• Virtual Space, Voice, and Gender in Recorded Popular Music from 2008–2018

    Michèle Duguay (see profile)
    Music, Popular music, Sound--Recording and reproducing--Digital techniques, Sound--Study and teaching
    Item Type:
    Popular music, popular music and gender, Gender, Popular Music Studies, Sound recording technologies, Sound studies
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    When listening to a piece of recorded music—through headphones or speakers—one hears various sound sources as though they were located in a virtual space. The sound of a guitar, for instance, may appear towards the right or left of this space; it can also be placed in the foreground or background. While such sonic parameters are a central concern for both mixing engineers and listeners, they are seldom analyzed. This paper establishes a methodology for analyzing vocal placement—the apparent location of a voice within this virtual space—and explores the relationship between vocal placement and gender. In contrast to existing music-theoretical approaches to the analysis of virtual space that rely primarily on close listening by an analyst (Moore & Dockwray 2010; Camilleri 2010; Vad 2017; Zinser 2019), I provide an empirical method using digital sound-processing tools to precisely locate recorded sound sources in virtual space. I then use the method to examine how the spatialization of the voice within this space conveys gendered meanings. I illustrate the methodology by analyzing a corpus of 113 tracks from the 2008–18 Billboard Year-end charts. Each song in the corpus features a lead male artist with a female guest artist, or vice versa. My analysis demonstrates that men’s voices tend to be localized, prominent, and located in a flat space. Conversely, women’s voices are more likely to be diffuse, blended with the sonic environment, treated with echo and reverberation, and layered with multiple vocal tracks. I argue that these contrasting representations of male and female voices sonically reinforce a gender binary. In addition to developing new digital methods for analyzing virtual space, the project contributes to analytical literature on recorded music—a traditionally under-considered aspect of music theory—while documenting the ways in which gendered meanings are sonically constructed in music.
    Last Updated:
    4 years ago
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