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Transposition no 9 – Sexualities

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Transposition. Music and Social Sciences

Issue 9 (2020): Sexualities

Coordination: Esteban Buch and Violeta Nigro Giunta

Issue 9 of Transposition. Music and Social Sciences aims to explore the multiple forms in which the connection between music and human sexuality has manifested itself since Antiquity, in most cultures. It seeks to compile recent research on the place of music in people’s sex life, and how music gives shape to shared representations of sexuality—two aspects which make this an eminently political phenomenon, in that it is indissociable from the questions of gender roles and power relations between men and women. In addition to the field of music and its technological systems, this CFP is also open to proposals examining the sonic dimension of sex life and representations of sexuality, from the perspective of sound studies. The aim is a publication serving as a reference on sound and music, considered in their relation to sex and desire, that is, a broad collection of phenomena which—be it or not mediated by oral or written language, and integrated into complex emotional dynamics—are part of both individuals’ ‘real life’ and artistic production, including live or recorded music, but also theatre, dance, contemporary art or film.

Until now, there has been little study of the major importance of sexuality in the history of music. The myth of the Sirens in The Odyssey—constantly revisited, as in the Dialectic of Enlightenment by Adorno and Horkheimer and up to the present day—and the categorisation of modes according to their moral and somatic effects in Plato’s Republic—surely the first political theory of State music—are inaugural milestones in this long historical journey. In the Western classical repertoire, the works of Monteverdi, Mozart, Wagner, Debussy, Berg, Britten and Shostakovich—to name but a few canonic composers—re-elaborate a semantics of desire according to different styles and in complex temporalities, prompting, at the cognitive level, analogies between the formal processes and the rhythms of human emotions. The fact that this canon of composers is made up of men, and primarily heterosexual men at that, reveals the patriarchy’s domination over this production, the necessary critique of which feminist and queer musicologies have begun to develop, without all consequences having been addressed yet. In this sense, to help redress a historic imbalance in musical studies, we encourage work on women musicians (female composers, artists/performers, theoreticians, etc.). Dramaturgical genres such as opera, music theatre and musical film employ these formal principles in ways often defined by the timbre of the human voice and the figure of the singing character. They give the bodily foundation of the listening experience (salient even in the most ascetic instrumental music) a kind of realistic embodiment, into which spectators can project their own personal experience and desires.

What is true of classical music also applies to most musical genres, whether or not identified as such by the entertainment and cultural industries of the globalised West. Jazz, folk, pop, rap, electro and rock—whose historic slogan sex, drugs & rock 'n' roll sums up a hedonistic approach to life—have all sexuality at their core. These music genres lend a certain structure to interactions and forms of representation, especially when they include a visual dimension, like the video clip. The role that the hypersexualised stars of the entertainment industries play in eroticising the life of their admirers is a matter of common sense and fantasy, but is rarely investigated with the necessary rigour. Partner dancing, an essential element of many musical scenes and genres, has been crucial in the rituals of seduction and bodily pleasures of the modern era, while also providing fertile ground for the hybridization of cultures. Music associated with wedding rituals in many cultures, and the musical vectors of trance joining climax in the spectrum of intense experiences, belong to a field of research that ethnomusicology has only begun to explore.

Further studies will not only enable a better understanding of the innumerable ways in which art and culture represent life, but also of the role of art and culture in life itself. Particular attention will be paid to proposals that incorporate music into sociological investigations of people’s sex life, a field in which John Gagnon’s sexual scripts theory proves particularly relevant. The place of music in people’s personal experience and imagination, the role it plays in their scenes of seduction and physical intimacy, and in the retrospective construction of biographical stories: these are aspects of a field that, more than twenty years ago after Tia DeNora’s pioneering work on music in everyday life, still has to produce studies attuned to its sociological importance. In recent years, the digital revolution has reconfigured the sonic aspect of sexuality, as with so many other human activities, ushering in the still little known new sound and music practices (e.g. making recommendations and sharing of files and personal experience on social media, the transformations of pornography, technical and ideological changes to censorship). Meanwhile, virtual reality and artificial intelligence loom on the horizon, as a new set of theoretical and methodological challenges for the future of sound studies.

On all of these questions, and the list here is non-exhaustive, Transposition is accepting proposals, in French and English (~1500-2500 characters including spaces, not counting the bibliography) until July 1st. Proposals should be sent to the following addresses: buch@ehess.fr ; violeta.nigro.giunta@gmail.com. The full articles will be required by January 2020.

In addition to the scientific papers for the thematic section, which will be reviewed and subject to the approval of the Scientific Committee, Transposition is open to other formats, either original – in which case author(s) are asked to specify that their submission is for the category Varia, or already having a precedent in the review, such as interviews (see https://transposition.revues.org).

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