Songs in the Electric Tongue: Gender Performance and the Voice in Laurie Anderson’s Music

By Lisa R. Coons.

Published by The Diversity Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

While the most basic level of vocal communication resides within
the well-defined vocabulary of spoken language, much more is transmitted
through the voice. Patterns of speech and language construction can offer
indications of age and education, while traces of personal history, such as the
region of origin, are often heard embedded within verbal intonation. Perhaps
the most salient aspect of identity that can be inferred from the register,
timbre and melodic contour of the spoken or sung phrase is that of the
vocalist’s gender. This article stems from analyses of composer/performer
Laurie Anderson’s music, exploring how she incorporates vocal signifiers of
gender into her work and the significance of these elements to her performed
As a self-proclaimed storyteller, Anderson’s sounding voice is ever-
present in her music. She moves fluidly through a variety of ‘selves’ in
performance, and the shifts between various personas are marked by subtle
changes in her language and assumed perspectives. Through both physical
and electronic manipulations of her voice, she creates different, and often
contrasting, gendered identities on stage. She assumes the role of woman,
man, child, or alien ‘other’, simultaneously drawing upon the social
constructions of gender and questioning them through her pluralistic
interpretations. Understanding how Anderson’s identity inscribes meaning in
her work is a crucial step towards better understanding the works themselves
and their cultural implications. To further our vocabulary in discussing how
gender is manifest in the arts is to further our comprehension of the social
signifiers of gender and how they function in our daily lives.

Keywords: Music and Performance, Gender Identity, Voice and Identity

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp.161-170. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.144MB).

Lisa R. Coons

Graduate Student, Music Department, Princeton University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Lisa R. Coons studied composition with Dr. James Mobberley and Dr. Chen Yi at the University of Missouri-Kansas City during her undergraduate degree, and received a Masters degree from SUNY Stony Brook in 2004. Presently pursuing her doctoral degree at Princeton University, she works with Dr. Barbara White and Dr. Steve Mackey in research and composition. Lisa’s work as a scholar has been shaped and influenced by her experiences as musician working in new music. Her research focuses primarily on issues of gender and composition in contemporary music, and she is an active composer specializing in chamber music and sound art. In 2005 Lisa received the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Award for her string quartet Awkward Music.


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