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Auditory Spaces and Sonic Narratives of Gender: The Queer Auditory Spaces and Sonic Narratives of Gender: The Queer Phenomenology of Sound in
Phenomenology of Sound in Girls Lost Girls Lost and and Tangerine Tangerine
Graduate Center, City University of New York
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AUDITORY SPACES AND SONIC NARRATIVES OF GENDER: THE QUEER PHENOMENOLOGY OF SOUND IN GIRLS LOST AND TANGERINE
A master’s thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty in Liberal Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, The City University of New York
All Rights Reserved
iii Auditory Spaces and Sonic Narratives of Gender: The Queer Phenomenology of Sound in Girls
Lost and Tangerine by
This manuscript has been read and accepted for the Graduate Faculty in Liberal Studies in satisfaction of the thesis requirement for the degree of Master of Arts.
Date Christopher Schmidt
Date Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis
THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK
Auditory Spaces and Sonic Narratives of Gender: The Queer Phenomenology of Sound in Girls Lost and Tangerine
by Mira Vuorinen
Advisor: Christopher Schmidt
This thesis explores the phenomenological aspects of sound in the Swedish film Girls Lost (2015) and the American film Tangerine (2015), which are both stories of transgender identities.
The thesis considers sound through its affective characteristics and materiality in the films; that sound has an agency in a story-telling and that sounds actively create the world and spaces the characters and the listener-viewer inhabit. By utilizing Sara Ahmed’s queer phenomenology as a theoretical lens and bringing it together with phenomenology of sound, the thesis focuses on what is in the background and usually left behind in film analysis of gender identities. This thesis
approaches sounds not only as extensions of the characters’ bodies in Girls Lost and Tangerine but pays attention to how certain sounds narrate the world as part of the characters’ gender identities.
Through the film analysis of Girls Lost, the thesis discusses how sounds create an isolation
and disconnection and remove the characters from their environment to portray different forms of
exclusion and lack of agency. The sounds build moments of intimacy and friendship that allow the
characters to retreat to their own world for safety. At the same time, the sounds in Girls Lost draw
from biological and medical notions of gender, representing transgender identity through the
discourse of the “wrong body,” wherein the body is a “trap” for transgender individuals. Tangerine
v depicts very different transgender realities, which the thesis examines through Ahmed’s
theorization of the Orient and how Tangerine resists such definition through its characters and their sonic world. The thesis utilizes the concepts of “sonic color line” and noise to analyze race in relation to the transgender identities and how sounds functions as a form of resistance and rejection of the white ideals and norms of both gender and race.
This thesis concludes that Girls Lost and Tangerine show how film sounds form an auditory space of gender; that gender is attached to space and place; and that characters as gendered beings can become detached from their environments through sounds. The sounds in both films are sonic narratives of gender: they align the characters with what is available or within reach for them and their stories, and suggest that gender identities are built through and together with the sonic elements. The materiality, spatiality but also fluid nature of sounds offer queer (and)
phenomenological possibilities to articulate affective stories of how gendered bodies meet the
world. Sounds enclose meaningfulness and can authentically tell about locations of gender
identities and queer moments in and through the medium of film.
vi TABLE OF CONTENTS
Bringing Forth the Sounds of Gender: Introduction………1
CHAPTER II Theory Review………..13
CHAPTER III Dwelling in the Ambient Paths of Gender: Magical Soundscapes of Girls Lost………..28
• Introduction to Girls Lost………28
• Sounds of Distance, Longing, and Loss………..33
• Sounds of Moments of Transformation………...41
• Sounds of Mask………...48
• Chapter Conclusion……….58
CHAPTER IV You Cannot Silence the Noise: Sounds of Transgender Identities in Tangerine………..59
• Introduction to Tangerine………59
• Let’s Make Some Noise: What is the Racialization of Noise?...68
• The Sounds of Drama, High Heels and Noise……….70
• The Sounds of Car and Sex Work………...85
• The Musicality of Sass and Emotions……….91
• Chapter Conclusion……….95
CHAPTER V Concluding Discussion……….97
1 CHAPTER I
Bringing Forth the Sounds of Gender: Introduction
Just as the writer is constituted by the action of the writing that s/he does, the listener is shaped by the act itself, and both are in a moment of self-formation. They intentionally place the self into the space of not-yet-being, of vibrating contemporaneously but imperfectly with the other’s resonances and echoes just as engaging in the act of writing induces similar oscillations (I hear the sound of the keys and the whirring of the fan, and I produce my philosophical self). (Justin Patch, 2013)
I remember the sound of the soapy brush in my mother’s hand from my childhood summers and how it glided on a home-woven rug. I remember its monotonous, yet sonic, motion and the sound of the water hose when the soap was finally rinsed off. The sound of flowing water orchestrated the washing ritual and what now happens to be a disappearing tradition in Finland mostly practiced by women: washing rugs during the summer in the designated “piers” often situated close to the beach. I find myself missing this sound because I associate it with so many good things: being on a summer vacation, being outdoors, being able to play with the water, having my older sister there with me, and with special kind of closeness with my mother who was gaining her independence and happiness after a divorce.
I remember Christmas Day dinners at my grandparents’ place from my childhood. The house was full of tensions caused by family histories, but the space was also divided by gender:
men sit in their own room, women in their own space. The women always did the dishes. The sound of water and clattering of plates and cutlery momentarily shaped the kitchen as a space where the men would not enter. During that moment, the kitchen became a space for the women to silently talk through the tension and their worries as the sound of doing dishes both hid their speech and provided a privacy that none of the men would interrupt.
I remember how I moved into a new neighborhood in Brooklyn in summer 2016 and the
2 sounds of streets that I explored with excitement; the laughter of the children and lively chattering flowing freely together with the bouncing basketballs in the courtyards of nearby housings. But I also remember the catcalling on Gates Avenue where I went for my evening runs. I remember men first whistling and then shouting at me, trying to stop me and eventually, after a few evening runs, one following me with a bike. After two weeks I already knew how that street would sound, how it would feel and how I had embodied those sounds as something to avoid – something to be afraid of.
And I remember Christmas Eve 2015 here in NYC when I went to MoMA PS1 to experience Jonah Groeneboer’s acoustic art installation. The artist had asked trans* 1 and gender queer participants to express their gender identity vocally, through sounds but not words. Speakers playing the sounds were organized in a circle and every speaker played a different sound. As I walked around and listened to these sounds, I was for the first time in my life introduced to gender identities as a sonic form of art and artistically composed as a soundscape. In the middle of the circle, the sounds merged together, creating a landscape of lives that escape the binary thinking of what constitutes gender. Because the sound installation had no images or words (written or
spoken), as a listener I was gently pushed to truly hear and listen to the soundscape around me.
When I play this embodied soundtrack, I travel through time and space, but these three seemingly different memories from different places and decades share the common denominator:
they are very much gendered experiences. My inspiration and standpoint to this thesis comes from my own listening and how I am attuned to the world through sounds as also experiences of my gender. My thesis also draws from my love of watching films – especially the independent movies that try to look beyond the mainstream presentations of love, sex, gender, loss, anger, and a whole