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Electronic drag - click opera
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Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 11:34 am
Electronic drag

Dentro de cada hombre sintético hay una mujer electrónica is my new column for Madrid music magazine Playground. It's about transvestism in pop music. Here's the English version.

Inside every synthetic man there's an electronic woman



The woman on the lefthand side of the picture above does not exist. She's called Ursula Bogner -- I mean, she's NOT called Ursula Bogner -- and we know she doesn't exist because Wikipedia doesn't have a page about her. Not in German, not in English, not in any language.

What's that? Lots of people exist who don't have Wikipedia pages? All right, let's get more specific. This image purports to be a photograph of a pioneering electronica artist who was born in 1946 and died in 1994 at the age of 48. The label Faitiche (pronounced like "fetish"), run by loop-finding jazz-glitch pioneer Jan Jelinek (above, right), has released what purports to be a compilation of Ursula Bogner's radiophonic experiments between 1968 and 1988. You can listen to the album in its entirety -- and read the entertaining press release -- here.

Now, I'd hardly be the first person to say that this attractively eccentric music doesn't sound so much like a series of visionary, prophetic premonitions of 21st century quirky minimalist microsound as, well, the actual thing, composed and released recently by a contemporary Berlin-based electronica artist -- Jan Jelinek, say -- with a funny, playful press release. And I wouldn't be the first to speculate that the "woman" in the photograph is in fact Jelinek himself in drag.

Nevertheless, one of my favourite sayings is "Every lie creates a parallel world; the world in which it is true". So I'm interested in the parallel world in which Ursula Bogner really is credible, and really exists.

It doesn't require such a stretch of the imagination; after all, record labels have done a roaring trade over the last decade in exotic electronica compilations, many of them by "overlooked" women composers. The fictional Ursula Bogner takes her place alongside real historical electronic music composers like Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Clara Rockmore, Elaine Radigue, Else Marie Pade, Maddalena Fagandini, Glynis Jones, Pauline Oliveros and Baetriz Ferreyra.



Derbyshire (left) and Oram (right) worked for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 1950s and 1960s, using tape editing, filtration and synthesis to make evocative sounds for drama and documentary pieces on the radio. Derbyshire's most famous -- and startlingly futuristic -- piece was the theme music for children's sci-fi series Dr Who, which pre-dates Kraftwerk by over a decade. Rockmore was a skilled player of the theremin in the 1930s, soon after the gestural, "singing" instrument was invented. Oliveros is a composer of abstract electro-acoustic soundscapes.

If Ursula Bogner can plausibly and comfortably fit into this line of electronic women musicians, her creator (Jelinek, Mrs Bogner's Dr Frankenstein) can also join another, equally plausible, tradition: the set of male artists with a female alter ego.

Here, admittedly, we find more precedents in the world of the visual arts. The french grandfather of conceptual art, Marcel Duchamp, had a female alter ego called Rrose Selavy (below, left). The British potter Grayson Perry dresses up regularly as Claire, a little girl in a party frock (right).



There are ambiguous gender-straddlers in the music world too, of course: Terre Thaemlitz, Genesis P-Orridge and Pete Burns have all transformed themselves into women or had surgery to make their bodies more feminine.

Music artists who work in the genre known as "clicks and cuts" may have a special interest in changing their gender. After all, if you're editing synthetic music every day -- open, change, save file -- why not apply the same principles of flux and fluidity, activism and artificiality to your body, your gender? Why not experiment on yourself the way you experiment on your music?

If no sound is "natural" for the electronic musician, why should there be anything natural or predestined about the body you happen to have been born into, or the gender assigned to it at birth? Why not click and cut your own flesh, and edit your own identity? Why not synthesize and syntheticize?

And, while you're at it, you might like to do what Jan Jelinek has done with Ursula Bogner: send your atavar back in time to perform a little cosmetic surgery on history, just to see how it looks.

(Original Spanish version here.)

29CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 10:56 am (UTC)

I can't believe you've never got up in drag yourself, Momus. Any photographic evidence anywhere?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 11:06 am (UTC)

Why, just last week I was in drag!


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 11:20 am (UTC)

Yes, but what about shimmying into a real live frock? I kind of picture you in a Bowie-circa-Hunky-Dory type get-up.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 11:45 am (UTC)




ReplyThread Parent
dignified_devil
A Dignified Devil
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)

aww come on Nick. shave a little, maybe get a skirt that better suits you, throw on a little make up (a little mind you) and the girls will be after you like you wouldn't believe. also, the hair needs work. don't be surprised if you're offered by cash by some random gentlemen, for an hours of your time.

-
A


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drywbach
:-Þ
Thu, Nov. 13th, 2008 12:49 am (UTC)

So the "hemline indicator" theory applies to guys' skirts as well!


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walloftime
walloftime
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 11:42 am (UTC)
Damn

—got trapped again in the post-post-faux-faux games I am so busy to instigate myself. Jelinek 1 Walloftime 0.


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 01:13 pm (UTC)

walter/wendy carlos.


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33mhz
33mhz
The Queen of Overdub Kisses
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC)

I should imagine he's painfully familiar with her.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC)

Not only painters, potters and musicians are experimenting with their bodies!



Oh, well, dressed in drag in 7th grade in a big afro haircut and a pink linen-just-covering-beneath-my-genitals along with make-up. It was quite fun, actually, and no one recognised me.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 02:28 pm (UTC)
http://uploaded.to/file/wd1sef/

http://uploaded.to/file/wd1sef/


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silkytooth.blogspot.com
silkytooth.blogspot.com
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)

brilliant rouse, interesting music! another great find, nick!
thanks buddy,


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kementari2
kementari2
The green fuse
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)

I can't be sure, but from the pictures it doesn't look like Jelinek is Ursula. Ursula's nose is wider, and her earlobes aren't attached like Jelinek's are.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)

You know, I think I was thinking of Gen and Jaye a bit when I wrote Widow Twanky. They really did change places and get inside each other, so that when one left, she was still there in the other.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC)

Has a term been coined yet for what they were attempting?

Well, Gen calls it "pandrogyne" in that clip.


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flying_squid
flying_squid
flying_squid
Thu, Nov. 13th, 2008 01:59 am (UTC)

You have me intrigued with this news, Whimsy. Any idea when the book will be available?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC)

Square pegs in round holes, people trapped in body types need to get out more. Attention seeking is so passe whatever manner it takes. And don't get me started on dressing up. Cut,paste and delete.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Nov. 13th, 2008 11:31 am (UTC)

Still clinging to youth?


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steviecat
steviecat
Stephen Drennan
Thu, Nov. 13th, 2008 01:53 pm (UTC)

The older and less interested in rock music I become, the greater my interest in playfulness, artists who don't really exist - The Rutles, all those acts on the wonderful first Hybrid Kids album, The Dukes Of Stratosphear, the twelve bands on The Turtles' Battle Of The Bands, Silicon Teens (purportedly four Liverpool school-age adolescents but actually Daniel Miller). Then there's The Residents with that identity question still hanging over them, and the are-they-are'nt-they Klaatu/Beatles dilemma. Part of me hopes Ursula Bogner existed in the usual way and can be added to the Delia/Daphne/Annea Lockwood/Meredith Monk/Laurie Anderson line, another wonderful female composer in a male-dominated field; and part of me wants it to be a hoax to add to those let's-play-aroundsters I've mentioned above. But then if the music's great, why should authenticity matter ? I prefer the Hybrid Kids to most "serious" music from 1980...


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Nov. 14th, 2008 12:57 am (UTC)

Señor Coconut's Moog playing labelmate Lisa Carbon.

-ndkent


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Nov. 14th, 2008 09:04 am (UTC)
Claire Thomas

Back in 1981 there was Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey
http://www.pogus.com/nom23.html


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slowtiger
slowtiger
Sat, Nov. 15th, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)

Another one: Mechthild Von Leusch as a persona of Asmus Tietchens.


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nina_blomquist
nina_blomquist
Nennen Sie mich Ninen
Sun, Nov. 16th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)

If Ursula Bogner was fictional, what would be the reason to intentionally blow her cover?


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deviantmetal
deviantmetal
Thu, Oct. 20th, 2011 12:51 pm (UTC)

There was also german electronic music artist Elfish Echo who released a CD and 12" under the persona of the japanese female "Sato Yumiko" in 1996. http://www.discogs.com/Elfish-Echo-Elfish-Echo-Presents-Sato-Yumiko/release/62081 and http://www.discogs.com/Elfish-Echo-Elfish-Echo-Presents-Sato-Yumiko-EP/release/189547


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