What’s the situation?

Feminist Frequencies is situated within an emerging field of feminist research in sound studies with a focus upon sound arts and experimental musics. The writings that will slowly populate the posts and pages of this blog will be predominantly informed by discourses of critical feminism, critical race, post-colonial and queer theories combined with feminist epistemologies in sound studies and feminist and queer musicology.  Feminist sound studies as an emergent discourse that applies feminist theory as a theoretical tool through which to think about the socio-cultural and political uses of sound specifically in sound arts and experimental musics is a relatively new endeavour.  Situated within this emergent discourse, Feminist Frequencies addresses questions of how socio-political differences and lived experiences of gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity may be perceived to manifest in the making of sound arts and experimental musics. These questions are addressed through post-structuralist theories that employ paradox, performativity and hybridity as processes that aim to destabilise and transgress assumed limits of social, political and audible intelligibility.  The ideas put forward on this blog will seek to measure these limits so as to perceive the ways in which they may be appreciated as having shaped auditory perception and aesthetic practice.  Dominant assumptions about gender and sound will be focused upon. What discourses and performances those assumptions have produced and how those discourses and performances have been used to destabilise and transform sound art and experimental music practices will be further considered through the analysis of specific aesthetic works.

Feminist sound studies scholar Tara Rodgers has identified the processes by which audio-technical discourses within sound studies have been constructed to reflect biblical and historically masculine ideals of self-birth and mastery that have produced the white Western masculine ideal as the archetypal subject of sound (Rodgers 2010b). This combined with Georgina Born’s recent findings of “the emergence in the present of a highly (male) gendered creative digital music scene” (Born, Devine & Taylor 2014) in the UK, presents conclusive evidence to suggest that gender manifests in the making of sound arts and experimental musics in ways that have materialised asymmetrical and hierarchical identities and experiences in sound and music, experienced particularly acutely for those who do not fit the archetypal ideal. In each of the compositional examples that will be addressed on this site, gender is perceived to have manifested initially in the making of these works as a protest against these asymmetries and hierarchies, experienced as forms of marginalisation, neglect, erasure, disqualification and misrepresentation.  As Her Noise Project co-curator Lina Džuverović has explained, this manifests in experience as “knowing that there is a certain inequality as a starting point” (transcribed Džuverović HNI-2006).  Feminist Frequencies then, addresses works that have been produced from acknowledged positions of marginalisation and which take a particular socio-political problem or question as the impetus for their production, as “the means through which taken-for-granted presuppositions are contested and new ways of thinking and analysing become possible” (Butler 2011: 3). These works raise questions about experience and inequality, as social, cultural and political sites and are not focused primarily upon sound for sound’s sake as a closed and self-referential system.

As a result, Feminist Frequencies asks of different ways in which categories of  “woman” have been historically silenced, erased, ignored and disqualified from and misrepresented within dominant historical sound and music histories that “privileges the perspective of an archetypal Western, white, and male subject” as the universal ideal (Rodgers 2010b: v).  If the archetype of the white Western male can be appreciated as the archetypal subject of sound, as Rodgers has suggested, then what representations of “woman” might have materialised within this relational paradigm?  To answer this question Feminist Frequencies seeks to measure the assumed limits of social and audible intelligibility by considering the laws, norms and conventions by which such limits have been produced and maintained. In particular noise and silence will be addressed as the assumed polar limits of sound arts and experimental musics combined with a reconsideration of the fundamental parameters of pitch, timbre and amplitude as sound’s laws, norms and conventions. Feminist Frequencies considers the ways in which these modes of auditory perceptual organisation can be appreciated as having been produced through existent modes of social organisation so as to examine the correlations between hearing, listening and identity as they manifest in feminist sound arts and experimental music processes.

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