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Voice as a technology of selfhood : towards an analysis of racialized timbre and vocal performance


In this dissertation I examine the production of race through sound in general and vocal timbre in particular, and investigate how the construction of the black voice-- against the backdrop of the normative white--in opera, spirituals, and popular music reflects deeply-held American ideas about race. Which processes have contributed to the racialized perception and reification of timbre? What are some of the social and political processes embedded in the cultural capital possessed by certain vocal timbres in specific cultural contexts and various historical periods? I trace modern vocal pedagogy to its origin in colonial ideology, and the concept of a classical African-American vocal timbre from Marian Anderson to the spiritual in the abolitionist era. Investigating the vocal synthesis software Vocaloid, I uncover the macro politics of race and gender as they are materialized in the micro politics of sound: dominant race and gender relations are reproduced through electronic music products and tools. My study of the ways in which producers have framed the African-American jazz and ballad singer Jimmy Scott--as, most saliently, a woman, and as symbolizing death--offers insights into how nonconforming African-American masculinities are desired and consumed. This dissertation ultimately investigates the performative and corporeal aspects of the singing voice, considering these phenomena in terms which involve both performers and audiences. As a consequence, I have shifted the focus of inquiry from the sound of singing--which I term timbre sonic--to the physical act of forming that sound--timbre corporeal--and proposed an investigation of the choreography of vocal timbre

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