Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy Published

A stack of three copies of Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy, ed. Melanie L. Marshall, Linda L. Carroll, and Katherine A. McIver. The front cover is uppermost. The cover art is Titian's Venus with the Organ Player (c.1550) from the Prado, Madrid. This painting shows a male organist at a small chamber organ. He is seated on the edge of a bed, and looking back over his right shoulder at the pudenda of the nude Venus. She is reclining on a sumptuous velvet cloth covering the bed. Her left hand caresses a small dog. She wears bracelets on each wrist, and a necklace. Her curly blonde hair is up. In the background is a painting of a fountain and a tree-lined avenue.

Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy, ed. Melanie L. Marshall, Linda L. Carroll, and Katherine A. McIver

This new book, co-edited by UCC Lecturer in Music and Marie Curie Fellow, Dr Melanie Marshall, with Linda L. Carroll and Katherine A. McIver, explores how the arts shape the erotic and the sexual. Taking medieval and early modern Italy as its focus, the authors follow a wide cross-section of subjects as they imagine, experience and strive to regulate the sensual in fields as diverse as religion, painting, literature, acting, musical performance and humour.

The result sheds light on a world very like our own: as economic, religious and political upheaval coalesced into a new European social order, the foremost artists, musicians and playwrights rubbed shoulders (and more) with cross-dressing actors, pimps, moralists and papal reformers. Sexual autonomy was sought, celebrated and veiled, subverted and sold, satirized and sentimentalized.

In a period before the emergence of formal definitions that encourage us now to perceive homosexuality and heterosexuality through a lens of difference, early-modern Italian culture makers like Titian, Giorgione, Vecchi, Boccaccio, Ruzante, Castellino, and even distinguished patrons and reformers like Pope Leo X and Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, were engaged in creating fluid and stimulating representations of human love and lust, capturing in their art the full realities of the sexual activity they themselves knew. Their realisations can inform our perspectives today on both early modern Italian art and culture and on modes of contemporary sexual expression.

Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy, edited by Melanie L. Marshall, Linda L. Carroll and Katherine A. McIver is published by Ashgate.
ISBN: 978-1-4094-6468-6. Regular price €60, website price €54. http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781409464686

Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy Coming Soon

The volume on early modern sexualities that I have co-edited with Prof. Linda L. Carroll and Prof. Katherine A. McIver has just been sent to Ashgate’s production department to be printed! I’m very excited! The essays are marvelous, of course, and it now bears a comprehensive index, courtesy of Samantha Bassler. Thank you to our contributors: Catherine Baxter, Paul Schleuse, Catherine Lawless, Anthony Cummings, Flavio Rurale, Christophe Brouard. And a special thanks to my co-editors Katherine McIver and Linda Carroll.

Gaga Out

The volume on Lady Gaga that I co-edited with Martin Iddon (Leeds), Lady Gaga and Popular Music: Performing Gender, Fashion, and Culture, is now out! Exciting stuff! And I’m already thinking about my next dip in to Gaga Studies–still not “Gagad out” yet. That will be a paper on Gaga, liveness and social media. It’s a bit of a change from writing about Gaga, cake and ice cream, and a big change from Italian Renaissance sexualities (my other big project at the moment).

Talking of cake, not long after kissing the proofs of my Gaga chapter good bye, I found that Lady Gaga had indeed sent Gaga cakes to collaborators: V Magazine, Zedd and DJ White Shadow. In my chapter, I note that many Gaga cakes that I read about online are vanilla with buttercream icing—a confection with an interesting gender history, as it was the classic bride’s cake of weddings past (think Miss Havisham, and Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman). The paleness was no coincidence, as it symbolized the innocence of the virgin bride. Cutting in to the bride cake stood in for another form of penetration. Gaga’s cakes were not vanilla but dark chocolate with butterscotch truffle ganache, and the sugar work Gaga was a skull with ponytail.

Zedd’s cake:

 

Liveness and Gaga

Tomorrow I will be participating via Skype in Rethinking Liveness: Music, Performance and Media Technology at University College Cork. I’m going to be joining a round table discussion. I’ve never done this via Skype before, so it’ll be an interesting experience (and peculiarly appropriate for a conference on liveness!).

I’ve been asked to consider liveness in relation to Lady Gaga. I’ll be drawing on various performances, including her recent turn at the VMAs (below) that was somewhat overshadowed by Miley Cyrus’ assertion of her sexual womanhood at the expense of black women.  (And talking of which, Cyrus’ observation that her performance generated 306.000 tweets per minute, or something, reminds me of the liveness of Twitter, too. Gaga is known for her adept use of social media, but is it always Stefani Germanotta who does the tweeting? Or is it the Gaga assemblage? [My understanding of assemblage is courtesy of Craig Owens’ contribution to the forthcoming essay collection on Gaga that I co-edited with Martin Iddon.])

Then there’s all the staging of death and dying in Gaga videos. Anyway, I still have time to get my head around this, just….

Project Gaga

Delighted to report that my co-editor, Martin Iddon, has submitted our edited essay collection, Lady Gaga and Popular Music: Performing Gender, Fashion and Culture, to Routledge and it should be published in mid-September. My own contribution is very clearly the work of someone with gestational diabetes. It’s about cake and ice cream.

And on that note…. I was going to keep personal info off the website, but the main reason for my prolonged silence was a complicated pregnancy with months of very dull bed rest followed by the birth of a wonderful, healthy baby. She isn’t yet saying gaga or googoo but it won’t be long before she adds consonants to her vocalizations.

Baby daughter in Central Park, not so very far from where Gaga grew up.

Baby daughter in Central Park, not so very far from where Gaga grew up.

More on ImproTech Paris-New York

Just a heads up: Han-earl Park has collected his live tweets from the ImproTech conference and gigs at freedom, machine subjectivity and pseudo-science: twitter transcript – io 0.0.1 beta++ and he will be following up with a longer post soon. There’s some consideration of historical context, politics of performance, as well as comments and questions about the techniques, performance styles on display, and on the presented papers themselves (e.g. George Lewis on imbuing machines with “integral subjectivity”). It’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for the follow up blog post.

ImproTech Paris/New York 2012 at the Roulette

My blog has been a tad quiet recently. This was not entirely by choice, but I can’t go in to the reasons here. Anyway, I’m resurrecting it with a post that I wrote on 17 May. I haven’t gone through and edited my original text. What I’d want to spell out more clearly, were I to rewrite this, is that the problems I’m struggling with are in part (perhaps largely) to do with the conventional way of understanding the dynamics between performers and composers. In many cases, performers playing works written for them have lengthy conversations with the composers, and in fact make a substantial input into the piece. This can be recognised by composer, performer, and programme writer, or the piece can be performed and written about in a conventional way. Some of the performances I discuss below staged their creative work in a way that highlighted the collaboration and did away with the customary hierarchy of composer over performer. Others did not. And in the two performances that did not, there were very specific intersections of gender and race.

—–

Last night, I went to hear ImproTech Paris/New York 2012: Improvisation & Technology at the Roulette. It was a gig bringing together musicians from three institutions: IRCAM in Paris, New York University and Columbia University. The gig prompted lively conversation afterwards over a late night diner meal. (I could just have been hungry—it was almost midnight—but I swear the eggplant rollatini I had at the diner was the best diner food I’ve ever had.)

So, who played what? The line up was:

 

  1. Raphael Imbert: OMax at Lomax – Nine Spirit Company : Raphael Imbert, sax, Simon Sieger piano & trombone, Benjamin Lévy, Omax interaction, Thomas Weirich, Guitar
  2. Robert Rowe : Cigar Smoke (2004) for clarinet and interactive music system – Esther Lamneck, clarinette
  3. Steve Lehman, sax, live electronics, Mari Kimura, violin, live electronics, Vijay Iyer, Piano, Improvisation
  4. Jean-Baptiste Barrière : Crossing the Blind Forest (2011) for flute, live electronics and live video – Margaret Lancaster, flute
  5. Roscoe Mitchell, Saxophone, David Wessel, touch controller & computer , Improvisation
  6. Georges Bloch : Duck Laughs (world premiere) for percussions, preceded by Canaries by Elliot Carter – Laurent Mariusse, percussions, Georges Bloch, OMax interaction
  7. Bernard Lubat, piano, Gerard Assayag, OMax interaction, Improvisation
  8. George Lewis : Interactive Trio (2007) for trombone, two pianos and interactive music system – George Lewis, trombone, Geri Allen, piano
  9. Steve Coleman, saxophone, Gilbert Nouno, live electronics, Improvisation

(Source: ImproTech Paris / NYC 2012 Schedule)

 

I guess it was not a complete surprise to have so few women in the gig, although it was disappointing, particularly since public funding (from the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche) went into the event; there were also private institutional sponsors.

What I want to think through here is not so much the gender imbalance of the gig in terms of numbers, but rather the ways in which gender and race appeared to intersect in some of these performances. I have more questions than I do answers. (Isn’t that always the way?) And I am sure there are other, perhaps more positive, ways to read this. I hope there are, because what I have come up with isn’t exactly heart warming and affirming.

Numbers 2 and 4 were a pair, in a way. In each, a white woman performed a woodwind instrument in front of several music stands. They appeared to be compositions rather than improvisations, although there could well have been moments of improvisation built in.  The electronic wizardry happened off stage: those performers (the composers?) were not visible. In each case, the women were the only performers on the stage. And they staged a particular kind of femininity. The notes they played were written by someone else (perhaps the music stand ‘stands in’ for the composer). There is doubtless a degree of agency in how they interpreted the scores, but in effect they were using their bodies and instruments to sound someone else’s compositional voice. (To my knowledge, there isn’t yet an adequate theoretical model to account for a performer’s input into a specially-written composition and/or a performance. Convention dictates that, even if the performers had substantial input, the concert programme identifies only ‘the’ composer.) And in each case, that person had written some kind of algorithm (I think) to take that sound and respond to it, sometimes with a kind of echo and reverb, sometimes with some more complicated process that produced contrasts rather than repeats. At some points, especially at busy, climactic moments, it became hard, even impossible, to distinguish the sounds coming from the clarinet or the flute from the processed responses, in effect merging the human and the digital into one. A kind of transcendental loss of the self, perhaps? But only of the female performing self: the composer self was controlling almost everything anyway, and already disembodied, invisible but audible. In #4, the embodied performer/disembodied composer had a different spin, in that the performer was also source material for live video, her face and upper body and flute appearing superimposed on to nature walks, including a close up of a tree trunk, and the whole subject to further processing, blurring so that just as the sounds melded human and digital, the images melded human and nature. And in this, I think gender is significant again: in Western societies, women are often considered to be closer to nature than men.

I found it very hard not to see these performances as reinforcing a particular set of binary oppositions, that woman = body, man = mind; woman = reproducer, man = creator; woman = nature, man = culture (or perhaps science, or perhaps technology; all of those work). The woman is visible, and yet is not always audible, often indistinct, with blurred boundaries.

The performer ostensibly generated the sounds, but they were composed by someone else: this is a kind of ventriloquism. The disembodied, invisible composer occupies the performer, in a way, which could sound kind of cool in terms of cross-dressing/trans-of-some-kind, except the performer’s self is subordinate to, subsumed/overwhelmed by the composer’s: it is an occupation. The electronics were reactive to ‘her’ stimulus. The electronic performer reacts to his sounds coming from her embodied instrumental presence. But these electronic systems did not appear to be interactive systems, despite the descriptions, since it seemed that the women were playing already notated music from which they could not deviate. They could not respond to what they were hearing. And nor could the algorithms deal with visual cues in the way that a live performer would. In one particularly memorable moment, almost at the end of the flute piece, the flautist made the most assertive gesture of finality, punctuating the end with her body, her head movements, only to have this ignored as the electronic sounds continued on, as if the performer and the physical stimuli she produced were utterly irrelevant. The performer finished and was flushed with the effort and the intensity; the disembodied performer kept going.

This is in contrast to the two ensemble improvisations with women, in which women had their own creative voices. Mari Kimura (#3) triggered her own live electronics, as did another member of the trio. All three improvised, interacted; all three were on the stage. Geri Allen improvised with George Lewis on trombone and an improvisatory system of Lewis’s devising which played the second piano. This seemed to actually interact—to respond to Allen and Lewis, and they in turn responded to it, just as an all-human ensemble works. No sign of a one-way relationship with the electronics. But it is possible my ears missed something. And in each case, all performer-improvisor-composers were on stage. Indeed, that was true of, I think. every piece in the concert save numbers 2 and 4.

I find myself wondering if it is any coincidence that the pieces in which the performer-on-stage is at times indistinguishable from the disembodied-performer-off-stage, where only the instrumental performer has a body but in effect has no voice, and the little she does is easily con-fused with the digital/electronic manipulation…. Was it a coincidence that those performers were white women, or appeared to be? Is this a kind of good girl white femininity being staged here?

What a contrast, too, with the Roscoe Mitchell/David Wessel duo. Both on stage, both embodied and apparently enjoying it, both improvising, and both interacting with each other: two way communication. (And I had no idea it is possible to circular breathe on the flute.)

Thomas Jefferson’s Soundscapes in Slate

Congratulations to Bonnie Gordon (University of Virginia) for busting some Jefferson myths for a wide audience with her article in Slate on Thomas Jefferson: The sounds of Monticello, from patriotic songs to the slap of the whip. Great piece! Gordon outlines how Jefferson managed his sonic environment and his sonic legacy, if you like: how he muffled, or tried to muffle, certain sounds in his immediate soundscape, in his notebooks, and in his archive.

Takeaway point for me: silences in accounts, collections and archives can speak volumes if you listen.

Gordon organized two conferences at the University of Virginia on Jefferson and soundscapes. I attended one earlier this year.

The Politics of Preservation & Censorship

'BnF: L'Enfer de la Bibliothèque, Eros au secret'

'BnF: L'Enfer de la Bibliothèque, Eros au secret' by Yann Caradec (y.caradec) on Flickr.

I’m accustomed to tales of librarians sticking up for our rights to read whatever we like. Attendees at the Music: Parts and Labor conference at New York University recently were treated to exactly that kind of demonstration, as Columbia University librarian and activist Aliqae Geraci discussed a variety of labor and access issues (including the move away from owning an item toward licensing of e-journals and e-books: when an item is only licensed, it can easily be removed without the purchaser’s agreement. And even open access e-journals/e-books, she suggested, still have problems, including the hidden labor involved in creating and maintaining them). I also remember the librarians sticking up for Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men in 2002. To be honest, it has been a while since I encountered a recent tale of library censorship, but it transpires that Florida libraries have removed an erotic novel from their shelves: Fifty Shades of Grey banned from Florida libraries (Guardian).

Libraries ‘protecting’ readers from encountering erotic material has a pretty long history. The l’Enfer collection in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France was created in the nineteenth century to make sure erotic materials could only be seen by those who would not be affected by them. (This is the odd thing about censorship: the censors look at stuff that they may then decide would deprave or corrupt others. I’m not a fan of pornography—much of it is misogynistic, and I don’t find misogyny erotic—but I don’t think the way to deal with misogyny is to sweep it under the carpet and pretend it’s not there.) Many books on historical erotic materials open with authors’ accounts of going to the BNF and being taken in to a private room (so they couldn’t corrupt other readers) and having to be supervised while consulting images, pamphlets, poems and books. But back in 2007/8, the BNF put on a public exhibition of materials from the collection, and the catalogue is still available.

The equivalent in the British Library is the locked case book. I read sixteenth/seventeenth century Italian editions of Pietro Aretino’s works that were treated like any other rare book: they arrive, you give your seat number when you collect the book, you carry the book back to your seat and work away until you finish. When I read a modern English translation of Aretino (from the 1970s or 1980s), however, it arrived in a locked case. I had to switch desks within the Rare Books & Music reading room so that the music librarian could watch over me; the issuing librarian brought the case over to me and unlocked it at my new desk. After that, it was the same. But it was really quite bizarre: you can order up any number of English-language scholarly books about Aretino or about eroticism, and even more recent translations don’t seem to be in a locked case, but this book, for some reason, was considered particularly precious. Perhaps it was the only copy left in the world, although I don’t think that explains the locked case since most of their rare books aren’t in locked cases. However, at least I could consult the book, which is more than can be said for Florida library users who want to read Fifty Shades of Grey.

Cleaning up

Sarah Werner has posted the text of her paper at the recent ‘Geographies of Desire’ conference at the University of Maryland: where material book culture meets digital humanities » Wynken de Worde. It’s a really useful overview of and reflection on the utility of digitized versions of early books and digital aids for studying books. Apparently it is possible to measure dirt on manuscripts:

 

One recent paper about the use of densitometers to study levels of dirt on the pages of medieval manuscripts suggests that we can learn about book usage through analyzing how and where dirt is distributed across a book. It might seem obvious that pages that are used more often will be dirtier, and that is in part what the author found, but the use of the densitometer revealed that it’s more complicated than we can always assess with the naked eye. The paper’s author, Kathryn Rudy, points out, for example, that she had assumed that two different patterns of dirt on an opening came from two different users, but the densitometer’s analysis suggested that the patterns were similar enough that they were likely to have been made by the same person—perhaps they held the book in different ways suitable for different prayers. The analysis also pointed out that even books that retain visible marks might have been cleaned by modern owners to such a degree that the dirt is no longer viable as an analytical tool, something that might help us think about the changes books undergo during modern ownership.

That reminded me of the controversy over Thomas Jefferson’s little-used sheet music at the Soundscapes of Early America conference at the University of Virginia that I mentioned in my previous blog post. I wonder if densitometers might be useful there, too? Although to be honest I think there’s so much at stake in that debate that any kind of analysis is going to be controversial.