Claudia Attimonelli is a researcher in Media Studies and Visual Culture, professor of Visual Studies and Digital Culture and Media, Visual Culture and Sound Studies at the University of Bari Aldo Moro; she is a lecturer in Visual and Multimedia Studies at the Master in Journalism Order of Journalists at the University of Bari. She is scientific head of the Gender Archive at the University of Bari; coordinator of the MEM – Mediateca Emeroteca Musicale project and directs the Dialogues on the Big – Bari International Gender Festival; she is visiting professor at Uerj University (Rio de Janeiro) and chercheuse associée at Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier).
Her research on techno and Afrofuturism is considered seminal in the Italian and international scene; she is interested in issues of gender, urban styles and musical cultures.
As a curator she collaborates with theaters, institutions and galleries in the field of audio and visual languages; in 2023 she curated the international exhibition: 30 years of Kompakt: The visual side of Music.
Among her publications: Electronics is Women. Media, Bodies, and Transfeminist and Queer Practices (with C. Tomeo 2022); The Aesthetics of Malaise. The black, the skull, the punk (2020); A dark reflect. Black Mirror and the digital aurora (with V. Susca 2020, translated into 3 languages); Techno. Afrofuturist rhythms (2008-2018); Pornoculture (with V. Susca 2016, translated into 4 languages).
Martina: I want to talk to you about representation. When we talk about women, marginalized and/or racialized bodies, in music, and about the need to hear their voices, we often come up against a wall that hides behind the phrase “but music is music.” This implies for instance that if only male musicians, or white men, are going to be lined up at a festival, it will not be something negative, because music is music.
This is disconnected from any socio-political discourse and it can’t equate to boycott it (we often hear about pink quotas in politics or within labour policies). What is lost, in these forward hands, is the theme of representation: the importance of seeing on a stage someone who looks like you, who stimulates you toward expression, a voice coming from other places and shores. What do you think about that? Do you think you can build something really open and of all bodies by overcoming this wall?
Claudia: Representation and visibility are the criteria at the center of the discourse related to women and LGBTQIA+ people in relation to the places of greatest exposure, spectacularization and generation of figures capable of constituting models to be referred to by younger generations. That is, the people and bodies that have always found themselves at the margins of a knowledge that has been shaped for centuries around institutions which did not provide any form of access to women and Lgbtqia+ people; and that today find themselves in the condition of being able to renegotiate their presence, I believe, beyond the detestable pink quotas. The phrase you bring up, “but music is music,” requires a twofold reflection and in some ways produces a seemingly contradicting thought that I will attempt to illustrate: it is true that the gender quota system (better to call them that than pink quotas) as well as the European funding axes that have been calling for interventions aimed at closing or at least correcting the gender gap in the professional sphere for some time now, sometimes trigger counterproductive effects regarding the goals achieved through struggles on gender issues and specifically on the representation and presence of people normally excluded from festival billboards, from talks and panels (so-called manel, panels with only men), from musical events of various kinds.
These effects result from the necessity of having to adopt a system, which, in order to correct the centuries-old absence of women and Lgbtqia+ people from such venues, operates a quota forcing, i.e., quantitative, which does not always comply with the qualitative one. Hence an example: it may happen that, when finalising an electronic music festival line-up, there might be a request for the event to be closed by a DJ. This could be selected among the most popular and famous stars, or, should the financial means not allow for that, the DJ might be chosen by tackling the issue of gender quotas. In the latter case, the following problem would arise: being inexperienced in filling such an important role (the closing set of an intense night of sound and dance at 5am) might weigh on the performance of the DJ, who would be in the uncomfortable position of receiving criticisms due to the context. Moreover, this would support the thesis that women are less talented or not up to the task of filling certain roles, making the stereotype that the quota system would like to correct far worse.
And here is the contradiction that some of the essays in our volume seek to investigate and bring out: kept away for millennia – according to the history of Western culture – from the places of formation and exposure of expressive languages that have always been credited to the male, women and people on the margins of the patriarchal paradigm that we know well have needed many years, even decades, to finally find themselves in a condition of equality, in which the great gap that had separated them from their male colleagues will be much reduced, if not bridged. In this long intervening time, I personally believe that listening, patience and understanding must intervene, so that we do not immediately lash out against a female failure in contexts where women appear for the first time, especially since we have always been accustomed to dealing with a lot of male genius but also with inevitable mediocrity: how often do we find a performance, a talk, an event by only “male” artists boring, flawed, not up to the mark? It is natural for it to happen, if only for the inherent genius exceptionality. So it is not clear why excellence is always expected from women in top positions or when performing in unprecedented roles; mistakes, weaknesses and frailties are not admitted and flaws, errors and shortcomings always spotted by the most critical gaze.
It is very important to overcome the dilemma of gender quotas, to defuse the dangerous devices of competitiveness at all costs, of perfect performance vs. the possibility of imperfection, of the pursuit of genius vs. the affirmation of a condition in which the presence of women becomes normal, among whom some will emerge and others will fall into the norm. The aim of the volume edited by myself and Caterina Tomeo, thanks to the numerous interventions of the authors, is to propose a paradigm that does not focus on finding models from the past that are ingenious and therefore difficult to replicate in their uniqueness, but rather to follow the trail of technology to identify strategies and approaches through which people who have always been excluded from the technological factor are able to take other paths to operate, manipulate, recreate, recombine, detourn machines and tools.
Martina: Talking about art, sound and listening as a political act. One of the chapters that is particularly close to my heart and that I have most explored in the book edited by you and Caterina (Electronics is Women. Media, Bodies, Transfeminist and Queer Practices, Castelvecchi editore, 2022) is Daniela Gentile’s, Beyond Listening. Going beyond just listening (or just seeing, if we are talking about other artistic expressions), and trying to really experience what we find in front of us: by doing so, we can overcome bias, go beyond the addressed, colonial and patriarchal upbringing, which – in the West especially – indirectly defines us. The artistic space, its expression, if made fluid and open can be revolutionary. I personally believe that art, whether visual or musical, or any form of expression, can be powerful means of decolonizing and depatriarchalizing our gaze, even the most resistant ones. For you, what is the value and political power of artistic space?
Claudia: I like to think of art as not strictly political, but rather, to use an expression by Susca and De Kerckhove (2007), transpolitical, where the political would enslave art, making it a poor language with crushed purposes in the pursuit of a message, art instead remains an outpost of thought: the only free space/time and therefore in a great capacity to ask questions, to bring out contradictions, to activate conflicts and to challenge the dominant discourse. The practice of listening that you cite from Daniela Gentile’s essay is an example of this. Through listening itself we welcome the otherness of all the voices and sounds in which we are immersed or that come to us from afar through the media that spread them until they penetrate our ears. Some verses of a song, some samplings within a set remixed alongside each other when they reach our ears and penetrate inside, in fact begin to inhabit us and make us an expanded body, traversed by the sounds of Others, according to the concept of otherness and Others elaborated by the French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas. Through listening, a powerful and viral form of hybridization is activated, a sonic contamination that infects us with the other(s), that makes them a sonic body to be shared, without there having to be inherent militant proclamations, because ‘mcluhanially’ the medium itself has become the bearer of political meaning through the wide dissemination and unstoppable accessibility of the other(s).
Pauline Oliveros in Quantum Listening (2005), speaks of “auricular power”, a power that allows marginalised people, those on the fringes and overflowing to resonate (Oliveros, Sounding the Margins – 2010), a potentiality that draws from the futurist avant-garde and in particular from The Art of Noises, the Manifesto of Luigi Russolo, who in 1913 spoke of the noises of the soundscape of the twentieth-century city compared to that of the countryside, imagining that they could be orchestrated and translated into sounds in sync with the times and the space being traversed. Such an unseen space is made up of bodies that signify it with their own identity.
Similarly in the practice of DJing and sampling, according to the theories of Kodwo Eshun, a Ghanaian-English author and Afrofuturism theorist, as well as in the words of Steve Goodman aka Kode9 in “Sonic Warfare. Sound affect and the ecology of fear” (Goodman, 2010), remixed sonic samples engage in a sonic battle, they spread, that is, what I call an intersectional sonic guerrilla warfare, through which minimal units of sound – the samples – whose provenance is beyond the binarism of genre, geographic-cultural provenance, age, and musical style are remixed, manipulated, and “effected.” The two key words, in fact, of a broad discourse around listening and gender issues, for me, are “intersectionality” and “technology,” where H is not an error but a glitch, a malfunctioning of the already given system of meaning, an augmented value that women reappropriate with purposes aimed at triggering processes of enchantment, ecstasy, rhythmic power, sensuality and corporeality of which dance is one of the effects.