- Why Not Our Voices?
In 2008 I conducted a research project within the sound arts department at London College of Communication (lcc).1 The project, entitled “A suitable job for a woman? Using creative work to challenge perceptions of Sound Arts and Design at lcc and widen participation,” arose from my observation that since 1998, when sound arts was first offered as an academic field of study at lcc, the type of work produced by female students was significantly different from that produced by male students.2 The research focused on two main areas: the experiences of female students when they were at college and their work. The main research questions that I asked about their work were:
1. Can the work be said in any way to be gendered? How is gender difference represented in the work?
2. Can we talk about the techniques of sound work as being gendered?
3. How is voice used in the work?
4. Can our knowledge of the artist’s gender inform our understanding of the work in any way?
5. Do women talk about their work differently from men?
Many issues and conclusions arose from this inquiry, but for me, one of the most significant findings was that many female students used voice, mainly spoken voice, in their work, often their own voice. Hannah Bosma has observed: “There is [End Page 96] a tendency in computer music to use male and female voices in different ways: the female voice is associated with (traditionally trained) singing, often without words and often live, and the male voice is more often associated with spoken language.”3
While this was not corroborated by my research, other observations of Bosma’s were similar to my findings: “Various ways of singing, speaking, non-linguistic and linguistic female voice sounds, written text and electronic sound manipulations are often combined by women composers to create different stories about femininity in words and sounds.”4
Similarly, Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, in considering the use of voice in her work and that of Christine Baczewska, Alice Shields, and Pamela Z, found that “each has taken one or more . . . traditional vocal roles . . . and utilized it in a way that provides an empowering element to her composition and an autobiographical insight into her creative process.”5
The Her Noise Archive at lcc
This research project was one of the contributing factors to Electra choosing London College of Communication as a home for the Her Noise Archive.6 The physical archive now shares the shelves in the Archives and Special Collections at lcc with materials from Stanley Kubrick, Edward Bawden, Tom Eckersley, Thorold Dickinson, John Westwood, Robert Fenton, John Schlesinger, and Jocelyn Herbert and provides a material anchor for the online archive and research collection.7 Together they have driven the development of dialogues and further practices related to feminism and sound arts and provided a context and material for individual and collaborative ongoing scholarly and practice-based research.8 This inquiry into the use of voice is one such area.
Maria Tamboukou has described the archival researcher as a lighthouse revolving light into the grayness of the archive, bringing into vision the possible.9 This image foregrounds the researcher as an activator of ideas who is led to interrogate the archive and recast it from that of a closed sealed entity to a springboard for new ideas and possibilities, allowing the opportunity to “make elements of this past live again, to be re-energized through their untimely or anachronistic recall in the present” with the aim of moving “us to a future in which the present can no [End Page 97] longer recognize itself.”10 Since the Her Noise Archive arrived in the academy, we have worked to open it to intervention and questioning with the aim of extending and activating academic and musicological research, new practices and syllabi.11 We have used it to help us explore the present reality of sound arts practices for us and our students as it presently exists in the institution. Our aim in anchoring our research to the small chunk of cultural memory represented by the Her Noise Archive is to remobilize and...