Politics of Location

I began this research project, now populating posts on Feminist Frequencies, with a focus upon the Her Noise Archive. Firstly, because I knew about this archive before beginning this research as it resonated with concerns I had previously begun to address in my undergraduate studies; secondly, because I believe it is an important body of work. I realised the import of this archive before I began to work on re-cataloging its expanded contents in preparation of its move from the offices of Electra to London College of Communication in 2010. To me it represents a body of work that, if lost, would need to be done again. Gaining a deeper understanding of the amount of work that actually went into producing this project, I further realised that if it were lost, this work probably would not be done again and, most certainly not in the same way. This is one reason why I am such a strong supporter of this archive. It is an important and complex project which I have only just scraped the surface of.

In the early stages of this research I have listened to, thought and written about works by Hildegard Westerkamp, Katharine Norman, Salomé Voegelin, Christina Kubisch, Kaffe Matthews, Ain Bailey and LCC MA Sound Arts students’ work made in response to the Her Noise Archive, as well as analyses of my own creative practice. In fact, I have more words tucked away in Scrivener documents than I could ever possibly know what to do with. But, in gaining a better understanding of the curatorial framing of the Her Noise Project throughout the process of my learning and writing, as one that has been structured through a critical feminist performativity, I finally chose to focus upon more detailed analyses of Emma Hedditch’s We’re Alive, Let’s Meet! and Reverse Karaoke: Automatic Music Tent by Jutta Koether and Kim Gordon as two installations from the Her Noise Archive. I could have written an entire thesis on each of the works in the Her Noise Archive, on punk or DIY or riot grrrl aesthetics, on zine production or sound and experimental film in the small but incredible collection of film in this archive. But I can’t cover everything, and there are plenty of ideas within this archive for other people to take up should they so desire. I chose Hedditch’s installation specifically because it is the one that really activated the entire archive for me. I chose Koether’s and Gordon’s installation because it is the work that, in my opinion, can be perceived as providing a grounding for the entire Her Noise Project.

I chose to place Cathy Lane’s Hidden Lives (1999) as the first analysis of this research for several reasons. Firstly, to explain this choice I need to return to my initial instigation for this entire research at the beginning of this project which was an interest in feminine writing and also feminist performativity and embodiment. These interests stemmed from my undergraduate experiences, both of which I began to address in my undergraduate dissertation Making Spaces: Feminist Contexts in Sonic Arts (2005). Yet within the first year of the doctoral studies through which this research was undertaken, I was advised away from the former – feminine writing – for being too essentialist and from the latter – performativity and embodiment – as being too unwieldy, too large. And so I sought another way around, and that was to return to the foundations of feminism – the essentialist/constructionist debate – and to the basis of performativity, which is speech act theory. Discussions with Cathy Lane herself, combined with my own readings of Joan W. Scott’s critical feminism and Judith Butler’s gender performativity helped me to articulate what I heard in Hidden Lives (Scott 1996, 1999: Butler 1990, 1997). This then forms the first analysis in this research project, as a study in speech act theory, performativity and in my opinion, critical feminism.

I was aware from early on in this research project that everything I was researching was still all very “white”. I wanted to address this, actually, I wanted to address race in this research, but I had fewer tools at my disposal for this purpose, never having had to articulate “whiteness” in the same way as always seeming to have to articulate being “female” or even being “queer”. In fact, most of my experience has been about not articulating race which has more to do with my own histories and entanglements with colonial legacies of migration than I was initially really conscious of at the beginning of this research. Yet, no one in academia has ever confronted me with the whiteness of my subjects in the same way that some have questioned my desire to focus on “femaleness”. This is not an excuse at all, but is rather an important fact to note. Often throughout this research I’ve had to defend my decision to only write about women’s work, being always reminded of Karlheinz Stockhausen or Pierre Schaefer or Pierre Boulez or even Beethoven as precedents for example. But at no time have I had to defend, at least within academia, why everyone seems to be white.

It was through my work with Irene Revell, Cathy Lane and Fatima Hellberg on the Her Noise: Feminisms and the Sonic symposium in 2012 that I was fortunate to encounter the work of Sonia Boyce. Up until this point, again as a marker of my own position of privilege, I was having difficulty articulating an ‘intersectional’ feminism in the works that I was listening to. For in everything that I was reading and researching, the “issue” of race only ever seemed to come up when predicated upon “other” bodies, be they African, Caribbean , Asian or Indian, in short anyone who didn’t immediately identify as “white”. Where was “race” then and how could I talk about it within the quagmire of identity politics were my questions at this point in my research. I was so fortunate to be able to speak with Sonia Boyce who so generously talked with me about the Devotional Series and her vast oeuvre. This was around the time of the Woolwich Lee Rigby murder in London (2013) and I remember distinctly being very disturbed by the images circulating in the press at the time, of a black man covered in blood and a white man in uniform. Boyce assured me then that, through hybridity and diasporan movement we had come too far, we had ‘mixed’ too much to ever go backwards to a singular truth of those images that haunted me. But even then, even though the ideas that have transpired through this research were still very much struggling for some form of articulation, I still couldn’t articulate the ways in which we are all implicated in the concept of race – the ways in which I am implicated in race-thinking – for I still struggled then to understand ‘white’ as ‘race’. Yet my conversation with Boyce at this time was expansive and open, I wanted to know and to understand, but I was still very green. In my mind we seemed to be talking about very similar things, but coming from different perspectives. This led me to question how it was that in talking about performativity within a music department my meaning could be misunderstood, yet in discussing performative processes with Boyce we shared a common language – even though our ‘backgrounds’, on Boyce’s side largely coming out of visual arts and diasporan and post-colonial critique and on mine sound, music, gender and queer feminist performativity, should seemingly be, but were not, quite different. This led me to explicitly search for connections between post-colonial scholarship and theories of gender performativity, which in turn led me to connect race and sexuality as not merely intersectional, but specifically as co-incidental. My main critique of the Her Noise Archive up to this point had been that the terms of belonging in this archive seemed to be uncritically based upon an unacknowledged erasure of race in favour of a single focus upon gender. As it turns out, typically, my own unacknowledged biases performed this erasure of race from my own experiences of gender and sexuality. I am eternally grateful to Sonia Boyce for her deep patience and generosity that enabled me to write whatever I needed to write about the Devotional Archive, to explore it through my own devices, knowing full-well that however I might interpret it would reflect my own understandings or lack there of. There is a generosity in allowing for failure which is not always rewarded by a reciprocal learning, so it is a chance one takes. What being able to consider the Devotional Series and the Her Noise Project together has made audible for me is an understanding of race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, gender and sexuality as relational and co-incidental constructions that affect all of us, albeit in very different ways.

Finally, I chose Boyce’s For you, only you as the last work to focus upon in this project because it connects all of the concerns addressed within this research. Additionally, my experience of this work, was so affectively profound, it moved me and I wanted to know how and why. It is clearly performative, historical, political, juxtapolitical and musical. It is about race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, gender, sexuality, sound and music worked through performances between the individual and the collective. It is affectively manipulative – and I mean that in the best possible way – and I wanted to know how and why it pressed my emotional auditory buttons. In fact this is the reason why I’ve chosen all of the works that will come to make up this blog. Because they made me feel something, anxiety, love, fear, frustration, deep, deep despair, euphoria and, dare I say it, hope, and I wanted to know how and why that was.

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