Audible Traces: Gender, Identity, and Music/Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean

By Diamond, Beverley | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Audible Traces: Gender, Identity, and Music/Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean


Diamond, Beverley, Canadian University Music Review


Elaine Barkin and Lydia Hamessley, eds. 1999. Audible Traces: Gender, Identity, and Music. Zurich: Carciofoli Verlagshaus. Verbal score, index, CD, 292 pp. ISBN 3-905323-00-1 (hardcover).

Tullia Magrini, ed. 2003. Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 371 pp. ISBN 0226501655 (hardcover).

In the last five years, several new anthologies on gender and music have appeared, each extending the issues and approaches of this important sub-field of music scholarship. This review explores two collections that are innovative in dramatically contrasting ways. While, at the end of my close reading of the two books, I think the Magrini will have a greater impact, the Barkin / Hamessley volume will also inform my future reading lists.

Audible Traces: Gender, Identity, and Music by Barkin and Hamessley is arguably the book that risks the most in its unmodified celebration of "experience" and its presentation of multiple modes of representation, including composers' personal accounts, poetry, diary entries, and a "score" with audio on the accompanying CD. There has been a tendency to move away from such forms of experimentation in the past few years and hence this volume may represent an experimental moment the significance of which will echo differently for different reader/listeners. I really enjoyed the diverse writing styles.

The insistence on individual diversity, indeed in some articles the downplaying of groupness, including, in some cases, any acknowledgement of a priori gender consciousness, is a further characteristic, one that contrasts with the Magrini anthology that is reviewed below. Is this a new form of denial for the social groundedness of artistic practices, or is it an antidote to some overly deterministic accounts of gender, class, and race? This particular insistence on individuality is perhaps related to the fact that the book is a collaboration between a musicologist and a composer; indeed, composers' voices are quite prominent. The bridging of the creative and scholarly worlds is a welcome direction in gender studies. The anthology also endeavours to bridge from the world of Euro- American classical music to other worlds: dance (Cook, Mockus), popular music (Cusick, Hisama, Morris, Coulombe), and non-Western music (only Zheng).

Perhaps like other multi-authored compilations that have a strong focus on individual identity, this one comes across like an assembly of shards - the "traces" of the title, bits and pieces, with surprising but unplanned resonances. The editors intend this effect arguing for the "real-time processes" (Barkin) of thought, for its unconscious and yet significant associations evident only if intention and control are given lower priority. I find that my response to this is equivocal. On one hand, the writing is self-indulgent, in the same way a rehearsal presented as a final performance would be, or a first draft published without editing. On the other, the process is of considerable interest to some, even if the strength of the message is compromised. Hamessley makes a valiant attempt to draw meaning out of the miscellany in her fine introduction. Using the metaphor of a quilt (indeed a piece of her work as a quilter is used as the cover art and is also replicated as figure 1), she reminds us that the assembling of pieces is, in itself, a means of creating pattern. She suggests that the mirroring of the symbolic "blocks" in this collection reveals a repeated emphasis on acoustic spaces, abundant bodies, bodies performing music, embodied voices, racial reflections, musicians as others, contrasts between representation and endorsement, story-telling, the significance of changes in context, and the role of interpretive communities. It's a long list but a fair account of the themes of significance.

I would like to carry the quilting metaphor a bit further. While the anthology may have done the piecing, the careful arrangement of fabric textures, colours and design, it has done very little quilting - the overlay of stitched pattern to highlight pattern or counterpoint the design of the pieces with a new layer of imagery. …

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