Music informed by the continuous advancement of technology provides the vanguard-like receptacle of music, gender, and society. In this paper, I will highlight three aspects of this world: the construction of gender neutral as male, the relationship between females and this canonically male field, and the parameters needed to create an open gendered environment. My aim is to analyze the situation of gender in the production of electronic music and sound from the mid 20th century to the early 21st century through the focus of women’s experience, social theory, and philosophies related to the body and music.
Over the many centuries of silencing, conditioned perceptions of difference, and Othering, a male dominated field of composition and music production has been created. This fact influenced the world of early electroacoustic music, which in turn, has created a gendered field of electronic music, even in popular forms. This is formed on basis that the concept of gender contains intrinsic values or set characteristics, that gender stereotypes contain the information that should then determine the freedoms allotted to those that fit either within the gender binary, or outside of it. Such a topic has to do with the body and social spaces. The body is paramount to the concept of gender, most specifically the perception of gender, in addition to how individual perceptions influence the greater climate of society. Music is intertwined with the social, and as a result, a container is created for what is exhibited within social dynamics and perceptions. In other words, music is one of the vehicles in which society can receive cultural ideology; it is a receptacle for the ways in which social interactions occur, considering music’s inherent spatiality. The current state of society can be measured by “recent scholarship, [which] acknowledges the spatial element of music as inherently political—‘Sounds, and the spaces they inhabit and transform, open up room to critique, to subvert and to reconstruct social realities’—but nevertheless,
To take a better look into the experience of gender within electronic music and sound, the perspective of the Other is crucial. The women involved in the creation of electronic music and sound have been vocal about their position within the field, particularly in relation to their gender. One female electroacoustic composer has stated: “I to involve myself in the whole spectrum, and not feel limited for any reason” (Young, 63, interview with McCartney). Young expresses the desire for access not only to the spectrum available in the electronic, but also in her body. This freedom results in an exploration of “the tensions between compositional/technological restraints and freedom: freedom from stylistic boxes, freedom to move and breathe, freedom to enjoy [our] work” (McCartney 63). There is an inherent connection between the use of technology and this expression of freedom. There are restrictions involved in the use of electronics in music that may be similar to that which is experienced by anyone displaying qualities other than conceptualized masculinity. Machines have limitations via their human creation. Machines display the qualities inherent to the creators, or the restrictions inherent in those that create such machines or programs. It may be that gender is synonymous, and as a result is a platform that encourages agency within such restriction. Bodies, space, and societies can create restriction, but they can also be viewed as an opportunity to develop freedom. “[Women composers] seem to want access to the whole universe of sound and all of the possibilities of new languages without losing touch with their own bodies” (McCartney 63). For bodies to be bodies, without conceptual attachments, is primary to the experience of women composers. This is paramount to the electronic music created by those that view their experience in this manner, and is paramount to society’s historical perception of gender.
Such a dynamic, although being founded on an unbalanced canon of musical heritage, is also an ideal space for freedom to be created. Elizabeth Bridges, an ethnomusicologist that deals with feminist theory, states that “’science and technology provide fresh sources of power,’ which in turn help enact rearrangements of race, sex, and class rooted in high-tech-facilitated social relations’” (Haraway 57, Bridges 236). Around the same time in 2000, Sadie Plant, a cultural theorist and philosopher stated:
Technology as a medium for musical production contains the potential to unlock key aspects of gender and social dynamics. This is because it receives restrictions inherent to a gatekeeper, just as gender has had to in the past, with the gatekeeper being maleness. It is apparent that humans display qualities other than basic masculinity and femininity. The gender binary is constructed on false notions of reality. This falseness is vital to the movement for an equal and open society, where gender is expressed and perceived with freedom; that there is no box, no anxiety to fit a preconceived perception of gender. Such freedom begets agency to those willing to explore such a “great hole,” that is music (Lockwood).
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