[-empyre-] Day 1 #2: Feminism Confronts Audio Tech - Gendered rhetoric

monisola gbadebo monisola.gbadebo at gmail.com
Fri Jun 27 06:55:21 EST 2014

I am very excited by the discourse surrounding the actual physical
means of sonic production: the embodied methods through which we as
feminists and social critics produce our sound. I am also very
interested in the ways in which language influences our
understandings/renders power/knowledge on the epistemologies of our
cultural, musical, and sonic aesthetics. As a queer women of color and
experimental musician. I am often struck by what I view as the
unintentional erasure of influences outside of the Euro-logical when
describing departures from the dominant or norm. Namely I am struck by
how often “queering” is used to describe departures from normative
practice. The ARP2500 and lilttleBit are designed to promote a much
more fluid, less hierarchical, and improvisational means of sonic
production. These fluid and improvisational creative practices could
just as easily be attributed to the long and various impacts
Afro-logical creative practices (Jazz, etc) have had on Euro-logical
(read normative) creative practice--the privileging of improvisation,
fluid structure, viewing instruments as living rather than fixed
(animism) etc. I think of the influence Jazz and West African music
has had on contemporary music especially in the United States and  I
find it hard to ascribe the fluidity of the ARP2500 and littleBit to
queer knowledge production alone.  In Too Many Notes: Computers,
Complexity and Culture in Voyager (Leonardo Music Journal 10 (2000)
George Lewis writes, “The other aspect of this story about the African
instrument deals with an animistic conception, and I think of computer
music in an animistic way... you're dealing with another personality.
The discourse of computer music is really shot through with prosthetic
conceptions. ..when people talk about instruments as
'controllers'..where a musical instrument becomes just a kind of 'user
interface', I start to get a little nervous”.  As evidenced from the
ways in which George Lewis conceived of and designed voyager one could
attribute the fluidity of ARP2500 and littleBit to the long standing
Afro-logical influence on Western sonic production. I do not write
this to downplay or erase the very real influence of queer modalities
of expression. I am only speaking to what I see as an emerging trend
of  “re-whitewashing” western experimentalism by failing to mention a
more intersectional epistemology of creative practice, one that
accounts for Sexuality, Race, and Gender.

~Monisola Gbadebo

On Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 9:55 AM, Asha Tamirisa <ashatamirisa at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> THANK YOU for bringing up littleBits-- surely the ARP is not at all a solution, just a slight nudge in a direction, and certainly carries all of the problems that you illustrate-- thanks for that. Re: littleBits, yes. I love the idea of system reconfigurability, where ideologies and logics of the system are themselves variable and become part of the expressive potential. And right on with accessibility/affordability which is nothing but critical, and also not obfuscating education about sound synthesis in the depths of (sometimes unwelcoming) message boards or in institutions. As you mention, this technology produces the possibility for immense social effects, and it seems as though Ayah Bdeir is very dedicated to that.
> One thing that comes to mind is the aesthetics of littleBits and how the presentation of the information really seems to take education and empowerment in mind. I was having a conversation with a friend recently about softsynths in Logic and how the aesthetic of many DAWs seem unnecessarily cold and a bit convoluted. He likened the aesthetic of these softsynths to the aesthetics of energy drink labels, which I thought was pretty funny and true. I’ll have to more thinking about what exactly I am trying to say about aesthetics, but for me personally, I feel there can be a lot going on with regards to assumptions made about the user and the aesthetics of a machine/technology.
> Would love to hear more ideas of technologies/machines/platforms that subvert normative ideas of connection, power, usability!  Will give some thought to platforms like arduino as well as software environments that allow for reconfigurability at higher and lower levels.
> On Tue, Jun 24, 2014 at 11:10 AM, Lyn Goeringer <lyn.goeringer at gmail.com> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> In consideration of gendered interfaces and dynamic performance, I think instruments such as the arp as a problematic model: these are largely fixed entities. I am afforded a great deal of connectivity within the context of the patch system, but the inherent structure of the system itself is not capable of reconfiguration without severe changes.  The instrument, in its natural state, is not designed for easy adaptable hardware, and it is only through the use of a specific type of normative connectivity that any change is possible within the states of the resulting sound.
>> In imagining currently existing interfaces that allow for different types of configuration, reconfiguration, and assembly, something that would fit into a radical queering of the interface (to consider the interface as an adaptable space for a more fluid gender expression) I am actually drawn towards considering the Little Bits Synth Kit, where the system is no longer reliant on patch cables, but looks towards a system that can be reshaped and reconfiguring by moving the basic components and building blocks around.  The motion and adaptability of the system is limited not by a physical object that was created by another person and shipped out where I must understand their logic and design before I can adapt and work within the original construct, rather, the system of little bits allows me to have access to a greater system of adaptability.  This system also works towards an ideology of equality and access, one that is all but non-existent in systems such as the Arp, which assume a position where one must have at least access (usually via financial means) to use the instrument itself: without access to an institution who owns one, or without the money to purchase one, people rarely will be able to work with an instrument.  Within this context, we immediately begin to adapt to, or work within, a structure of power that reinforces normative (and hierarchical) structures of music making.  By disrupting the chain of access, Little Bits synth kit begins to destabilize not only the privilege of access to electronic sound production, but also enables a different gendered code through different connectivity systems at large.  It also has the benefit of being able to be patched into other modular systems, making it another way of changing the larger systems at/in play.
>> I think it is powerful to imagine new systems, where the connections themselves are no longer focused on 'tab A slot B' thinking: we are no longer confined to the manufacturing morays.  Where Little Bits is not the perfect solution, it does allow access to larger communities as well as contribute to a changing way of having modular connectivity that is malleable during performance.
>> (interesting thoughts, Asha! Thank you for starting this thread)
>> -Lyn
>> Lyn.Goeringer at gmail.com
>> www.lyngoeringer.com/portfolio
>> On Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 9:00 PM, Asha Tamirisa <ashatamirisa at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> [for those not familiar with modular synthesizers, a google image search will help!]
>>> Historically, gender and race function as a means of grounding power on the basis of essentialist differentiation, and I’m interested in how these structures of power/knowledge find their way into the development/deployment of technology. Feminizing/eroticizing machines is not new: Lee Hart likens a turned dial to a nipple rising, automobiles are often feminized, and more recently the movie Her depicts a feminized virtual space... Industry standard audiotechnical language falls in similar traps: cables with protrusions are referred to as male, inverted jacks are referred to as female. If we carry this over to modular synthesizers, the machine with all of its inverted connection points becomes feminized, and the user, using cables with so-called male ends, is produced as a masculine subject.
>>> I’m interested in the ARP2500, which uses a matrix system instead of patch cables. The matrix system, which allows for scanning multiple points of connectivity in the system, expresses a more queer logic than its predecessors. Even with a set destination in mind, the user must scan through all other connections en route. To me, this expresses a much more spectral experience of connectivity and a very different gendering of the user and machine. I’ve thus begun exploring ideas of ‘queering the interface’ but I wonder: just because a technology reflects normative ideas in its design, does it necessarily produce these meanings with its use? On the other side, if I were to, for instance, design a synth that had an interface that displayed more queer, fluid ideologies, would it necessarily provoke the type of social effects that it seeks to emulate?
>>> Personally, I am very invested in recuperating an idea of the body that is not essentialist/unchanging. Technological design shaped by normative ideas of difference are, to me, an unnecessary rearticulation of traditional narratives of gendered and racialized power. Moreover, as a technologist, I appreciate the possibility space that opens up when thinking about spectral ideas of connectivity and subjectivity. What the material effects of technologies that follow spectral and mobile logics of power and subjectivity are, I am not sure…. looking forward to hearing responses/criticisms/thoughts!
>>> --
>>> - Asha Tamirisa
>>> ashatamirisa at gmail.com
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> --
> - Asha Tamirisa
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