Sonic Cyberfeminism

Xenofeminist Manifesto, or the Politics of Alienation

 

The spatiality and temporality of the radiophonic field inscribes an intimacy of experience. Measuring our bodies invisibly creates a sensual fiction, a poetic virtuality, creating a space where we can describe ourselves and still not know who we are… ‘the intimacy of voice betrays a body out there, warm to the touch…this sort of alienated intimacy’…There’s no language of radio, just tongues…
~Christof Mignone (1992).

While cyborg as a metaphor for female identity in the late twentieth-century might have worked on a theoretical level, examples of cyberfeminist work, such as VNS Matrix’s use of cyborg bodies, signal that, in the visual culture of early Internet, cyberfeminism seems to have fallen into the trap of reiterating the tropes of masculinist fantasies. Cyborg, as a hybrid of female body and a machine, has fallen short on other accounts. Daniels argues that Haraway’s “theorizing […] constructs women of color, as quintessential cyborgs as when Haraway writes about the ‘cyborg women making chips in Asia and spiral dancing in Santa Rita’.” (2009, 101) While the Internet and digital technologies are seen as emancipatory tools by (white) cyberfeminists, bodies of women of colour seem to be enslaved by technology, seen as cyborgs executing mindless and repetitive tasks. Haraway herself has retracted some of her statements: “I would be much more careful about describing who counts as a ‘we’ in the statement ‘we are all cyborgs’.’’ (Quoted in Sandoval 1999, 255) Sandoval expands further on the shift in Haraway’s mode of thinking: “Under this new form of what Haraway calls an ‘anti-racist,’ indeed, even an anti-gender feminism, Haraway asserts, ‘there is no place for women,’ only ‘geometrics of difference and contradiction crucial to women’s cyborg identities’.”[1] (1999, 256) Once again, the idea of a singular, female body is a fallacy of the synecdochical vision of cyberfeminism, equating one particular experience of embodiment with the experience of all women.

There is a considerable shift, therefore, from the 1990s (white) cyborg bodies, whose empowerment springs from the feminisation of technology, to the 2000s critique of the representation of gender and race in cyberfeminist discourse. Xenofeminism, a critical revision of cyberfeminism, originally published by an international collective Laboria Cuboniks in 2015, defines itself as “technomaterialist, anti-naturalist, and gender abolitionist form of feminism.” (Hester 2018, 6, author’s emphasis) Rather than seeing the relationship between feminism and technology from an essentialist perspective, xenofeminism sees developments in technology as a tool facilitating complete abolishment of gender inequality: “the end goal of feminist revolution must be [. . .] not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital difference between human beings would no longer matter culturally.” (Hester 2018, 25) Xenofeminism professes politics and aesthetics of alienation, as an activist agenda opposing traditional normative and patriarchal views on gender, class and race:

“We are all alienated – but have we ever been otherwise? […]. Freedom is not a given–and it’s certainly not given by anything ‘natural.’ The construction of freedom involves not less but more alienation; alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction. Nothing should be accepted as fixed, permanent, or ‘given’–neither material conditions nor social forms. […] XF is vehemently anti-naturalist. Essentialist naturalism reeks of theology–the sooner it is exorcised, the better.” (Laboria Cuboniks 2015, par. 2)

hershmann
Lynn Hershman Leeson. 1994. Seduction of a Cyborg. 7 min. Video still. http://imogenharland.net/glasgow-international-cyborgs/

Xenofeminism asserts that the radical potential of 1990s’ cyberfeminism has waned in the twenty-first century, as the Internet has ended up upholding the patriarchal and racist structures permeating everyday world: “The dominance of the visual in today’s online interfaces has reinstated familiar modes of identity policing, power relations and gender norms in self-representation.” (Laboria Cuboniks 2015, par. 20) Moreover, rather than inscribing the gender and race imbalance onto new technologies, xenofeminism seeks an “alien future,” and strives to build new worlds and invent new languages (2015, par. 27). The politics of alienation attempts to uncover the hidden power structures and minimise their adverse effect on marginalised bodies. This radical utopianism differs from the cyberfeminism of the 1990s in that it argues against the hierarchy between virtual and the material worlds and emphasises the potential of a synthesis of both spaces:

“Digital technologies are not separable from the material realities that underwrite them; they are connected so that each can be used to alter the other towards different ends. Rather than arguing for the primacy of the virtual over the material, or the material over the virtual, xenofeminism grasps points of power and powerlessness in both, to unfold this knowledge as effective interventions in our jointly composed reality.” (2015, par. 20)

Xenofeminism, therefore, operates in the Hertzian space of invisible forces and resonances, physically affecting bodies and objects. The radical alienation seeks to undermine the primacy of an anthropocentric view of the world, prioritising, instead, a more horizontal approach of acknowledging the interconnectedness of all agents, organic and non-organic. Thus, rather than fetishising cybernetics and the hybridity of humans and machines, xenofeminist vision is closer to that of molecular sciences. This shift signals a transformation of perspective from a panoptical overview into the microscopic zooming in, capable of revealing hidden structures, interferences and reverberations.

Xenofeminism seeks to subvert the modes of ambivalence, irony and techno-utopianism, as well as illusion and melancholy permeating contemporary political landscape (Laboria Cuboniks, 2015, par. 10). While Xenofeminist Manifesto does not mention irony, I would like to see irony as a cyberfeminist mode of critique which found its perfect environment in the early text-oriented Internet culture, re-establishing the division between the body and the mind. In cyberspace, you could “leav[e] the body behind, abandoning flesh in virtual reality […].” (Paasonen 2011, 345) Irony allows for this type of disembodiment through distancing the referent from the reference, and in effect, postulate the presence of the subject through its simultaneous negation. Xenofeminist agenda seeks to counteract irony, synecdoche and hyperbole which underwrite contemporary online culture, largely focused on the visual. As Zoë Sofia argues,

“[s]ynecdoche is what allows the disembodied, alienated, objective rationality of a certain gender, class, ethnicity, and historical epoch to be vaunted as universal, while other styles and components of rationality – such as embodiment, situatedness, emotion – are ignored or dismissed as non-rational.” (Sofia 1999, 57)

57-particular-universals-social
Okayultra & the Retro Wave image generator, taken from an interview with Helen Hester by Francis Tseng, https://thenewinquiry.com/particular-universals/

If the visual component of the digital culture serves to upheld the oppressive power structures, how else can one effectively allow for the visibility of non-conforming genders? As the Manifesto asserts, the goal of xenofeminism is not to “eradicat[e] what are currently considered ‘gendered’ traits from the human population” but to “Let a hundred sexes bloom!” (Laboria Cuboniks 2015, par. 15). I would like to argue that this is achieved through an act of radical alienation which shifts the hierarchy of the senses from the visual to the aural.

 

Sonic Cyberfeminism

 The recent prominence of sound art and radio art in the contemporary art discourse owes partially to the gradual shift in the understanding of the idea of space; from Newtonian space of observable physical interactions, to the idea of immaterial cyberspace, finally arriving at an understanding of Hertzian space, where the immaterial actants nevertheless exert physical effects on bodies, objects and the space itself. Sonic cyberfeminism seeks to understand how invisible sound waves affect bodies in a physical manner, linking cyberfeminist ideas of the emancipatory potential of cybernetics and technology with the more embodied and environmentally conscious approach of xenofeminism. In an article titled “Sonic Cyberfeminism and its Discontents” (2014), Annie Goh proposes the idea of “micro-feminine sonic warfare,” fusing together the ideas of Luciana Parisi and her research on biology and evolutionary theory with Steve Goodman’s discussion of the virology of sound. In Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and The Mutations of Desire (2004), Parisi demonstrates that on a micro-biological level, the simple binary between male and female does not exist. In a review of Abstract Sex titled “After the Cyborg,” Tiziana Terranova asserts:

“In a way, Abstract Sex takes Haraway’s cyborg where Haraway would not go: beyond the hybridity model, which connects but preserves different identities within itself, to a molecular femininity where identity dissolves into propagating mutations and assemblages induced by encounters between bodies.” (2004, 173-174)

In this model, gender dissolves into sex which, seen from a molecular perspective, is simply an act of an exchange of information between different organisms, rather than a basis for “a construction of gendered human bodies.” (Terranova 2004, 174)

Goodman’s analysis of sound in Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (2009) also stems from microbiology, seeing sound as a virus which affects bodies:

“What is it to be infected by sound? How are bodies affected by rhythms, frequencies, and intensities before their intensity is transduced by regimes of signification and captured in the interiority of human emotions and cognition? […] What viral algorithms are at work within vibrational culture beside so-called generative music? What artificial life-forms inhabit the ecologies of global music markets? How are audio viruses deployed within a politics of frequency?” (2009, 132).

picabia
Francis Picabia. 1915. Voilà la femme. Oil on canvas. Private collection, Paris. http://en.wahooart.com/Art.nsf/O/8EWGHB/$File/Francis-Picabia-Voila-la-femme.JPG

Goh sees a link between these two theories in the understanding of bodies within sonic discourse not as gendered bodies, but as organisms infected by sound. The focus is shifted from the human perspective to a molecular perspective, fostering analysis of the interconnectedness of bodies, sounds and the environment. Nevertheless, Goh concludes that there is still a danger of a “complete assimilation of the body into the technology,” or “the disappearance of ‘woman’ into machine.” (Goh 2014, 3) Sound can make listeners aware of their own bodies in unprecedented ways, but what happens to the source of sound in the process? And within radio art specifically, which employs human voice to a large extent, how can we understand the relationship between sounding bodies, the voice, technologies of sound and the listeners? In the next section I will delve further into the idea that xenofeminist politics and aesthetics of alienation are very much centred on the deconstruction of the human voice as a signifier of gender, class and race, striving to fulfil the wish to “speak as no one in particular.” (Laboria Cuboniks 2015, par. 5) Moreover, the analysis of the use of the (female) voice in contemporary feminist radio art practice will serve to contest and expand on the concept of embodiment in sonic arts.

 

Schizophonic Voice

As philosopher Mladen Dolar asserts, “It is precisely the voice that holds bodies and languages together.” (2006, 60) While this assertion is true in circumstances when both the voicing body and the listening body are present in the same space, in radio technology there is an audible disconnect between these three paradigms. Dolar, quoting Michel Chion, notes that what the latter terms an “acousmatic voice,” has peculiar effects on the listeners:

“A voice whose source one cannot see, a voice whose origin cannot be identified, a voice one cannot place. It is a voice in search of the origin, in search of a body, but even when it finds its body, it turns out that this doesn’t quite work, the voice doesn’t stick to the body […].” (2006, 60-61)

Radiophonic voice is quintessentially an acousmatic voice, in search for a body. The unusual effect this type of voice produces on its listeners can be termed as “schizophonia,” or the uneasiness stemming from the disassociation of the sound from its origin via a radio transmitter. In her dissertation “The Radio of the Future Redux: Rethinking Transmission through Experiments in Radio Art,” Friz critiques the tendency, common among (male) radio art theorists, to embrace the concept schizophonia as the sign of the ultimate disembodiment afforded to the voice by radiophonic space: “Recording and radio—through a sort of sympathetic magic—entail a theft of the voice and a disappearance of the body, a radical accentuation of the mind/body split, with its concomitant anguish.” (Weiss 1995, 300) Instead, she argues that,

“A resonant paradigm for radio is not schizophonic: for instance, the much disputed broadcast voice is neither severed nor fundamentally alienated, but instead a part of the complex relationships between the circuit of technologies, bodies and culture that interact in order for a voice to be heard somewhere or somewhere else.” (Friz 2011, 72)

Rather than emphasising the disassociation of the voice from the body, Friz sees the radiophonic space as a space of re-enactment of the link between the body, its sounds and other agents and objects present in that space. This very fragile and volatile link is expressed by Friz through the concept of resonance, which counteracts radiation, as a dominant mode of thinking about radio in terms of one source of electromagnetic waves disseminating information onto receivers. Instead, resonance shifts the focus from the source of sound onto its recipients. Friz, quoting her discussion with Ellen Waterman, asserts that “the notion of bodies resonating rather than radiating and disappearing in wireless space ‘resists the depoliticizing nature of virtuality […]’.” (Friz 2011, 73)

Friz’s practice critiques the idea of schizophonia as a dominant methodology of radio art, arguing instead for embodied radio art. Curiously though, in her most recent projects Friz intuitively or consciously abandons broadcast voice in favour of non-verbal sounds such as breath, sighs, cries and so on (it will be discussed in more detail later on). While the radiophonic voice can project the feeling of phonic schizophrenia in its listeners, it is also very much pitted against a philosophical tradition of a disembodied male voice, designating consciousness and presence. As Frances Dyson notes in her essay “The Genealogy of the Radio Voice” (1994), since its transformation into mass media, radio technology has been coded as an inherently masculine area of gender performance:

“As a voice, [radio voice] is traditionally male, having a certain timbre and intonation that suggests a belief in what it is saying and a degree of authority in saying it. Critics of the dominant radio voice have dubbed it ‘the voice of the authority’.” (167)

Therefore, despite its acousmatic character, the “masculine” voice projects a certain idea of presence, characterised by Dyson by “endurance, self-identity, stability and permanence.” (168) It is also distinguished by demonstrating the qualities of crispness, loudness, clarity, and a good pronunciation and diction. In other words, it endeavours to eliminate any non-verbal interferences which would disrupt the meaning of speech, such as coughs, breaths and other sounds. Paradoxically, while asserting permanence and presence, the male radio voice strives towards disembodiment, or elimination of the signs (and sounds) of the body itself: “Disembodiment is a necessary goal for both radio and metaphysics because the body represents noise, that is, an interference in the transmission of ‘truth’.” (178, author’s emphasis) For Dyson, “truth” is synonymous with the existent power structures. The “feminine” voice is, as a counterpart to “masculine” one, characterised by its weakness, lack of clarity, high-pitch and vagueness. For Dyson, a feminist strategy in radio practice is precisely the assertion of the relationship between the body and the voice in foregrounding its noisiness, fluidity, volatility and malleability, unsettling the tendency in radio to base its programming around the reign of a single, disembodied and yet decidedly male voice. Giving prominence to different bodily sounds simultaneously foregrounds different bodies themselves.

Friz’s work Respire (multi-channel transmission performance and/or installation, 30 min, first performed at RadiaLX 2008 in Lisbon, Portugal) accentuates the non-verbal qualities of vocal emission and incorporates them into a mediation on expanded notions of radio. The installation consists of around three hundred[2] small radio transmitters which are suspended from the ceiling, emitting sounds typically absent from a radio broadcast: “intakes of breath before speaking, glottal admissions, hissing and popping air hitting the microphone, weight shifting in a chair, breath grown ragged, the overheard background from a live report, and so on.” (Friz 2011, 154) The space of the gallery is transformed into a radiophonic space, with the installation drawing attention to its Hertzian qualities of being overlaid with sound waves and invisible frequencies. As the artist claims on her website in relation to the piece, “[t]his milieu of harmonic interference and uneasy nighttime (sic) respirations reveals the invisible contours of the radio landscape that surrounds us.” The visitors’ bodies likewise interact with the piece: “the radio array is nonetheless responsive to the presence of visitors, as their bodies are themselves radiogenic and effect (and are effected by) the transmission ecology of the space.” (Friz 2011, 157) This links together Dyson’s feminist tactic of bodily noise with “micro-feminine sonic warfare” and affecting/infecting the bodies of listeners with sound.

Nevertheless, what I find problematic about Friz’s insistence on the abandonment of schizophonic qualities of radio broadcast in favour of embodied radio practice is that it inadvertently produces the effect that the artist wants to eliminate from her practice. The schizophonic feeling is still very much present in this piece of work, as the abstract qualities of the sound collage produce an effect of displacement, creating an impression that devices themselves are inhaling and exhaling breath and emitting other bodily noises. The radio transmitters, rather than being portals to another dimension, as in The Clandestine Transmissions of Pirate Jenny, gain “human” qualities. The quality of otherness projected by Respire is a result of the non-verbal aspect of the broadcast. While the audience can recognise the sounds as emitted by humans, they do not signal a full embodiment; rather, Friz’s installation takes as its cue Nori Neumark’s assertion that “[i]n relation to embodiment, the ground zero for voice is breath.” (Friz 2011, 73) Due to its (almost complete) abandonment of the human voice, Friz’s work creates a space for a state oscillating between embodiment and disembodiment, where the symbiosis of human and machine becomes possible, without implicating any gender bias. This effect is very much based on the schizophonic disassociation of the source of the sound from its origin, and instead, transposing it onto a machine.

Rather than dismissing schizophonia altogether, I would argue that Friz’s work employs this methodology to a new effect of simultaneous dis/embodiment. While the focus is shifted towards resonance and the listeners’ bodies, the radio transmitter becomes a cybernetic object of contradiction, assimilating a human body into a machine. This tactic is not dissimilar from the use of synthesisers in the sonic version of Xenofeminist Manifesto which I will discuss further in the next section.

 

Synthetic Voice

The transmitter body also repeats the rhetorics of the future. In its vacillation between the transmitter and receiver, body and instrument, matter and machine, origin and outcome, it complements technophilic projections of what the body and reality might one day become.

Carol Laing

The already quoted argument proposed by Dolar is that voice ties language to the body.  Nevertheless, this assertion needs to be questioned in an age of synthesisers and computer-generated voices. What connection does a voice distorted through synthesisers hold to the body from which it originates? What is the connection between synthesised voice originating in a computer programme and the machine which produces this voice? Does coding equal human language? In an interview dating from the late 1980s (“Home Studio (late 80’s),”  American artist and composer Laurie Anderson shows the interviewer her home studio, presenting different instruments and programmes that she uses to compose her music. At one point, she picks up a microphone and tests out a “filter” that allows her to project “A Voice of Authority,” a decidedly low-pitch male-sounding voice. There is a sudden and abrupt incongruity between Anderson’s body, the voice and the language that she’s using as a result of applying the filter. The contrast between her “feminine” looking body and the “masculine” voice emanating from her mouth produces an effect of radical displacement, otherness and alienation.  Rather than upholding Dolar’s assertion, the Voice of Authority is an example of the ways in which sound technology disrupts this assumed relationship between the voice, language (as a socially constructed gender determinant) and the body.

As Helen Hester, the founding member of Laboria Cuboniks, notes in a lecture given at a 2017 conference “Technology Now: Sonic Feminisms” at the ICA in London, the presence of DJs and sound artists within the collective has alerted her to the idea of treating sound as a form of experimental research. Working collaboratively with Katrina Burch from Laboria Cuboniks and Virginia Barrett of VNS Matrix, Hester adopted the text of Xenofeminist Manifesto into a sort of libretto for a sound piece/experimental radio play composed by an artist Marcin Pietruszewski and titled (dia)grammatology of space (2016, a 6 channel composition for computer and synthetic speech, presented at Berghain during CTM Festival in Berlin, https://www.marcinpietruszewski.com/dia-gos). In the field of linguistics, grammatology deals with the relationship between the written and the spoken language. (dia)grammatology of space investigates the act of alienating the voice from its source and, in Hester’s words, “disrupting the immediacy of any perceived association between voice and text.”  Rather than asserting the relationship between voicing body and the voice, the radio play addresses a xenofeminist desire to “[speak] as no one in particular.” One of the fragments of the text pronounces: “In time, diffuse desolation spaciously becomes alien. […] The mouth as we know it, dies and perpetually dies. […] The voice […] evacuates and my body goes on, doing its best without.” Through the use of computer speech recognition programmes and by adding layers of digital music, the boundary between the organic voice and the machine collapses and a space opens up for a post-human perspective. The politics of alienated voice finds its perfect embodiment in the format of radio, as a utopian, Brechtian space of dissonance and polyvocality, allowing for simultaneous presence and absence. Rather than worrying about the “woman” disappearing into the machine, xenofeminism fully embraces this aspect of the synthetic voice, and its complete disassociation from the body. (dia)grammatology of space proposes a new type of simultaneous dis/embodiment, disassociated from the constraints of the traditional understanding of gender and sex.

While both Respire and (dia)grammatology of space achieve a similar effect of dislocation of bodies, sounds and voices, they realise it through different means. The radiophonic space, nevertheless, proves to be crucial in both instances. Friz draws on the idea of N. Katherine Hayles, who

“proposes that in the same moment that sound reproduction technologies such as recorders or signal effects shatter the dream of the voice as belonging to a holistic subject, ‘in another sense they create a new subject ambiguously located in both the body and the recorder’.” (Friz 2011, 72)

While in Friz’s practice, this “new subject” remains tied to the physical body, and undergoes radical alienation from the body for xenofeminists, it nevertheless links back to the critique of Haraway’s cyborg in the later theories of molecular femininity. Here, the hybrid body is not a literal synthesis of the machine and the human, but exists in the radiophonic “third space,” where the voice, disassociated from the voicing body, enters into contact with the machine and/or with the body of the listener. Rather than imagining it in strictly spatial terms, “third space” is a Hertzian space, encompassing both the external and the internal reality. In that sense, even radio as a device can be considered “third space” and may have radical potential as a cyborg organism.

The concept of “third space” has been first proposed by Freya Jarman-Ivens, who has argued that “the moment the voice’s sound-waves leave the body and are hanging in the air, there is ‘the possibility for multiple gender identities […]’.” (Quoted in Woloshyn 2017, 52) In that sense, in “third space,” the link between body and gender is suspended and it becomes a “site for the emergence of queer,” as a radical and political otherness. To paraphrase Dolar, the acousmatic voice queers the relationship between body and language.

The echo of these musings on (female) voices and machines is present in Gabi Schaffner’s radio piece I am This Radio (2016). The piece consists of two parts, in English and in German and employs several voices, all “female” sounding, and some manipulated to sound more “robotic” (for the purpose of this discussion I will only focus on the English language part.) The artist explores the idea that a device may have a consciousness and a voice of its own. Rather than serving as a portal into the dimension of immaterial frequencies, the radio here symbolises a body or an organism. The first few minutes of a dialogue between two machine-like voices set the scene:

“I am this radio. You are listening. You are listening to the radio. I am a black box. I am not your friend. Nor your enemy. But I am with you. Take me into your hand. I can walk with you. […] We are connected. I am in your ear. I sneak into your head. A bodiless voice.”

This radio-organism seems to be both material and immaterial, having a presence in the physical world, as well as possessing the ability to infiltrate or enter other bodies/organisms. It is both a bodiless voice and a body. At the same time, in contrast to employing the female voices by devices and machines, such as Siri or self-checkout machines,[3] this device is neither a friend, nor an enemy and seems to be disconnected from the concept of usefulness and servitude. It is an autonomous, conscious and alien organism. “The radio” seems to be considering its surroundings, wandering about what happens to the sounds once they are spoken and the bodies leave the space: “Will the air remember? The words once spoken/ Do they fall apart? […] /Do they fall to the ground softly, like leaves?”. There is a sense of the presence of the bodiless voice and its impact on the space. The narrator of I am This Radio speaks of the “almost inaudible/ almost soundless/ veil of noise” as a metaphorical trace of presence, which lingers in space. Noise has a special connotation in terms of the link between female bodies and technology, as Nina Power notes in “Woman Machines: The Future of Female Noise:”

“[N]oise too has a peculiarly female quality, from typing pools to sewing factories to switchboard operators. In a sense, we have always been secretly aware of the privileged relationship between women, technology and noise: that most fantastically energetic and machinic of data, conversation, has always been regarded, for better or worse, as the preserve of women; indeed, women’s speech is often dismissed as ‘noise’.” (2009, 99)

As an excess of bodily/machine sounds, noise reaffirms the idea of the affinity between human and non-human sounds. The radical potential of radiophonic sound, understood as noise, is its disorientating origin – it can be emitted by both a human and a machine. In that sense, it is both an embodied and a disembodied sound. Schaffner describes noise in an oxymoronic way of being “almost inaudible,” going back to the idea of “micro-feminine sonic warfare.” The radio is intimate and alien at the same time.

lynch
David Lynch. Nude. Undated. First exhibited at The Air Is on Fire, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 2007. https://grecobello8id.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/david-lynch-women-and-machines-2013/

“The black box painted silver” in Schaffner’s radio work, is not simply a device or a communication tool, it is an autonomous presence, a conscious organism meditating on its relationship with others. While initially demonstrating some characteristics of the “feminine” voice, the bodiless radio voice is radically genderless in that it speaks from the position of a conscious machine, not addressing the gender disparity but queering any notion of gender. In that sense, it follows xenofeminist gender abolitionist programme, which is “shorthand for the ambition to construct a society where traits currently assembled under the rubric of gender, no longer furnish a grid for the asymmetric operation of power.” (Laboria Cuboniks, 2015, par. 14) Radio stands for the interconnectedness of sounds, bodies and space, abolishing the hierarchy between human and non-human organisms. Contemporary radio art produces an awareness that, while listening to the environment around us, we are also listening to other species.

 

Conclusions

Xenofeminist Manifesto can be seen as an answer to the contradictory pull of disembodiment and embodiment in relationship to the female condition in cyberfeminist discourse. While professing themselves as gender abolitionists, xenofeminists seek not to eradicate the idea of gender altogether, but, instead, highlight its diversity and multiplicity, as an expression not of hybridity, but of mutation and symbiotic co-existence. While difficult to represent in visual terms, these ideas proliferate in the sound art discourse, which is always already predicated on the tension between the material and the immaterial. The idea of molecular femininity and the analysis of the sound as a virus, or an alien body which enters a host, serves to complicate our understanding of embodiment within sonic arts. The “woman” does not “dissolve into a machine;” instead, both woman (as a gendered body) and machine can be seen as mutually coexisting mutations of the one and the same, an expression of Haraway’s “geometrics of difference and contradiction.” Gender is not something already given or performed, but, rather, engineered and as such, it is prone to revisions and further metamorphoses.

The “alienated intimacy” of radiophonic voice, proposed by Christof Mignone, espouses the contradictions inherent in the relationship between the voice, the (gendered) body and the machine. (dia)grammatology of space complicates the notion of agency and a singular, gendered voice. Instead, through the use of the synthesiser, the voice(s) of the Xenofeminist Manifesto speak from the perspective of the collective, as well as being simultaneously impersonal. The traditional imbalance of the radiophonic male voice versus female voice is here complicated by the intervention of the computer, which alienates the voice(s) from body/bodies. Rather than fearing the dissolution of boundaries between humans and machines, xenofeminism celebrates this union, abandoning the notion of an essentialist “female” techno-scientific perspective. Schaffner’s piece I am This Radio serves as a further example of this tendency, employing a radio voice emanating from a hybrid organism, both a radio transmitter, as well as a bodiless “virus,” capable of entering other organisms. Rather than presenting a “female” perspective, the voice in I am This Radio speaks from the alien perspective of a conscious machine. It is not, however, a body without organs, but a bodiless noise, symbolically connected with an anti-patriarchal and anti-essentialist feminist standpoint.

I propose that radio, understood both as a space and as a device, is a representation of the “third space” where the encounters between different embodied and disembodied agents occur. As an extension of Hertzian space, “third space” encompasses the resonant body itself, collapsing the difference between outside and inside. Radiophonic voice is an inherently schizophonic voice, a voice in search for a body, which never quite materialises. While in Friz’s practice this condition of a disappearing body produces a shift in attention from the transmitter onto the listening bodies and the environment, I would argue that the complexity of radio as both a machine and a trace of a body should be more fully embraced and explored through artistic practice. The lack of material body should not be a hindrance to feminist radio producers; on the contrary, I propose that the condition of schizophonia is necessary for the abolishment of the concepts presented as “fixed, permanent, or ‘given’,” and the disassociation of the senses can produce a new understanding of the material and virtual realities.

***

 

 

[1] In her most recent book, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016), Haraway abandons the concept of the cyborg in favour of the term “critter,” denoting the companionship experienced by all living matter.

[2] Numbers vary in different iterations of the installation.

[3] Influenced by Nina Power’s discussion of the female voice in “Soft Coercion, the City and the Recorded Female Voice” (2017).

 

 

Image credit: Blas, Zach. 2018. Contra-Internet: Jubilee 2033. Still from the film. http://www.zachblas.info/works/contra-internet/

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