Over the past several years, there has been a sonic awakening. The study of sound and its effects on knowledge, identity, culture, and history has risen dramatically within both existing academic fields – such as media studies, art history, musicology, philosophy, cultural studies, and the history of technology – as well as popular culture generally. In each case, much of the discussion on sound and the role it fulfills in our understanding of ourselves and our cultures, has occurred online. The digital archive in particular has become a dominant medium for reassessing the histories of sound culture that have gone unheard, reclaiming the sonic legacies of voices marginalized throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The interdisciplinary scholarship that has engendered this renewed discussion of sound, and the cultures of listening that they embody, is beginning to congeal into a distinct field, known as sound studies. The field has grown largely over the past decade – currently there are several major compendia outlining its basic parameters of inquiry – but its fundamental research methodologies and perspectives are still being hypothesized, formulated, and tested. By no means is sound studies itself currently a stable discipline, but one that is, perhaps to its unsuspecting benefit, fractured and diverse. However, the burgeoning field is currently undergoing self-critique as it refines its views on race, gender, and identity.
As sound studies now coalesces into a unified field, many leading scholars and practitioners are still housed in other disciplines, areas of research that can be so disparate that there is little common ground otherwise. Consider two scholars researching urban noise: both may converge on the emergency siren as an object of study, but while a neuroscientist may study its effects on cognitive/neurological comprehension, a linguist or cultural theorist may study the embedded social codes of the siren as a cultural signifier. The diversity of perspective seems healthy, but if the latter researcher fails to locate the cultural significance of a police siren within a community whose relationship with law enforcement is strenuous, compounded by generations of mistrust, abuse of force, and systemic harassment, then an important sonic paradigm is overlooked. As Gustavus Stadler recently pointed out in a post, “On Whiteness and Sound Studies,” for the Sounding Out! blog, our interpretation of sound in a culture of listening is unequivocally informed by “the weight of history and politics,” meaning a siren may sound differently depending on identities of race, gender, and socio-economic status.
The appearance of diversity in sound studies does not translate into actual inclusivity. As Stadler ultimately shows, sound studies as an academic field has troubling blind-spots in its perception of race and the operations of sound in systems of white supremacy: the field is being formulated on a presumption of whiteness that silences other points of audition. Similarly, I would like to add that the discipline-in-formation should also reflect on a predilection to hetero-masculinity, and that, like race, the history of gender and LGBTQ identity in the sonic realm should be acutely examined and theorized as a politics of aurality.
In this post, I will highlight research projects that merge sound studies with queer and feminist perspectives. It is my hope that each will serve as a starting point to cultivate conversations on inclusive sonic research methods and epistemologies. In particular, the digital archive has been adopted as a tool to reorient our understanding of sound: while critiques of sound emerge slowly through academic channels, the digital archive offers a unique potential to build a framework from which inclusive sonic research communities may emerge. Offering a comprehensive and immediate cache of documents, images, recordings, and other resources, the projects below illustrate that digital archives are already being used by many people, academics and non-academics alike, to challenge hetero-masculinity in sonic history.
Due to the overwhelming amount of digital archive projects engaging topics of queer or feminist sound, the list below is selective and accordingly incomplete. The form of the digital archive is also left open-ended, and I have included traditional academic archive projects as well as non-academic, experimental, or popular platforms. Furthermore, the archives here primarily address North American and European communities, and are thus inadequate in the representation of global and post-colonial cultures. It is my intention and hope that the list below will spark conversations on the political potential of the digital archive, specifically in areas of representation that remain unserved.
The research projects highlighted are loosely grouped into three broad categories:
- Digital archives focusing on historical or thematic topics
- Professional development databases and community networks
- Popular music blogs and other web projects
Each archive is also categorized as:
- Active: actively maintained and open to adding materials.
- Static/Active: actively maintained but no longer open to adding materials.
- Inactive: removed, no longer updated, abandoned, or unavailable.
The following archives present carefully constructed and thematically defined topics. The digital archive here is widely used as vehicle of gender representation in topics surrounding the history of contemporary music, especially electronic and experimental in form. However, also included are topics on punk, folk, and dance music, which together address not only gender but also sexuality.
Her Noise | Her Noise is an archive that “[investigates] music and sound histories in relation to gender… and women artists who use sound as a medium.” The archive now exists as a physical collection containing zines, performance footage, books, records, and other ephemera. It is now overseen by the CRISAP program at the University of the Arts London, but it began as an online project in 2001, documenting video interviews with women artists and musicians working in various genres and disciplines, focusing on DIY and experimental music, in addition to programming numerous events, including exhibitions and performances.
Archivists: Lina Džuverović and Anne Hilde Neset (with assistance from: Emma Hedditch; Irene Revell; Holly Ingleton; Cathy Lane)
Location: Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice (CRISAP) at the University of the Arts London.
Ekho: Women in Sonic Art | Ekho’s is a blog-format archive that overviews the legacy of women in experimental and electronic music, ca. 1950-2015. Its stated mission is to “celebrate the work of women within sonic art,” describing itself as “an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field.” The archive exists as an adaptive web project and currently includes biographies and discographies of over forty women sound artists and musicians.
Archivists: Holly Jarvis
Pink Noises | Although no longer active online, the digital archive, Pink Noises, existed as a web repository for information on women musicians, sound artists, and composers. The website was founded in 2001 and offered essays, reviews, downloadable audio, and other information that “promotes work by women who are DJs, electronics musicians and sound artists, makes information on music production more accessible to women and girls, and encourages critical consciousness through creative… uses of sound.” The self-described “feminist media project” went offline after several years but now exists as both an online community and book of the same title, published by Duke University Press (2010).
Archivist: Tara Rodgers
Location: In Print
Status: Inactive; Published Book
Women in Punk Archive | The Women in Punk Archive collects information on the biographies and discographies of women involved in the North American and European punk, no-wave, indie music scenes, ca. 1970-1980. The expansive list compiles the details of women-led and gender diverse bands, destabilizing the masculine myths of DIY music.
Archivist: Jenny Woolworth
Queer Noise | The Queer Noise archive collects various ephemera from “the hidden history of Manchester’s LGBT music culture and club life,” presenting a counter-narrative for a city widely celebrated for its musical past, especially pop and rock. Queer Noise includes materials dating back to the 1950s, but focuses on the 1980s and 1990s, and was conceived as an egalitarian project, sourcing materials (e.g., posters, articles, vinyl) from the public.
Archivists: Abigail Ward; Manchester District Music Archive (MDMA)
Location: Manchester (England)
The Women’s Liberation Music Archive | The Women’s Liberation Music Archive documents the “feminist music making” in the U.K. and Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s, focusing on the history of radical music in the Women’s Liberation Movement. Presenting posters, pins, and photographs, the archive shows how feminist music-makers “[put] politics into practice.”
Archivist: Frankie Green; Debi Withers
Location: Feminist Archive South, University of Bristol
Women in Music | The Kapralova Society’s Women in Music archive – dedicated to the Czech woman composer Vitezslava Kapralova – collects the historical records and biographies of international women composers, focusing on classical orchestral and electronic music. The archive is assembled into categories that list women musicians, composers, and conductors according to historical periods, cultural groups, and genres/disciplines, asserting the long presence of women in classical music.
Archivists: The Kapralova Society
Location: Toronto, Ontario; Online
Gaywaves | The Gaywaves archive takes the form an audio archive, preserving and publishing historical recordings from Sydney’s first gay and lesbian radio broadcast, ca. 1979-2005. The recordings document the growth of the LGBTQ community in Australia, providing insight to understand how radio was utilized as a political space to cultivate identity via music and conversation.
Archivist: National Film & Sound Archive (NFSA)
Location: Sydney (Australia)
40 Years of Women in Electronic Music | This archive takes the form of two radio broadcasts, originally airing on Barbara Golden’s show, Crack’O’Dawn (KPFA FM, 94.1, Berkeley, CA), on April 1, 2010 and February 8, 2013. The two broadcasts present recordings by women in experimental electronic music, ca. 1952-1983, ranging from early electronic music studio compositions to homemade synthesizer recordings.
Archivists: Barbara Golden; Jon Leidecker
Location: Online; Ubu.com
Professional Development Databases & Community Networks
The following archives offer community-oriented services and resources, specifically to address lack of representation of women in audio professions. The projects offer extensive databases of active practitioners and provide community support, designed to cultivate the professional development of women in sound industries.
Womens Audio Mission | The Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) is a nonprofit organization that is “dedicated to the advancement of women in music production and the recording arts,” offering assistance and access to sound technologies and communities. The group functions primarily offline, but its website offers invaluable resources to women interested in sound, including production services, rates, gear lists, and a community message board.
Location: San Francisco, CA
Audible Women | Audible Women is a new website that offers representation to women working in sound as artists, musicians, and audio engineers, focusing on electronic music. Taking the form of a user-generated service, the website is a burgeoning community to document current and former practitioners, serving both as a current database and a future historical archive.
Female:Pressure | Female:Pressure is another database-driven platform, documenting the work of women-identifying sound workers, including artists, musicians, engineers, producers, and managers. Using a search platform on its homepage, the user of this website is able to identify persons by region, country, city, genre, and profession, in turn receiving a vast list of sound professionals for hire.
Shejay | The Shejay website offers an active database of global touring women artists, focusing on electronic musicians and DJs, in addition to news, articles, and interviews on and about women working in sound.
Exhibitions, Symposia, Music Blogs & Other Projects
The following archives are disparate in form (e.g., blog, radio, festival, etc.) but again call attention to the identities of women and LGBTQ persons that make or listen to sound. In particular, the blog format is shown as a new form of personal archive, one that, while thematically loose, offers listeners self-representation through sound.
Feminist Music Geek | The Feminist Music Geek blog is run by Alyx Vesey, a writer and graduate student in Media and Cultural Studies at UW-Madison. On this website, Vesey documents her thoughts on feminism, music, and popular culture via thematic playlists, displaying a wide range of contemporary genres.
Queer Music Heritage | The Queer Music Homepage is maintained by JD Doyle, a radio host that documented the legacy of LGBT identity in American music over a series of broadcasts from 2000-2015. The episodes are thematic in scope and include topics ranging from 1950s camp records to transgender composers and queerness in punk rock.
Her Beats | The Her Beats blog featured recurring posts on women making electronic music, highlighting contemporary artists in experimental and dance genres. Though currently inactive, the website still hosts podcast features on selected artists, and still exists as a Last.FM group, where it first began in 2008.
Heroines of Sound | The Heroines of Sound festival features a wide array of established and emerging women sound artists and musicians. Held in Berlin, Germany, the program hosts performances, installations, and a symposium, underscoring the work of women artists, musicians, and scholars in electronic music.
Sexing Sound: Aural Archives and Feminist Scores | This multiplatform project existed as both exhibition and symposium, each held on campus at The Graduate Center (CUNY) in New York City, February 6- March 8, 2014. The exhibition culled together artworks, scores, flyers, photo documentation, and other ephemera from “women’s sound work” in contemporary art. The symposium brought together researchers, curators, and artists to talk about these and other sound-based artistic practices as they have been gendered through history. The exhibition and symposium will be preserved in an upcoming book, and are currently available online via a curated playlist hosted at UbuWeb.
Archivists: Valerie Tevere; Siona Wilson; Meredith Mowder; Lauren Rosati; Andrew Capetta
Location: The Graduate Center (CUNY); New York City
- Interview // Charles Eppley, “As Queer Sound: An Interview with Sergei Tcherepnin,” Rhizome.org
- Conference // Sound::Gender::Feminism::Activism Conference at CRISAP: (http://www.crisap.org/index.php?soundgenderfeminismactivism2014)
- Compilation // V/A – Women Take Back The Noise (UBUIBI): http://ubuibi.org/wtbtn/
- Compilation // V/A – Ladiez in Noyz Australia Vol. 1 & 2: http://www.corpuscallosumdistro.com/Welcome.html
Charles Eppley is an art historian and sound enthusiast from Brooklyn, NY. He is a PhD candidate at Stony Brook University, where he researches the role of sound in modern and contemporary art. His writings have appeared in Art in America, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and AVANT.org, where is an editor and programs director. He currently teaches at Pratt Institute.