[ISEA94] Paper: Roger Johnson – Music Technology and Gender


Gender is a powerful lens with which to analyze the meanings of music in our time, examining not just sexual content but a complex range of codes and cultural activity concerned with identity, diversity, representation, and particularly with power. Media studies is also an important way to understand many of these same issues, most notably the profound effects of technologies on music and particularly its commodification and industrialization, which has become the dominant way to extend the (‘masculine’) power of the music and culture industries. But the feminist project, like others addressed to race and multiculturalism, is understood not just as a plea for inclusion into this dominant power structure, but for a change in that structure in order to make it more receptive, diverse and decentralized. It is a struggle for meaning and for power and is most acute for the independent media artist, whose work has no longer the old (‘masculine’) competitive, ideological urgency of high art, nor a voice in the (equally ‘masculine’) commercial marketplace. However, these (‘feminine’) conditions of powerlessness and exclusion suggest important newer roles for the independent artist, particularly those working with new technologies and media. This agenda has long been understood by advocates for other excluded groups (women, racial and cultural minorities), and is essential now for meaningful artistic activity and continued creative access to technology as well. It includes:creating work which is both compelling and relevant to people’s lives, building collaborative and open communities, fostering diversity and multiplicity of artistic activity, and continuing to be artistic innovators, even ‘hackers’, with the emerging technologies. This is Jacques Attali’s vision in Noise: The Political Economy of Music, a fascinating book about art, power and social action, whose ideas warrant a new look in the light of our technologies.

  • Roger Johnson is a professor of music and media studies in the School of Contemporary Arts at Ramapo College in New Jersey, USA. His book Scores: An Anthology of New Music was published by Macmillan in 1981, and his current work on music and technology has been presented at many national conferences and published by the Computer Music Journal and the College Music Society.