Sirens/Cyborgs: Sound Technologies and the Musical Body

Lucie Vágnerová

Sirens/Cyborgs: Sound Technologies and the Musical Body
Vágnerová, Lucie
Thesis Advisor(s):
Hisama, Ellie M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Persistent URL:
This dissertation investigates the political stakes of women’s work with sound technologies engaging the body since the 1970s by drawing on frameworks and methodologies from music history, sound studies, feminist theory, performance studies, critical theory, and the history of technology. Although the body has been one of the principal subjects of new musicology since the early 1990s, its role in electronic music is still frequently shortchanged. I argue that the way we hear electro-bodily music has been shaped by extra-musical, often male-controlled contexts. I offer a critique of the gendered and racialized foundations of terminology such as “extended,” “non-human,” and “dis/embodied,” which follows these repertories. In the work of American composers Joan La Barbara, Laurie Anderson, Wendy Carlos, Laetitia Sonami, and Pamela Z, I trace performative interventions in technoscientific paradigms of the late twentieth century. The voice is perceived as the locus of the musical body and has long been feminized in musical discourse. The first three chapters explore how this discourse is challenged by compositions featuring the processed, broadcast, and synthesized voices of women. I focus on how these works stretch the limits of traditional vocal epistemology and, in turn, engage the bodies of listeners. In the final chapter on musical performance with gesture control, I question the characterization of hand/arm gesture as a “natural” musical interface and return to the voice, now sampled and mapped onto movement. Drawing on Cyborg feminist frameworks which privilege hybridity and multiplicity, I show that the above composers audit the dominant technoscientific imaginary by constructing musical bodies that are never essentially manifested nor completely erased.
Electronic music
Musical criticism
Gender identity
Sex role
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Suggested Citation:
Lucie Vágnerová, , Sirens/Cyborgs: Sound Technologies and the Musical Body, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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