Gothic – part 1

The familiar contemporary gothic trope of haunted castles on stormy nights, vampires, and werewolves seems to have no connection to the Germanic people who, it is thought, migrated from Scandinavia to the lower Vistula (Poland) in the early Christian era. From here the Goths split into groups and in the period onwards, raided the Roman Empire and warred with the Greeks, who were at that time under Roman control. I refer the reader to the above link for a detailed outline of the history of Gothic migration including the appraisal of textual sources versus archeological evidence. A condensed summary can be found here. The point is that the Goths moved throughout Europe as colonisers. And as colonisers, they would have been brutal, no matter how adept they were at preserving a falling (Roman) culture, as some of these sources contend.

Twelfth to sixteenth century architecture displays Gothic aesthetics and these were a testament to new building methods that were siphoned into the church. One of the first examples was the abbey of Saint-Denis, Paris.

‘When … the loveliness of the many-coloured gems has called me away from external cares … then it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of the earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven.’
Abbot Suger, De Administratione (translated by Erwin Panofsky, 1946)

The people of the time would not have referred to architecture as Gothic — it was ‘modern’ and seen as new, light, and airy as a result of innovations like the flying buttress that enabled church spires to reach higher than ever before.

I visit the gothic trope and the Gothic people for the following reason. I was listening to a podcast whose soundtrack and sound design reminded me of the aesthetics of my own music, in an indirect fashion. According to etymologists, the word “goth” comes from a Proto-Germanic word, geutan, meaning ‘to pour’ or ‘to flow’ (Roberts 2016). The Goths fought and pillaged or ‘poured’ their way around and through Europe. I now switch from the historic context back to aesthetics and the later gothic tropes the emerged with the eighteenth and nineteenth century novel. I won’t discuss the category of the emergence of the gothic as a discourse, nor as a literature in dialogue with history. I will explore contemporary gothic aesthetics (including American and Australian gothic) in Part 2. For now, I’ll say that many characteristics of the gothic novel have been described. But it is more likely that the novels vary amongst themselves — and it is an uncanny or unsettling dynamic or quality within a novel itself, rather than universal elements that unite the entire genre (Roberts 2016).

These tracks of mine contain percussive and puncturing elements, but perhaps ‘pour’ and ‘flow’ could be loosely applied. The music doesn’t sit in a song structure or fall into traditional classical music forms; it moves in a quicksilver way, albeit a slow one. Unsettled cycles reflect synthetic breathing (Elysian air); there is discontinuity, alternating with the uninterrupted and a surge to become something or become other. Lagging, dragging in the shadows (Bird and Dolphin), a sense of white noise overwhelms (Elysian), like a sublime techno wave. The echo (Bird) is perhaps a response to impermanence, to real and imagined body terror; to dreamstates and feelings.

Gothic continues to pour mercilessly into visual, literary and fashion cultures. As I mentioned the podcast earlier, I’ll say that popular podcasts show that the gothic flows into audio drama and aural aesthetics. From the ambiguous, unknowable, and subtly frightening, to the unexplained and paranormal; to mythical melodrama presented as mysterious documentary to the horrific presented as the ‘fact behind legend’ — aural gothic seems very much alive.

Meet and Greet

This collaborative soundscape composition eventuated through video calls and audio file exchange with experimental musician/composer/artist Rangga Purnama Aji (Yogyakarta, Indonesia). His artwork appears below and the resulting piece can be listened to on his youtube channel. As I let go of some of the timbres of rave and jungle that have informed my recent electronic music, I find renewal in collaborative projects such as this, and the sonic intersubjectivities these bring to the surface.

 

Melanie me cover art

difficult gender

Gender continues to be difficult. The different dimensions one can approach gender through, the different lenses and ideologies, are many. In spheres of public life one’s identifiable gender, if one is a woman, is a noticeable and salient feature. If the sphere is one dominated by men like the output of much of electronic music generation, production and composition in subcultural, commercial and academic contexts then to think ‘gender’ is often, to think ‘women’. To be a woman or person of difference is to be noticed. Some women may want to be recognised as women in their difference and some women may not want that difference recognised, wishing that the accordant social roles would become background to the tasks at hand: composing, audio production, performing, engineering, publicity, mixing, DJing. There are feminists in music with both opinions.

Gender is not only about social roles or apparent physical sex, it is also about male-female difference in idea. Binary opposition, through culture, shapes understandings of male values as Universal and female values as contingent, lacking and deficient (Hansen 2000). These values operate beyond corporeality. For example, we may associate feminine with a queer man who is based in the home. While male/female seems distinctly binary in our society — most especially played out in mainstream cultural norms and family units — there is a continua where a sequence of imperceptible elements move from one edge to the other. This is the range of gender complexity, which is also becoming more widely recognised through transgender campaigning and expressed in genderqueer or thirdgender persons.

Recently, there has been much talk about women being under-represented in the Australian music industry. This has sparked articles on the jazz sphere, a conference, and an APRA initiative. While I welcome all these initiatives and believe, particularly regarding APRA, that they’re a necessity, I also think there are some concerning blind spots. It is the role of feminism to draw attention to to the needs of a diversity of women and inequities. It is not the role of feminism to employ a term like gender or ‘women’ as a placeholder for White, straight, able, middle class women in general. However, these initiatives and, particularly, this study, are very good starting points. They do a good job of taking the pulse of the status quo.

‘Being’ a woman prescribes certain behaviours in social and cultural contexts, and is tied up with inclinations that operate at kin, cultural and subconscious levels. But, as feminism grappled with some time ago, gender is not the only salient form of oppression (Yeatman 1993); and women who do not experience ethnicity, race, class, sexuality, or disability may need to develop an awareness of the multiple and interlinked forms of oppression that can make lived experience a struggle for people of colour, for those with disabilities, mental illness, queer folk, the working class and the poor. If a woman gets a supported opportunity in the music industry, or resiliently finds her way in, she might come up against everyday racism/ablism/classism that is entrenched implicitly in the culture. Opportunities also stop as female musicians get older (see Christine Anu’s story). We need to recognise that we are not only dealing with ‘opportunity’, with but process and existence. The social toll (what does it take to ‘be part of this’?) of professional belonging on a person of difference is significant.

While primarily this has to do with sexism, with men not accommodating women, it is also about white women and those women who occupy positions of privilege accommodating women who do not. Failing to meet the reality of black experience and avoiding discussions on race is what Reni Eddo-Lodge believes white people do. It is the skating over of difference — the how you got here, it is a blocking of the uncomfortableness of structural privilege. It is not being aware of our colonial histories and trajectories. It is holding bold ambition in check, while listening for and with others; it is about including discussions on race in music and composition. It is acknowledging the fine-grained inter-dependency of the human, which is another way of speaking about diversity (Butler 2015). These are my aims. 

combine sounds & ideas

Collaborating is about acknowledging the edge of your own experience, and appreciating what someone else brings. It is about respect and sometimes confusion, while moving forward. And it is allowing space for the combined art to surprise — where did this come from? In this sense, collaborations should not hold on to expectations once an initial framework has been given. Or, the process should be lightly reviewed as both parties move into production.