aesthetic disciplines as informed by recent scholarship undertaken within the field of sound studies directly with feminist, queer and critical race scholarship. Feminist Frequencies, then, is intentionally transdisciplinary, listening out for relations and patterns within wider discourses so as to connect with broader ranges of sonic experience that a listening-in to sound alone, as sound for sound’s sake, can ever possibly allow and to instead infuse listening with a multitude of other herstorical temporalities.

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Published inFeeling Out the Limits of HistoryIntroduction