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

Asha Tamirisa ashatamirisa at gmail.com
Fri Jun 27 00:03:57 EST 2014

Some more thoughts--

With regards to subversive technologies [+feminist spaces, radical
archives, etc] of course there is a tendency to want to work outside of
patriarchal+capitalist structures, to avoid inscribing ourselves and our
work within these structures of power. Of course this is necessary-- we
need these spaces and actions, but I wanted to more explicitly bring in the
idea of approaching existing systems and technologies with
feminist+subversive ideologies in mind. In Zach Blas’ chapter in ‘The
Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader’, titled ‘GRIDs, Gay Bombs,
and Viral Aesthetics: Queer Technologies' Networked Assemblages’, he argues
for capitalizing on what Galloway and Thacker in ‘The Exploit: A Theory of
Networks’ describe as “homogeneity found in networks to resonate far and
wide with little effort,” exploiting capitalism to replicate subversive
ideologies. Blas quotes Hardt and Negri’s idea of software as a metaphor
for the empire that can carry a virus that could eventually disrupt its
behavior or even destroy it.

In this chapter Blas also describes a set of adaptors called
'ENgenderingGenderChangers',  an interesting play on the gendering of
cables that was previously mentioned.

Blas also quotes Wendy Chun’s statement (from Control and Freedom) that
there can never be a purely technological solution to a political problem,
suggesting greater concern for the implementation of a technology… perhaps
one could think of this as using the existing rhetoric of a technology to
say something about it. Haraway comes to mind here, in terms of thinking
about accepting the terms of a technology’s existence while not claiming
allegiance, as she describes, subverting the tools that have marked us as

A bit unwieldy, but wanted to put forth some thoughts that might spur more
discussion, not just on technologies that embody different ideas of
subjectivity and power, but also on subversive technological use that
exploits or subverts these structures [littleBits is a nice example for the
reasons that you describe, Lyn]

On Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 9:55 AM, Asha Tamirisa <ashatamirisa at gmail.com>

> 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 <http://cargocollective.com/ashatamirisa>
>>> <http://www.ashatamirisa.wordpress.com>
>>> ashatamirisa at gmail.com
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> empyre forum
>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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> --
> - Asha Tamirisa <http://ashatamirisa.net/>

- Asha Tamirisa <http://ashatamirisa.net/>
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