Symposium Abstracts

Music, Queer, Intersections

1st Symposium of the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group

Edge Hill University, 26th-27th May 2017


Nayive Ananías GómezThe Queer Song in Chile: From Nueva Canción Chilena (the Chilean New Song Movement) to Reggaeton

The first exponents in working on queer song date from early 1990s, who were heirs of cultural and gender studies. The American queer movement bet on a deontologization of the subject of identity politics (Preciado 2003), which now carries out from “the different, the rare, the minority, even the precarious” (Valencia 2015: 23).Peraino (2013) points out that several scholars (Brett, Wood & Thomas 1994; Butler 2002; Du Plessis& Chapman 1997; Ensminger 2010; Geyrhalter 1996; Heller 2007; Pérez 2009; Ramos 2003; Taylor 2012; Valentine 1995; Walser 1994; Webster 1993) have generated studies about how sexual orientations have an impact on musical expression.

We find a few research about the link between popular music and sexual dissidence in Latin America. In Brazil there are studies about the gay and androgyny universe (Paulafreitas 2012; De Oliveira, Da Costa y Da Costa 2015; Da Silva 2013), whereas López-Cano (2008) analyses social constructionism of gender in Argentinian tango queer, in Cuban timba and regetón [sic], and in Mexican sonideros.

We only find two studies in Chile: Gallardo (2014) relates pop music with the construction of gay identity in Santiago through pop music divas; and Fuentealba (2014) explores musical experience and gender identity in gay men of the capital.

In this presentation I’ll rebuild the development of queer song in Chile since the 1970s, considering pop, rock, punk and reggaeton singers. It’s very important to conduct a musicological study, understanding the cultural singularities of Chile, such as its strong patriarchal roots and heteronormativity, as well as the delay in accepting sexual diversity.

Eric Boaro – Gender matters in early eighteenth century Neapolitan intermezzi

My enquiry deals with gender matters, which I have found in early eighteenth century Neapolitan intermezzi (up to 1735). I believe that disguises in these intermezzi are different from their opera seria and commedie per musica counterparts, because they link cross-dressing with sexual innuendos. Since intermezzi were comic pièces, issues related to blurring gender distinctions were topical in eighteenth century Naples. This reflects the back-then widespread Galenic ideas, according to which women, being ‘imperfect’ men, were allowed to cross-dress in order to ‘perfect’ themselves.

I will illustrate the matter by examining two intermezzi, Albino e Plautilla by Leonardo Vinci (1723) and La furba e lo sciocco by Domenico Sarri (1731). In both cases, but in different ways, the male characters, unaware of the cross-dressing deceptions, express their sexual attraction to women who are disguised as men. Moreover, in the case of La furba e lo sciocco, the gender of two silent figures who try to seduce the male character is a matter of interest: the libretto clearly states “due ragazze”, whilst the score meticulously specifies “due ragazzimaschio e femmina”. Should we imagine that an old man is seduced by both a girl and a boy? I believe that the simplest solution in compiling a critical edition, that is, interpreting that the two seductive characters are girls, does not do justice to the question. In fact, I believe modern audiences would find such a situation rather amusing, for similar issues are topical today, although for different reasons.

David Bretherton – An Introduction to ‘Queer Music, Queer Theory, Queer Music Theory’

If a composer is queer, is their music queer too? In the early 1990s Susan McClary proposed that the answer to this question was ‘yes’. She furthered Maynard Solomon’s controversial proposal that Schubert might have been gay by suggesting that analysis of the composer’s music revealed stylistic features that might be associated with his homosexuality. Conservative music-lovers were appalled at the idea of a gay Schubert, let alone that their favourite Schubert works might be intrinsically gay too, and so they preferred to attribute his unique musical ability to mental health problems, venereal disease, or even his ugly appearance. Yet queer musicology had burst out of the closet and into the academic limelight, and the debate about Schubert’s sexuality was even reported in the mainstream press. The notion of ‘queer music analysis’, however, was damaged during the debate: in 1993 Rita Steblin comprehensively rebutted Solomon’s biographical research and asserted that the evidence in fact pointed towards Schubert’s vigorous heterosexuality, which left McClary’s hypothesis of Schubert’s homosexual musical style looking precarious. Apparently discredited, research into the analysis of queer music continued, but with considerably less prominence. (By contrast, the idea that popular music is often sexual, and sometimes queer, has been far less controversial: consider Bowie and Prince, for example.)

In the quarter-century since the birth of queer musicology, scholarship, and cultural and political attitudes have altered considerably. Many Western countries have introduced legislation to recognise same-sex relationships, and even President Putin acknowledged in 2013 that Tchaikovsky was probably gay (inconvenient for Putin, given Russia’s enactment of a so-called ‘gay propaganda’ law that year). Recently, there has been a renewed interest in queer music analysis, and a re-evaluation of the work and conclusions of earlier queer music scholarship is now due. Indeed, the very notion of ‘queer music’ is itself contestable and uncertain. We know that there are queer composers, whose artistic intentions may be related to their queer identity. But surely their intentions are not reducible to queerness alone? Perhaps rather than ‘queer music’ we should speak of queer creative strategies, queer forms of expression, queer ‘meanings’? What, then, is ‘queer’ about queer music? Where does its queerness reside? And what can the analysis of queer composers’ music contribute to our understanding?

Following the award of an AHRC Leadership Fellowship for a project entitled ‘Queer Music, Queer Theory, Queer Music Theory’, which will run for two years from September 2017, I will seek to address such questions, re-conceptualising ‘queer music’ from a music-theoretical and -analytical perspective. In this session, I shall introduce the project, outlining its the aims, scope, structure and methodology.

Russell Patrick Brown – ‘We are the ones who should not exist’: An Arts Practice Query into the effect of HIV-as-process upon Vogue Choreography

We are the ones who should not exist’: An Arts Practice Query into the effect of HIV-as-
process upon Vogue Choreography A fellow dancer in a support group for performers living with HIV once commented: ‘We are the ones who should not exist.’ Years later this halting, temporal comment has opened a doorway within my dance research to explore my experience as an artist living the disease. This performance/lecture is an arts practice exploration of my experience as a Vogue dancer infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Through traditional and practice-based research methods I ask, ‘What is the effect of HIV as a process upon my creative work?,’ and share some of my findings through choreography, narration and projected, animated ‘autoethnographic cartography’ (MacDonald 2016). I will begin with a historiography of Vogue, contextualised within the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic. This narratives is mapped through my autoethnography as a ‘son’ of this dance culture who is a gay ‘butch queen’ man living with HIV. With ‘movement citations’ (Mary Nunan), given to me by my Vogue Mother, Celso Satori (The Iconic Pioneer House of LaBeija), I will also dance this map. I will then explain four key terms that help define the experience of living with HIV/AIDS and its potential impact upon creativity: ‘status’, ‘disclosure’, ‘undetectable’ and ‘survivor’. These words are theoretical points of departure that inspire my own verbal and Vogue responses, whose daily improvisation invokes the instability of the virus. I then demonstrate how the varied, infected offspring of this ‘libidinal’ (Melrose 2006) creative process mutate as they travel through different contexts, many with their own diseased dancing counterparts.

Challenges in Research, Teaching and the Job Market, Roundtable

This roundtable will address issues faced by music scholars that relate to their gender and/or sexual identity. It will focus on aspects of research, teaching and the job market. What are the challenges faced by scholars? How do higher education institutions deal with issues of diversity and inclusion? Who are our role models in the academy? Drawing on notions of intersectionality, the discussion will cover topics such as privilege, emotional labour and “positive discrimination”. Special focus will be on the challenges and opportunities of conducting ethnographic research. The discussion will feed into a wider workshop of the new “Mentorship Programme” of the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group.

Helen Elizabeth Davies – Young musicians, gender and sexuality: researching the issues in an educational context

In the context of increasingly recognised equality and diversity issues in the music industry, an ongoing UK Music supported research project, still in its early stages, is investigating the experiences and practices of aspiring young musicians in relation to gender and sexuality. The developing project will engage popular musicians aged 18-25 from a range of backgrounds and environments in the UK, including Higher Education and local community music facilities, and take a holistic approach to research by involving participants of all genders. As part of a scoping study, interviews were conducted during summer 2016 with a range of music industry and music support professionals, such as music facilitators managing UK Music sponsored rehearsal and studio spaces in various parts of the UK. Key issues identified include gendering of roles, spaces and scenes, and barriers to non-hetero sexualities in some communities. An initial small-scale qualitative study of final year undergraduates studying popular music at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts provides more in-depth insights into the ways in which young popular musicians experience, construct and negotiate gender and sexuality in their practices, performances and personae. This paper discusses the ongoing research project, exploring young popular musicians’ experiences and issues relating to gender and sexuality, and begins to consider key research questions relating to the ways in which music education / support organisations currently address the issues and challenges associated with gender and sexuality for young popular musicians, and how this support could be improved.

Jenny Eckner – Reflections on the Collaboration Between the Pink Singers London and the Rainbow Voices Mumbai: Musical Solidarity and the Involvement of Scholarship

Although 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England, a version of this colonial law (Section 377) remains in place in the Indian Penal Code. To highlight this injustice, the Pink Singers, London’s LGBT Community Choir are hosting a year-long series of events, including a visit and performance in Mumbai in January 2017 in collaboration with the Rainbow Voices, Mumbai. In preparation for this project of solidarity, academics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London were invited to give presentations on LGBT identities in India.

In this paper, I will explore the importance of this concert within the concept of demonstrating solidarity by analysing issues of the accessibility of performance spaces and whether the subaltern can really speak (Spivak 1988). Further, I will investigate in what ways the presentations given by SOAS academics effected the Pink Singers’ perceptions of what LGBT means on a global perspective and how those information affected their trip to India. To finish, this paper aims to analyse in what ways academic research and ethnomusicological knowledge can be used to support activist actions and community projects.

Kristin Franseen – Edward Prime-Stevenson’s Repertory: Queer Nostalgia and Music(ologic)al Meaning

Better known to historians of sexuality as the author of the gay novel Imre: A Memorandum (1906) and history of homosexuality The Intersexes (1908), Edward Prime-Stevenson (1858-1942) was also a music critic in New York during the 1890s. While historians recognize Prime-Stevenson’s significance to LGBTQ literature, his role in preserving queer musical knowledge remains unexplored. In the early decades of the twentieth century, Prime-Stevenson self-published his music criticism, research on sexuality, and fiction for a select readership. His last book, A Repertory of One Hundred Symphonic Programmes (1932/3) presents the phonograph as both a method of musical preservation and a nostalgic window into a lost past.

Organized as a collection of “playlists” of symphonic movements for communal listening, Repertory also includes excerpts from Prime-Stevenson’s music criticism and poetry. While his choice of repertoire does not immediately reinforce the queer modes of listening he espoused in The Intersexes, the focus on Wagner, dedication to ex-lover Harry Harkness Flagler, and spaces for personal reflection all align with Prime-Stevenson’s idealized views on musical, sexual, and social connections. Although Repertory initially appears to be a conventional guide to music appreciation with the aid of phonograph recordings, a close reading of the introduction and appendices reveals that Prime-Stevenson saw the musical experience as closely tied to his views on sexuality and lifelong pursuit of a musical-sexual social network. Instead of viewing record-collecting as a largely solitary pursuit, Prime-Stevenson focuses on intimate connections forming between listeners in the present as well as across time and space.

Brian Inglis – Different loves, same Feeling: Negotiating (sexual) difference in early 21st-century pop-rock

The British pop-rock band The Feeling emerged in the mid 2000s as part of a wave of guitar-based groups echoing the Britpop of a decade earlier. While the other bands in this group (such as Franz Ferdinand and Keane) were received as unproblematically ‘indie’, The Feeling (and their out gay frontman Dan Gillespie-Sells) occupy a curious and conflicted critical position. Both winners of credible songwriting awards (such as the Ivor Novello) and reviled in the pages of indie journal-of-record the NME, they appear to have been the subject of, not homosexual panic, but rather anti-essentialist panic. Indie pop/rock, with its tradition of ‘performing’ androgyny and queer sexuality (and its own sense of otherness in relation to mainstream pop and stadium rock), has, paradoxically, struggled to accommodate unmarked yet lived gay identities. The Feeling provide a case-study – within the wider context of the intersection of sexuality, genre and the music industry – in the construction of a contemporary male musico-social identity. One reliant neither on hyper-masculinist cock-rock nor the ‘outrageous’ high camp espoused by frontmen of other acts featuring both heterosexual and gay members in the lineage from Queen to the Scissor Sisters. Via queer theory, reception history, semiotics and intertextual analysis, I explore musical relationships between The Feeling and acts which turn out to be more comparable. I identify a musical aesthetic articulating a queer sensibility embracing forms of difference which include, but are not limited to, same-sex attraction.

Freya Jarman – The Queerness (or not) of Vocal High Notes

As part of a wide-ranging project on the gendered implications of singing high notes, I will argue that high notes (such as those identified above) can signify a range of concepts that may not, at first glance, be gendered (childhood, innocence, youth, passion, or racial difference, and so on), but that such concepts are intensely bound up with gender performativity. Starting from Judith Butler’s notion of “corporeal theatrics” as an illusion made up of an “array” of gestures (1991: 28) that surely include the voice (even if Butler herself does not identify it), I argue that ‘gender’ does not ‘intersect’ with race, ethnicity, age, class, size, and so on; rather, I suggest that it is precisely the intersection itself of all those features (even as they too are already performative). Viewed from this perspective, in which gender is an operation of power negotiated through various physical strategies including the voice, vocal high notes (whether absolutely high, or high in the vocal range) and their apparently multivalent nature thereby illustrate something of the radical complexity of gender performativity and its reach far beyond consideration of sexual difference.

Marko Kölbl – Analytically Queer: Queering Non-Queer Scenarios of Music and Dance

Ethnomusicological research is commonly associated with “traditional music”, often linked to traditional settings and social orders. Within this narrative, non-heteronormative ways of gender and sexuality are often underrepresented. On the one hand, academic approaches are almost insensitive to heteronormativity as an unmarked maxim; on the other hand, non-heteronormative genders and sexualities effectively are marginalized or even silenced within the communities studied – a situation that is not restricted to ethnomusicology and most definitely can also be found in various other realms of musicological inquiry.

How then is a queer perspective useful when we are not specifically studying queer-related topics? How can queer theory allow us to achieve a deeper understanding of gender and sexuality in the context of music and dance? How can we grasp queering as an analytical tool?

Dealing with these questions in an open format, I will start with a conventional ethnomusicological case study that itself has no explicit links to “queerness”, namely my research on Croatian laments. Ethnomusicological literature often celebrates this ritual of stylized crying as a stereotypically female sphere of expressivity. A queer-feminist standpoint, however, offers a different view: As a gender-performative practice, laments not only establish normative notions of femininity, but also help maintain gender within a binary, heteronormative frame.

In the further course of the workshop, an open discussion will give space for the participants’ experiences of and perspectives on queering (ostensibly) non-queer scenarios of music and dance. Questions raised in this part might revolve around queering

– as a means to uncover the seemingly unconditional conditionality of heteronormativity;

– as an analytical tool for reading concepts and cultural inscriptions of gender and sexuality;

– as a methodical mode for operating offside firm presuppositions of gender and sexuality as well as off the structural violence of certain epistemologies.

Further, requirements of an intersectional mode of queering shall be discussed: the valuing and emphasizing of community-based concepts of queer, respectively gender and sexuality as well as the critical examination of western theorizing about gender and sexuality by questioning the applicability of mainstream gender/queer/feminist approaches in musicological research.
The aim of the workshop is to exchange views on queering music-related practices of knowledge production across musicological disciplines and broaden the understanding of queer inquiry in music research.


Jacob Mallinson Bird – Drag Lip-Sync: A Voice from the Silence

Lip-sync performance, the art of synchronising one’s mouth with the voice of another, forms the very foundation of the drag queen’s craft. In this paper, I will analyse “4 Degrees”, a lip-sync performance by Benedict Stewardson, better known as his drag alter ego Rodent Decay, and show that lip-syncing is far from an act of passive ventriloquism, but rather a process through which the drag queen finds a voice of her own. By assessing Rodent’s practice through ideas of and ventriloquism and possession, I hope to show that Rodent and Benedict coexist in a feedback loop, within which Benedict is able to speak through Rodent as a form of protection, masking his true voice through the vocal regalia of Rodent Decay. What will become apparent is that through the adoption of lip-syncing as a form of vocal mask, Benedict is able to use Rodent as a protective shield, proffering her image and voice as seemingly that of another person in order to speak what he himself feels in a safe and productive manner. The feedback loops between Rodent and Benedict, and indeed between the alternate identities of the singers in the track, prove that a binary understanding of ego and alter, and indeed a singular idea of voice, is injudicious and reductive when considering the identity work undertaken within “4 Degrees”.

Liam Maloney – House Music: Reconstructing a Secular Christianity for the Gay Diaspora

In Simon Reynold’s history of dance music Energy Flash, he suggests “house music offered a sense of communion and community to those whose sexuality might have alienated them from organized religion”. Early house music was predominantly, almost exclusively, a gay culture, littered with religious references. Occasionally these links were subtle, but with constant exposure they became extremely overt. On the surface gospel singers, church organs, and club names, referencing a range of religious practice, can be identified. On a subtler level lies a discussion of lyrical content, the role of the DJ, and the sense of euphoria that pervaded the scene.

This paper presents the findings from an 18-month qualitative research project focused on uncovering the connections between Chicago house, New York garage, and Christian iconography, and how these ideas intersect with the Black and Latino, gay or LGBT community (specifically from 1984-2001). Drawing on new primary evidence collected through interviews with renowned vocalists, DJs, authors, producers, and academics, the work offers an unexplored perspective of house music’s history through the lens of musicological analysis and ethnographic study, and relates the importance of these musical constructs to marginalised groups.

Zachary Milliman – Queering Bluebeard

Béla Bartók’s opera Akékszakállúhercegvára, based on the ‘mystery play’ by Béla Balázs, has been the subject of a great deal of scholarly attention. Most interpretations, both on stage and in print, position the two characters of the drama as monstrous man vs. victim woman. However, the ambiguous libretto, rooted in symbolist aesthetics and the fairy tale tradition, as well as the nature of the music, defy such essentialist reductions. The “perverse” work calls for a “perverse” reading, one where – as is often the case with fairy tales – the focus is displaced from normal sexual dynamics to uncover deeper, more complicated desires. A queer analysis that employs methodologies from monster studies penetrates through semiotic layers to illuminate the tragic internal struggle of those who have felt their love to be monstrous. In this study I submit a reading that shows the opera to be a complex psychological portrait of a bifurcated personality at war with itself. By so doing, this paper identifies the ongoing denial or lack of recognition of queer tropes in art, the unqueering or purposeful removal of queerness in artistic expression, and the trope of misogyny that marks Bluebeard reception.

Settimio Fiorenzo Palermo – Queer, Gay, Post-Gay Politics in Popular Music Texts: What’s It Gonna Be?

In this presentation I will be concerned with reading the audio-visual structures and narratives of current Anglo-American popular music texts vis-à-vis the diverse gender and sexual politics relating to the expression of white gay male subjectivities. These readings are necessary because in the increasing proliferation of explicit representations of such subjectivities in Anglo-American popular music, it has become crucial to engage critically with their implications so to gain a better understanding of the relationship that exists between the ideologies underpinning them, their formal constructions, and the potential political gain that they stand to make.

I will ask the following question: how can diverse political aims based on gay male subjectivities (which could be more effectively articulated as queer, gay, and post-gay) be mediated in Anglo-American popular music texts? To answer this question I will analyse a number of case studies, among which Steve Grand’s “American Boy” and Perfume Genius’s “Gay Angels.”

I will conclude that current constructions of gay male subjectivities in Anglo-American popular music texts manifest tensions in their political articulation, while also offering responses to these tensions; therefore these texts represent an important opportunity to gain an awareness of the complex, overlapping, and contradictory political forces that shape the expression of gender and sexuality; at the same time popular music texts participate significantly in the shaping and re-shaping of the political dimension of gendered and sexual identities.

Alexi Vellianitis – ‘Her right bicep is rock hard’: Androgyny and racism in the music of Tansy Davies

The music of contemporary British modernist composer Tansy Davies is often described as dance-like, and in particular in terms of muscular, physical jerks. This is associated by many critics, and Davies herself, with her physical appearance: she undertakes regular exercise and has a muscular physique. Even when under the guise of humour such discursive tropes reflect the ongoing physical scrutiny of women within the popular press, as well as persistent gender stereotypes in contemporary society. But they also highlight racial, even racist, associations between physicality, musculature, and the dancing body: Davies often remarks upon the ways in which her music is influenced by African American popular music (in particular with funk, or the music of Prince) and describes this influence in terms of physical tics. The physicality of her music often is often described by critics as urban, gritty, and aggressive – in short, in terms that suggest the racial conflict that has often occurred in inner-city areas.

Looking at journalism and music criticism, and some of Davies’ musical scores, this paper first discusses the ways in which Davies is seen as simultaneously subverting gender norms through her physique, and the legacy of an abstract or cerebral modernism through her music’s physicality. It then shows the ways in which this androgynous physicality is loaded with pernicious racial connotations, and in particular with the fear of black and minority ethnic communities living in British conurbations.