Symposium Abstracts 2018



Michael Arshagouni, Robert Crowe, Morgan Crowley “Falsetto comes profoundly perverse: A Freakish Sideshow: The Place Where Voice Goes Wrong”

When Wayne Koestenbaum wrote this in 1992 in his landmark The Queen’s Throat, he betrayed the fear gay men have long had of appearing effeminate, or rather, appearing more effeminate than they felt themselves to be. Greater has been the countertenor’s or male soprano’s fear of being caught being overtly feminine, mid- vocalise. However, masculinity, femininity, and the gamut that rollicks between those two seeming-antipodes are all represented in the professional wielders of this “profoundly perverse” voice. The problem comes when these singers find personas created by their listeners grafted upon them—often wholly at odds with their own, real selves. Critics, at times unable to escape the aesthetic of an older world of scratchy recordings heard in their teen years, are frequently the worst transgressors. An offended sense of what was expected wars with what is actually heard. Dissonance between projected constructs of the generic falsetto singer, and the real one, cause unbalanced, personal vituperation. Homophobia can come via the negative review, where coded words like “shrieking,” “disturbing,” “hysterical,” “over-the- top,” and, most delightfully, “lurid,” are used to brand singers with the mark of a stereotypically laughable drag queen–himself/herself robbed of artistry by the persiflage.

This panel discussion is intended to bring together professional falsettists– countertenors and male sopranos–and musicologists, to explore with as little obscurantist jargoning as possible the experiences of the past quarter-century of professional falsetto-ing since Koestenbaum wrote this shamefaced disavowal of overt, performative effeminacy. Beginning more or less with the time of The Queen’s Throat‘s publication, Michael Arshagouni will present/represent the late Brian Asawa. Asawa’s unexpected death just two years ago brought to an early end the career of the first countertenor ever to win the Metropolitan Opera Competition (1992). Asawa and Arshagouni were close friends from the late 80s up until Brian’s death, and the knowledge and experiences gained in this friendship will be combined with Arshagouni’s lengthy career as a musicologist to lend new insight into his paradigmatic career.

Robert Crowe, musicologist and male soprano–the first of his voice type to win the Metropolitan Opera Competition (1995)–is, in addition to his active career as a solo singer, a researcher and writer on the voice and its gendered perception, both in the current day and in the era of the late, romantic castrato. Irish tenor and countertenor Morgan Crowley is perhaps best known for his appearances as Mary Sunshine in Chicago in London’s West End. He brings over twenty years’ personal experience and observations to this discussion, both as a performer and a teacher of performers-to-be. Each participant will provide a brief individual position paper, generally drawing upon their own experiences or, in the case of Dr. Arshagouni, the experiences as related to him during his friendship with Brian Asawa. Following will be as free-wheeling as discussion as possible concerning the personas–real, created, and imposed–that have conditioned the falsettist-audience relationship over the past quarter-century.

Nick Bonadies (Guildhall School of Music & Drama), “‘How Queer is My Bach: framining, ‘flaming’, and queer(ing) performance practice”

The presentation explores ways in which we may articulate ‘queer readings’ – or perhaps ‘queer listenings’ – of instrumental music performance within the Western conservatoire discourse, in this example by cross-comparative close listenings of several modern piano recordings of music by J.S. Bach.

Through exploring modes of listening and my practice as a pianist, we may begin to trace a framework for queer/queer-ing listening relationships to sonic performance-texts in terms specific to the art form: ‘Flaming the classics’, in Alexander Doty’s words, of a conservatoire-rooted musical canon. Queer theoretical accounts of performativity, temporality, and phenomenology may likewise illuminate (perhaps un-closet) what may be read as a queer/ing ‘performance practice’ rooted to this repertoire.

Drawing on queer and feminist music scholarship which situates certain established discourses in conservatoire music – for example, ideals of canonicity, authorship, ‘taste’, and audience reception – in a gendered sociohistorical context, we may highlight certain audible performance techniques and gestures as sites where these ideals are embodied, ‘performed’, and (re)inscribed. In our critical listenings of Bach, these same sites are then examined for their queer(ing) potential: What ‘othering’ cultural mores might we hear performed in a given treatment of a work of supposedly aprogrammatic music? If we hear one performance as reaffirming certain such mores, might we hear another performance as questioning, decentering, or destabilizing these mores – in a phrase, queering their proverbial pitch? What gendered constructions of authorship and authenticity are brought to the fore when a score- or composer-centered ontology of ‘the work’ is thus decentralized? And in what ways might we read the musician’s practice itself, the process rather than the product, for its own queer orientations and relationships?

David Buschmann (Bern University), “Music as Resistance in the Queer Club Scene of Berlin”

Safer Spaces are a common conception in queer club cultures. They are the attempt to create spaces in which all kinds of queer performances are accepted. Since queer identities and expressions are widely marginalised such Safer Spaces are a vital need. Queer Safer Spaces mostly exist in clubs, that is musical spaces, and it suggests itself to research the role of music in the creation of Safer Spaces in queer club culture.

Using sociological space theory (Martina Löw 2001) I am going to examine if and how musical text and action serves as a means for queering as an action in the process of constructing spaces in general and for queer Safer Spaces in special. During my ethnographic research in Berlin (observing participation and interviews) I found that the positionality and gender performance of a DJ is the key element for the interpretation of music as queer and therewith the act of clubbing as a queer action.

I am going to show how identity politics/affirmative action influence musical action in the queer club scene of Berlin and how agents of the scene think of music as a resource for inclusive spaces, also concerning the latest migration movements towards Germany. The policies of the queer club scene of Berlin can be summarised as (musical) resistance. Resistance is understood as productive and the realization of utopic spaces. With this research I fill “ethnomusicology’s queer silences” (Cheng, Barz 2015) and for the first time, make sociological space theory adaptable in musicological research.

  • Cheng, William; Barz, Gregory: Ethnomusicology’s Queer Silences, in: Musicology Now. Lively facts and opinions on music, brought to you by the American Musicological Society (blog) [published: August 5th 2015, http://musicologynow.ams-, repost from: OUPblog, there published at July 28th 2015,
  • Löw, Martina: Raumsoziologie, Frankfurt am Main 2001.

Mark Fitzgerald (DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama), “From hidden background to subversive foreground: gay narratives in the work of Irish twentieth century composers”

When one examines the compositions of prominent gay Irish composers from the earlier part of the twentieth century, it is very difficult to find overt traces of their sexuality. Most of the major compositions of Frederick May (1911–85) have no text and neutral titles. The loss of most of his personal papers and the  reluctance of musicologists to explore his personal life while there were still people alive who might have been able to throw light on it means that only small hints remain to suggest that autobiographical elements were built into these pieces, the meaning of which is now mostly lost. The music of James Wilson (1922–2005) includes a few works which contain specific dedications, most notably his Second Symphony dedicated to his principal partner who died during the compositional period. However, in some works where one might have expected a possible gay reading (such as Twelfth Night from 1969 or Letters to Theo from 1982) Wilson seems to have consciously minimised or evaded this type of exploration of plot. By contrast in many of the works composed by Gerald Barry (b 1952) there is a direct and foregrounded exploration of lgbtq ideas. Notable here are his first three operas The Intelligence Park, about a gay composer’s love for a castrato (1982–87), The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit (1991–92), an all-male allegorical tale about ageing and desire and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (2002–05), which recounts a doomed lesbian affair.

This paper outlines some of the issues surrounding the exploration of compositions by homosexual Irish composers from the earlier part of the twentieth century before examining how Barry uses a gay lens to radically subvert the story of Ireland’s invasion and subjugation in his 1995 piece for bass and orchestra The Conquest of Ireland.

Magdalena Fuernkranz (Institute for Popular Music, mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna), “Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject in Jazz in the 1920s”  

Historically, LGBTQ+ musicians have been marginalized as artists in jazz and improvised popular music. Considered to be novelty acts in a world of hegemonic masculinity and valued more for exoticised performances, as Sherrie Tucker noted in When Did Jazz Go Straight? A Queer Question for Jazz Studies, even before Jazz came out as the “official soundtrack of heterosexual love and romance” its queer musicians had to work hard to be accepted for their ability. Thanks to Tucker’s work, we have an approach to re-think the historical tangles of sexuality, race and gender in jazz studies.

Where does one start with queer aesthetics in jazz but in Harlem’s nightlife in the 1920s? As a centre of Black American music, literature and art this period is known culturally as the Harlem Renaissance. Best-known performers among them Ma Rainey “The Mother of the Blues”, Gladys Bentley, and the mystified Josephine Baker cultivated a queer image. In 1925, Ma Rainey was arrested for taking part in an orgy involving the women in her chorus. Gladys Bentley dressed in a white tuxedo with a top hat on stage. She was famous for obscene lyrics about her female lovers and flirted with women in the audience.

In order to get an overview of the situation of the queer performing subject in jazz in the 1920s, I focus on selected musicians based on artist’s biographies and their public image. My perspective poses questions of how queer identities are constructed, represented, and negotiated in the early years of jazz. Paying particular attention to body politics, I discuss Josephine Baker’s appearance in the revue Black on White in Vienna in 1928; a performance that was described as a threat to Viennese culture.

Moshe Morad (Tel Aviv University), The ‘Queer Cuban Dancing Body’: Resistance, Liberation and Recolonization”

This paper is based on observations of the dancefloor activity in clandestine gay parties in Havana, known as “fiestas de diez pesos“, carried out as part of my PhD research on music as space among gay men in Cuba during the period of financial crisis and social changes starting in the early 1990s. The period is characterized by the collapse of revolutionary values and social norms, and a way of life conducted by improvised solutions for survival, including hustling and sex-work. Tourism, previously discouraged, was deemed by the regime a “necessary evil,” and encouraged as an essential source of income. During this time there developed a thriving, though constantly harassed and destabilized gay scene in which, the fiestas played an important role.

In the fiestas I identified a particular way of communication via dance movements, portraying a certain image, and the use of body language that illustrates queerness, Cubanness, resistance, pride, exoticism, erotic teasing, availability, and corresponds with pre-revolution notions of colonization.   Based on the colonial icon of “the dancing mulata” I define a “queer Cuban dancing body”, conveying liberation, resistance and at the same time availability to the new “dream colonizer”, the extranjero (foreigner).  I describe and analyse behavioral patterns in the gay fiestas, the “queerification” of old and new heterosexist dance genres, such as salsa, timba and reggaetón, and the different readings of the “queer Cuban dancing body” by locals and by tourists, portraying a dancefloor which simultaneously conveys queerness, resistance and liberation, as well as recolonization.

John Hails (Edinburgh Napier University), ‘…I don’t want your body. Jesus doesn’t want it. …’: The rejected transgressive body at the heart of Harry Partch’s conceptual universe.

Questions of embodiment and disembodiment are at the heart of discourse around the performance and dissemination of Harry Partch’s music. The physical presence of performers, their manner of dress, and their movements become increasingly a part of his scores through his career, even as the dissemination of his music became increasingly disembodied through an emphasis on recording it. This reflects the conceptual decay of Partch’s conception of corporeal music into increasingly abstract and theoretical territory, abetted by the continued citation of his seminal text Genesis of a Music.

By tracing the way that the body, and in particular the erotically charged and receptive body, becomes more and more a part of his entire conception of music, this paper will attempt to demonstrate that this is an act of resistance against a culture and a society that increasingly rejected him, and his own body. From the indispensability of the voice and the physical facts of resonance and the harmonic series in the earliest work, through the frequent intertwining of religion and physicality throughout Bitter Music, to the censored texts omitted from the final script of The Dreamer that Remains, I will map Partch’s transgressive performances of physicality and orientation against their punishments and the context of his cultural environment in order to foreground his output as a radical queer voice, relevant more than ever today.

Richard Piatak (University of Huddersfield), ‘Saint George for England, and [Queer] Edward’s Right!’: Music, Anachronism, and OutRage! in Derek Jarman’s Edward II (1991)

Derek Jarman’s ninth feature film, Edward II, was one of the films classified as ‘New Queer Cinema’ by critic B. Ruby Rich in 1992.  Based on Christopher Marlowe’s play of 1594, Jarman fashioned Marlowe’s original plot to his own political and (homo)sexual ends, emphasising the love between the tortured king (Steven Waddington) and his favourite, Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan).  One device he used to achieve these ends is anachronism, a feature which is used to notable effect in previous films such as Caravaggio (1986).  In Edward II, the appearance of the queer rights group OutRage! signals both a welcome voice and a base of support for the ‘overruled’ king, who is grief-stricken over the assassination of Gaveston and his court who threaten to depose him, led by the spiteful Queen Isabella (Tilda Swinton).  Much like Annie Lennox’s performance of Cole Porter’s ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’ to Edward and Gaveston earlier in the film, the intercession of OutRage! is a moment of reconciliation between the queer past of Edward’s reign with the queer present.  Further, the film is enriched with an electroacoustic score by composer Simon Fisher Turner (b 1954): Turner’s craft of combining original music and concrète sounds (recorded during the films’ productions) exposes integrated works of art which venture beyond the image.  This paper will present the impact of Turner’s score at the moment OutRage! appears to support Edward’s campaign against Isabella and her minions, in so doing revealing further layers of meaning and significance through its analysis. 

Manuel Pinto (University of Groningen), “Gender out of Sync? Genderqueering Embodiments and Envoicings in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 Lip-Sync Battles”

RuPaul’s Drag Race has been criticized by former contestants, non-participating drag queens as well as some feminist scholars for propagating a monolithic image of drag performance, reducing it to merely performances of “stereotypical notions of femininity” (Edgar 2011). I argue, however, that in the past few seasons the show has diversified in terms of drag performance styles to such an extent that the notion of ‘impersonation’ needs to be revised in order to accurately describe how queer lip-sync performance takes place. This paper draws the focus away from the interpretations of the recorded voice towards the embodied activity of lip-sync, rendering the recording as an open node in a network of ethico-aesthetic possibilities. I will focus on the lip-sync competitions of Season Nine and employ Carolyn’s Abbate’s discussion of envoicing while also offering adapting her framework to better suit a genderqueer context. To do this, I will appeal to Freya Jarman-Ivens’ theory of oscillating identification/anti-identification and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of “flow,” while pointing to the ways the oscillation Jarman-Ivens refers to is both, at different moments, unconscious and agentic. Using these concepts, this paper argues for a queer, binary-rejecting reading of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Nine.

Keywords: agency, drag, envoicing, embodiment, ethico-aesthetic, flow, genderqueer,  identification/anti-identification, impersonation, lip-sync, RuPaul’s Drag Race, queer.

Megan Rogerson-Berry (Waikato Institute Of Technology, Hamilton, New Zealand), “For Others, Freaks And Weirdos: Alien Pop, Kink And Queerness In The Work Of Annie Clark”

“I’d like to extend a special welcome to the others, freaks and weirdos here” (Hennessy, 2014). With this greeting, offered on her Digital Witness tour in 2014, Annie Clark (St. Vincent) acknowledges queerness and otherness as key identity markers amongst her audience. Queerness is also present in the musical texts and performance style of Annie Clark. This is most striking in her creation of what she terms “alien pop” music – concurrently dissonant and highly catchy, music/songs that have “melodies and are memorable, but also are infused with an oddball sensibility” (Clark, BBC Breakfast, 2015). Additionally, Clark’s MASSEDUCTION album and accompanying performances contain references to BDSM and kink, and these themes toy with notions of power and resistance to heteronormativity. As Clark stated in an interview with The New Yorker in August 2017; “I’m queer…, [but] the goal is to be free of heteronormativity. I’m queer, but queer more as an outlook” (Clark, quoted in Paumgarten, 2017). This paper explores the ways in which Clark subverts and resists stereotypical gender identities, and queer’s notions of normativity through her use of electric guitar, songwriting and arrangements, and performance/music videos, specifically on her 2017 MASSEDUCTION album.

Jonathan Still (UCL Institute of Education), “Jumping like a girl”— musically gendered embodiment in ballet classes

“A bit slower for the boys” is a phrase often used by ballet teachers in the jumping sections of ballet classes, where a slower tempo gives more time for higher, more powerful jumps. The tacit assumption is that boys, being stronger and more powerful, are able to jump higher than girls. There is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy here: if the girls never get slower music, then they will be denied the chance to practise jumping higher. This is just one example of several instances in ballet training where music and musical decision-making is implicated in the embodied socialization of children into gender roles.

In this paper, the title of which refers to Iris Marion Young’s famous 1980 article Throwing like a girl, I set out some of the ways in which everyday music choices in ballet training continue to contribute the reproduction of traditional gender stereotypes. As in the example above, it can operate as a form of oppressive technology that constrains what Young calls feminine comportment. At other times, musical choices reveal an anxiety about what is “appropriate” music for boys, who should be prevented from jumping—or appearing to jump—“like a girl.”

In conclusion, I suggest ways that research into music in dance education could be animated by new directions in critical musicology combined with a sensitivity to themes in gender and sexuality studies.

Chris Stover (Arizona State University), “Voicing Difference, Sonic Materiality: Steps Toward a Queer Music Theory”

This paper engages composer–improviser–activist Sun Ra’s work to imagine an ontology of difference—of intra-action and becoming-other—as a point of departure for a musicological orientation. Music’s difference is performed in ways that resist categorization or ascriptions of causation. We hear this most clearly by turning to music-improvisational interactions, to how (collectively contextualized) musicking voices express their multiple, proliferating pasts, transversal impingements of concurrently ongoing presents, and unfolding processes of becoming different-from-self. How can we understand what it is that is being voiced, on its terms? Not in terms of intentionality, but, following Barad, as an expression of tangled webs of intra-relational actions? Spivak’s subalternity, Deleuze and Guattari’s minor, Moten and Harvey’s undercommons: all foreground the collective, queer nature of marginalized expression. What Sun Ra illustrates is that different modalities of voicing—speech and musical sound—operate according to parallel logics. Much has been written about Sun Ra’s blackness: his collectivist ethics, political polemics, utopian verse, and creative retellings of history, the spatio-temporal ruptures enacted through his mytho-scientific projections to ancient Africa and interstellar futures. Little has been written about Sun Ra’s homosexuality, less still about the material status of his music. This paper subtends these aspects of Sun Ra’s identity (black–queer–musicking) to engage how becoming-other is animated through the material voicing of sound, as it unfolds its processes of being performed. Specifically, it examines Sun Ra’s relationship to jazz history and the techniques he uses to deterritorialize it, speaking and sounding to displace, reinflect, and transform sonic spaces and historical trajectories.

Ernst van der Wal (Stellenbosch University, Humboldt University of Berlin), “The Fire in the Voice: Songs and Sounds on Queer South African Life

Undergoing radical changes with regards to conceptions of race, gender and sexuality, post-apartheid South Africa bears witness to a range of activist and/or art movements that vocally challenge the heteronormative, white, cisgender status quo. One such artists, Umlilo, uses his body and voice to evoke the queerness of everyday living spaces and to speak and sing against the grain of the heteronormative South African landscape. Drawing on the work of, inter alia, Jim Drobnick (and his formulation of the ‘sonic turn’), Michael Bull and Les Back, this paper explores how queer artists such as Umlilo activate a bodily experience of queer life by producing and capturing the human voice in everyday living environments. In such a context, the queer voice becomes a medium for exploring the entanglement of race, class, sexuality and gender. Such sonic interventions are of critical importance in a country where homophobic discourses are rife, especially when it comes to the representation of queer artists of colour. Meaning ‘fire’ in the indigenous South African language isiZulu, the word ‘umlilo’ was strategically chosen by the artist to speak of the desire to burn, to enrapture, to set alight. This paper explores how this voice ignited and fuelled debate on queer identity, and brought discourse on black queer lives into the public arena.


Laura Wahlfors (Sibelius Academy), “Cameron Carpenter’s Queer Voice, Camp, and Neoliberalism”

Queer organists have a long, more or less hidden history of camp culture in the confines of cathedrals. An embodiment of camp, organ virtuoso Cameron Carpenter (b. 1981) performs queerness flamboyantly on stage. The mohawk-haired musician, who calls himself “omnisexual”, dons skin-tight outfits and Swarowski-encrusted organ shoes. He performs on the “International Touring Organ”, a digital instrument built to his own design, the sounds of which have been sampled from his favourite pipe organs from the cathedral to the Wurlitzer. His interpretations of the classical organ repertoire are unconventional, and in his recitals and recordings he pairs them with his arrangements of non-organ works, crossing and pushing the borders of musical genres. His performances have attracted new audiences to organ music, while provoking strong reactions in critics and in the organ circles. Carpenter’s mission is “to move classical music into the future”.

In the light of camp and queer theories, my paper explores how Cameron Carpenter challenges the practices of organ playing and the classical recital, queering normative embodiments of gender and sexuality. Given that in contemporary society gender fluidity and liberated sexuality are easily harnessed to serve the goals of capitalism and neoliberalism, I further interrogate whether there is revolutionary power in Carpenter’s camp performances – or whether his constructed, sexualised image is little more but a symptom of our time. How and to what extent might Carpenter’s queer virtuosity still embody a voice of resistance, and how can queer musicology throw light on its utopian potential?

Marion Wasserbauer (University of Antwerp), Queer Voices: reflections on a PhD project”

For the past 4 years, I have intensely engaged with LGBTQ persons’ life stories for my PhD project entitled  Queer Voices. The aim was to explore whether and in which ways music is connected to individual sexual and gender identity. In many ways, the title of my project reflects its content: the literal and figurative meanings of voice go hand in hand in dimensions like my research method, the topic of listening to music and identifying with the musicians’ literal and political voices, making music, finding a literal and figurative voice as an LGBTQ person, and speaking out about being queer.

As a queer researcher and activist, I am not only interested in researching queer lives, but also in queering research methods and ethics: How do we think about queer lives, how can we research them adequately and archive that (queer) knowledge? The concept of the queer archive (e.g., Cvetkovich, 2003; Halberstam, 2005; Kumbier, 2011) informed my research approach, and inspired an open-access, audio-visual research output (e.g., in the form of a website). Within the oral histories, music is not only a main content focus; it also offers a unique way to reflect and tell about our own lives. As a cultural medium, it allows an intimate, affective and subjective access to how the narrators  think and feel about their own identity. Music enables us to speak at a meta-level: while talking about concrete music and (tangible) memorabilia, we also talk about the emotional and intimate experiences connected to music.