A natural ear for music? Hearing (dis) abled masculinities

A natural ear for music? Hearing (dis) abled masculinities
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  Popular Music  Additional services for  Popular Music: Email alerts: Click here Subscriptions: Click here Commercial reprints: Click here Terms of use : Click here A natural ear for music? Hearing (dis)abled masculinities CASSANDRA LOESER and VICKI CROWLEY Popular Music / Volume 28 / Special Issue 03 / October 2009, pp 411 - 423DOI: 10.1017/S0261143009990146, Published online: 20 October 2009 Link to this article: How to cite this article: CASSANDRA LOESER and VICKI CROWLEY (2009). A natural ear for music? Hearing (dis)abled masculinities. Popular Music,28, pp 411-423 doi:10.1017/S0261143009990146 Request Permissions : Click here Downloaded from, IP address: on 17 Apr 2013 Downloaded: 17 Apr 2013IP address: A natural ear for music? Hearing(dis)abled masculinities CASSANDRA LOESER† and VICKI CROWLEY‡ †Academic Development Research Education, Learning and Teaching Unit, University of South Australia, St Bernards Road, Magill, SA, Australia,‡Communications and Gender Studies, School of Communication, International Studies andLanguages, University of South Australia, St Bernards Road, Magill, SA, Australia, Abstract  Musical performances on the bass guitar, able to be felt bodily beyond the ear, connect into themany layers of affect that music excites; but they are particularly potent as a means of communicating embodied masculinity for one young man with a hearing disability. Mascu-linity as a social code enacted within practices of the everyday involves both the affect and theeffect of difference. The bass guitar, the instrument which drives a band’s sound and rhythm,is part of the performativity of masculinity within popular music – visually, and at the levelof sound, as auricular materiality – an embodied sensation where the ‘feel’ of sound throughthe body constitutes a language in which ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ modes of masculinitybecome appropriated and defined.Displays of musical prowess on the bass guitar open a space for becoming ‘unfixed’ fromthe identity and abject status of the hearing-disabled Other. This ‘Othering’ occurs primarilyin everyday spoken encounters where difficulties with hearing and speech limit opportunities foroccupying a viable masculine positioning. By contrast, the capacity to ‘fit’ the sensory andsensual prompts that trigger recognition of masculinity within popular music enables there-assembling of an embodied masculine identity for a hearing-disabled young man. Mascu-linity and disability are rendered reversible and exchangeable – performative productions thatare excessive and transgressive, contingent on the sensory perceptions of self and others.This emphasis on embodied communicative practice through the play of bass guitar provides an important counterweight to representational forms of embodied gendered subjec-tivity that continue to predominate in some modes of disability and gender theorising. Itconstitutes a forceful assertion of how everyday embodied interactions are irrevocably coupledwith mobile and transient masculine and disabled aesthetic identifications. Introduction But the question may be asked: Are not the kinds of phenomena that I have been discussingof interest precisely because they produce us as human beings with a certain kind of subjectivity? (Rose 2000, p. 320)I’ve always had a problem with the average macho man – they’ve always been a threat to me.(Kurt Cobain 1998) Much has been written over the past two decades about gender as a performative –a comportment and ideation that is citational and reiterative – a practice of 411 Popular Music (2009) Volume 28/3. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009, pp. 411–424doi:10.1017/S0261143009990146 Downloaded: 17 Apr 2013IP address: subjectification that is agentic. As extensive as the work has been, it has almostexclusively been presupposed by an aural world of able bodies. While trans andintersex bodies are non-normative and have effectively destabilised identitarianpolitics (see, for instance, Halberstam 2005) in what we may term ‘this whollyheterosexual world’, 1 their historically and contemporaneously conferred dis-ease ispopularly and medically configured within psychiatric and psycho-social disordersoutside the popular imaginary of ‘disability’. 2 While the writings and politics of performativity have done much to deconstruct and decentre the white, male andmiddle-class corporeal ideal, there still remains, as James Clifford has argued, theneed for close readings and persistent interrogation of the ways in which ‘human beings become agents’ (Clifford 2000, p. 103). To this repeated analysis we wouldespecially argue in favour of attention being levelled at what ‘  precedes and conditions ’identity conferral and subversion (Butler 1993, p. 226). More specifically, we wouldargue in favour of attention to the ways that masculinity is performatively producedthrough the play of music. This is because musical performance on the bass guitaraffects and effects different conceptualisations and knowings of masculinity, hearingand hearing disability. It is the agency – the active participation and labour of youngmen and music – that we explore.The article draws us into the world of ‘Shane’, a twenty-two year old man whowas born and raised in the working-class suburbs of metropolitan South Australia.Shane is white and identifies as heterosexual and working class. He has a moderatehearing disability in his right ear and a severe hearing disability in his left ear. Healso has a mild speech impairment. Shane wears a hearing aid in each ear and usesspoken English as a primary mode of communication. Problems with hearing andspeech limit his opportunities to valorise a masculine positioning in everydayspoken encounters. By contrast, the play of music on bass guitar incites andfacilitates a diversity of communications and masculine meanings.This article is about Shane’s experiences of playing music on the bass, and hisamazing capacity to, in his terms, ‘speak with sound’. Shane says that music is asensation that is not necessarily comprehended with the ears but created and inter-preted with and through the body. To have what he calls a ‘natural ear for music’ and‘to pick up music by ear and improvise songs on the bass guitar’ requires a height-ened embodied sensibility that he says many hearing people do not possess. Shane isthe leader of an intra-generic heavy metal punk rock band where he says all the malemembers listen to his advice. Shane plays the bass in a band that covers tracks from bands including Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Sound Garden, Jane’sAddiction, Green Day and Foo Fighters. As will be shown, Shane’s play of musicperforms a subversion of disabled identity containment, and a distancing from hisexperience of being Othered as a ‘hearing-disabled’ man in spoken exchanges.The article builds on Judith Butler’s notion of performativity to analyse Shane’sinterview. Performativity refers to ‘the reiterative power of discourse to produce thephenomena that it regulates ... [and] the simultaneous production of a domain of abject beings ... who form the constitutive outside of the domain of the subject’(1993, 2). Butler’s notion of performativity will be used to give insight into the waysthat disability is fundamental to the cultivation of masculinity through modes of performance. These performances, however, are not always already visual – thesignificance of Shane’s story lies in its capacity to show the power of affect in thestylisation of different modes of embodied masculinity through the play of popularmusic on bass guitar. Masculine consolidation through interactions with others is412 Cassandra Loeser and Vicki Crowley Downloaded: 17 Apr 2013IP address: dependent on the reiterated compliance of the body to visible, audible and tactilenorms of conduct. In this way, Shane’s interview will demonstrate the affect andsensory capacity that is routinely, laboriously and intently deployed in the cultiva-tion of identity. It will show how culturally exalted performances of masculinity ininteractive space may be rendered an ‘abject’ or Othered performance in anotherspace or context. The ruptures and breakages inherent in the experience of mascu-line identification across interactive sites prevent disabled and masculine identityfrom being assured as ontologically given property of  any subject. Methods The data discussed within this article emerge from doctoral research that exploredthe question of how young men with moderate to profound hearing disabilities,who communicate primarily in spoken English, construct their masculine embodiedsubjectivities in different spaces and locales of their everyday worlds (see Loeser2005). The research was partially motivated by a close reading of the burgeoningsocial and disability studies literatures that explore the intersections and/or politicaldynamics of hearing disability, deafness and cultural Deafness, young men’sexperiences of growing up in Deaf families, and the monographs written by youngDeaf men and women. It was identified that there was a paucity of social andcultural analyses that explored how young men with moderate to profound hearingdisabilities, who communicate primarily in spoken English, constructed theirmasculine embodied subjectivities in the everyday social.The empirical data were collected by means of exploratory in-depth semi-structured face-to-face interviews and online interviews conducted through e-mail.All interviews were conducted in the year 2000. Interviews sought the participants’reflections on six themes, these being social interaction, friendships and personalrelationships, sport, education, employment and manhood. The same interviewschedule was used for both interviewing methods. In total, nineteen men respondedvia e-mail and phone messages to the call for volunteers to participate in theresearch. With the exception of six participants, the young men had responded to aposter advertisement and letter of invitation sent out to the mailing list clientele of a South Australian service provider for people with hearing disabilities. A posteradvertisement placed in a national newspaper yielded three participants. Oneparticipant responded to a poster advertisement placed in a local newspapercirculated in the Riverland region of SouthAustralia.Acolleague provided the nameof a male friend with a hearing disability. One participant was a personal associate.Of the nineteen formal interviews conducted, sixteen of these were tape-recorded face-to-face interviews which lasted ninety minutes to three hours induration. Fourteen of the participants requested that they would like a copy of thefinal interview transcript. The two online interviews were conducted by sending onesection of the interview schedule at a time until all six sections were completed. Theonline interviews lasted one month and four months in duration. One participantchose to be interviewed by written mail but withdrew from the research aftercompleting the first section of the interview due to time and work commitments.Follow-up interviews were conducted with five participants by telephone and two by e-mail. The follow-up interviews were conducted four to ten weeks after thesrcinal interview and lasted ten minutes to thirty minutes in duration. Two of theparticipants requested a copy of the follow-up interview transcript.  A natural ear for music? 413 Downloaded: 17 Apr 2013IP address: Informants for the research were men aged eighteen to thirty-three years whohad a moderate to profound bilateral or unilateral hearing disability and lived inmetropolitan or rural locations of Australia. Men with moderate to profound orunilateral hearing disability were specified as potential subjects for the researchstudy because of the degree of difficulty associated with oral interaction describedwithin these classifications of hearing disability. Eleven had speech impairments.Most of the men identified as heterosexual, one participant identified as bisexual,and two did not speak about their sexual identities in the interviews. With theexception of two men who identified as Italian-Australian and Vietnamese-Australian, the interviewees were primarily white Westerners. All participants usedspoken English as their main form of everyday communication. Young men who usesign language as a major component of their everyday interactive encounters werenot interviewed. This is despite three of the men being fluent in sign language andtheir participation in some activities in their local Deaf communities. The world inwhich the participants live, with the exception of the three men who identified asmembers of their local Deaf communities, is largely devoid of a sense of communitythat involves ongoing interactions with other young people with a hearing disability.Of the nineteen young men who participated in the study, nine spoke of theimportance of music in their lives. The young men’s discussions about music rangedfrom their experiences listening to music on the radio and on CDs, going to see live bands at pubs, clubs and music festivals such as the Big Day Out, dancing at raves,and playing a musical instrument. One young man spoke about work as a DJ, a jobthat ended much to his disappointment when he lost all of his hearing in his earlytwenties. Another young man spoke of his experiences organising a rave event inmetropolitan South Australia. Fragments of the story of ‘Shane’ are selected for thisarticle because they are indicative of the complexities, contradictions and ambigui-ties involved in the construction of hearing-disabled masculinities through inter-active settings including band culture and different music cultures and sub-culturesthat are reflected in all of the participants’ stories. Shane chose the option of aface-to-face interview and also participated in a follow-up interview. His story isrepresentative of a common research finding, that is, music can affect and effectdifferent conceptualisations and knowings of masculinity, hearing and hearingdisability for young men with hearing disabilities. Shane’s Story Shane was raised by his mother and father in a working-class suburb in metropoli-tan South Australia. To understand the significance of music as a vehicle forconversation and masculine representation, it is important to begin by emphasisinghow Shane’s relationship with his father shaped the techniques by which he haslearnt to interact and converse with other males.The sport of go-karting is the initial vehicle by which Shane, at nine years of age, establishes a relationship with his father that overcomes his difficulties com-municating with ‘words’. The age of nine has particular significance for Shane. Hesays, ‘that’s when I realised my hearing was bad’. He then remarks: Shane : When you’re really young speech is simple and you don’t have any problemscommunicating with other kids but later in primary school the speech gets more complex andthat’s where the problems for hearing and speaking start. 414 Cassandra Loeser and Vicki Crowley
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