Voices Without Bodies: Technology and Trans MusicKQB Studio 1, Mariannenplatz 2, 10997 Berlin → Map
Tickets: 5 € / 10 € day pass
From the historical figure of the castrato to the contemporary phenomenon of the digitally modulated voice, liminal genders have long intertwined with the production and performance of music. Castrati singers, boys castrated before puberty to preserve a high and uncanny singing voice, were outlawed when music recording technology began to proliferate, and around the same time that homosexuality, as a modern sexual and gender category, began to emerge.
The gramophone, and later the hi-fi stereo, tape player, and iPod, isolated the sung voice from its resonating body, producing an uncanniness similar to that of castrati—ambiguously gendered people with larger frames but unthickened vocal cords whose modified sexual characteristics created a singular and often perplexing sound. In the twentieth century, the adoption of synthesizer technology to music by trans composer Wendy Carlos further threw the voice into liminal space, creating sounds that did not stem from any visible resonating body. Trans uses of music technology proliferate in this century, where musicians like Sophie, Fever Ray, Terre Thaemlitz, and YATTA confound the ear with complex and contradictory performances of vocal gender.
Sasha Geffen is the author of Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary, a historical exploration of how music performance uniquely enables and insulates gender transgressions. Their writing also appears in Rolling Stone, Artforum, The Nation, Pitchfork, and others.