From 26 to 29 May 2016, the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg (HfMT) hosted the international conference Lexikographie, Gender und Musikgeschichtsschreibung [Lexicography, Gender, and Music Historiography] led by Beatrix Borchard and Nina Noeske. Parallel to this, a forum for young researchers was held that focused on pop music.
Researchers discussed aspects of lexicography, gender, and music historiography in light of global considerations. This conference revolved around the online lexicon MUGI – Musikvermittlung und Genderforschung im Internet [Music and Gender on the Internet].
The objective of MUGI, which has been published by the HfMT since 2003, is the digitalisation of music-related knowledge and its dissemination for educational purposes. MUGI contains over 470 entries on individual persons and includes various music-related focuses, from the Middle Ages to the present. The project arose from the context of women’s, gender, and queer studies, research disciplines that were already well established in the USA. And part of its purpose is to break through the convention of researching music’s history as one simply of authors and works. Female musicians who were active as performers, as music educators, and as patrons of music frequently remain unknown. So the point here is to investigate and write music’s history as a history of cultural agency. The overall objective of MUGI is to continue developing women’s and gender research in terms of methodology while also promoting its integration into the field of musicology at universities and music academies. For the lexical articles of MUGI, Borchard developed a specific format that, in addition to the biography, oeuvre, and literature list, also contains notes on the musician’s overall profile, repertoire, and places of activity. Since 2013, there have also been articles on male musicians, with consideration given to genderrelated biographical aspects. But popular music, on the other hand, has not yet been included in MUGI.
Is it possible for there to be a gender-sensitised lexicography of popular music?
The pop music forum for young researchers focussed on the matter of adding popular music to the existing online lexicon. Magdalena Fürnkranz, a university assistant at the mdw’s Department of Popular Music (ipop), represented the mdw at this forum. The event opened with the keynote address “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, the Pretty Thing Next Door, and the Highly Able DJ. On Heterosexist Gender Stereotypes in Writing on Pop Music and the Production of Effective Counter-Strategies” by Sonja Eismann (Missy Magazine). In music journalism, women are not infrequently referred to as “musicians to be taken seriously” or “sexy frontwomen”. Clichéed attributions such as these often go unquestioned and uncommented. Eismann’s lecture shed light on and critically questioned aspects of sexism in journalism. The framing of women as “the Other” predominates, with women musicians frequently being reduced to physical and optical mechanisms. And despite the institutionalisation of gender studies that took place in the German-speaking world during the 1990s, well-entrenched sexist attributions in journalism have persisted into the 21st century. Eismann presented examples from practice along with a schematic categorisation of stereotypes covering examples including the derogatory term “girl music”, a female fan base as a sign of poor quality, and sexist structures in the music business. Counterstrategies available to journalists include the use of inclusive language and the avoidance of sex-specific attributions in their own texts. And sexist qualities of texts written by others should be analysed, thereby facilitating their deconstruction.
Current dissertation projects dealing with questions of gender constructions in the popular music field were also presented as part of the forum for young researchers and included themes such as the representation of masculinity in the “indie” category, ways in which the heteronormative and maledominated historiography of jazz functions, and gender-specific constructions of sexuality and desire in the sounds employed in pop songs. Representatives of archives in Switzerland and Germany spoke at the subsequent roundtable discussion entitled “Archiving of Subculture? Pop Music Research as a Lexicographical Challenge”. As part of an interdisciplinary workshop, an initial concept for new digital lexicon articles and multimedia presentations was formulated. And finally, a catalogue of findings on gender-sensitive research and popular music appreciation was compiled as part of the digital lexicon MUGI POP. In doing so, the topic of distinctions between art and entertainment music was joined by discussions of other themes including the definition of popular music as such, the attribution of gender identities, hegemonic relations in pop/ rock/jazz, and dealing with the media. MUGI POP will also contain discographies of the introduced artists as well as a volume index, and it will be conceived so as to also lend visibility to the individual entries’ authors.
Under the leadership of Elisabeth Treydte (HfMT), a working group on the thematic area of popular music and gender studies was established. Magdalena Fürnkranz represents the mdw in this network. During the current academic year, she will oversee the authorship (with the involvement of students) of lexicographical texts on Austrian musicians. The emphasis is to be placed on young, female, and queer protagonists of the Viennese rock and pop scene. Multimedia forms of presentation for music appreciation purposes, as well as in order to portray musicians’ working contexts and gender-specific themes, are to be developed and implemented as part of a course at ipop. This supports awareness of music and its cultural context while at the same time contributing to the discourse on current musical trends. Interested mdw students will thus be included in the project to create the online lexicon MUGI POP, and their scholarly efforts will help to create an international interface for this research network at the mdw. Initial results are to be presented at the Department of Popular Music’s conference “PopNet Austria” from 1 to 3 December 2016.
- Information about MUGI (in German): mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de