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Sasha Geffen

Sasha Geffen is a writer based in Denver. Their work examines music, popular culture, and gender, and especially the intersections among the three. In 2015, they moderated a keynote panel on music at the Theorizing the Web conference in New York, and in 2017 they spoke on a panel about abuse and accountability in music communities during PopMontreal’s Pop Symposium. Their writing appears in Pitchfork, Vulture, Real Life, The New Inquiry, and The Chicago Reader, among others.

"Synthesizers and Cyborgs: Vocal Processing As A Transhumanist Gateway"
In her seminal essay “A Cyborg Manifesto,” writer and feminist theorist Donna Haraway imagines the cyborg as a being between categories, simultaneously a human and a machine. “The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family...the cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden,” she writes, positioning the cyborg as queer: an entity outside compulsory heterosexual reproductivity. In music, queer and trans artists have technologically augmented themselves for decades, from Wendy Carlos’s synthesizer and vocoder compositions to Sophie’s kinetic pitch-shifting. These technologies disrupt the “natural” voice, an ideal still fetishized among listeners and critics especially in women, in favor of a gender-disobedient cyborg voice.

Technological manipulation of the human voice, along with voice synthesis, allows artists to explore futuristic and mutated gender expressions. Often these experiments are reinforced by visual presentations of cyborg identity. In recent videos and live performances, the queer producer Arca stands on metal stilts that appear as prosthetic leg extensions, wears accessories that blur the line between fetish and medical devices, combines feminine and masculine clothing, and warps his voice. In her work with The Knife and as Fever Ray, Karin Dreijer shifts the pitch of her voice beyond the boundaries of her natural range, allowing her to inhabit multiple gender roles as she lyrically examines themes of queerness and political resistance.

These artists, and many others, occupy the role of queer cyborg in their music, pushing against the limits of traditional gender. Often, their music takes a utopian transhumanist bent, as with Anohni and Björk’s recent work. In my presentation, I would explore the transgressive history of the cyborg voice, and examine how contemporary artists use it not merely to blur gender, but to imagine techno-paradises beyond the organic limitations of the unmodified body.