Critical Essay—“Music to Moog By”: Gendering in Early Analog Synthesizing in the United States

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D. Travers Scott, Clemson University



Moog Party Time Album Cover

Fig. 1. Moog Party Time, Val Verde Music, 1970.

LP jacket cover. Collection of author.

Early analog synthesizers, this paper argues, raised gendered anxieties and questions, evidencing the mutual interplay between technology and social categories of identity. I employ the recent theoretical perspective of agential realism to conceptualize gendering processes around these technologies as multiple, ongoing, iterative processes entangled with other phenomena and practices within an ontology of connection and relation. This paper critically examines contemporary and historic discourses around the period of early synthesizing, including scholarship and historiographies, as well as media artifacts, including music, television programming, and an extended examination of “moogsploitation” album jackets. I demonstrate how technological gendering is a complex, negotiated, and at times contradictory ongoing series of processes, not relatively fixed objects or attributes, a perspective agential realism offers. I utilize it to argue that reproduction was a key concern in the gendering early synthesizers. At stake were not only what designs and affordances they would acquire, but also what users they would reproduce.




During the 1960s and into the 1970s, breakthroughs in audio technologies afforded new ways of reproducing musical sounds and generating never-before-heard sounds. Electronic synthesizers from Buchla, Moog, ARP, and others provided new ways of sounding—technes of aural production and performance—but also midwifed new subjectivities for users and listeners. The birth of these new phenomena, this paper argues, raised gendered anxieties and questions, evidencing the mutual interplay between technology and social categories of identity. However, rather than conceptualizing which gender these musical technologies are, were, or became, I employ the recent theoretical perspective of agential realism (AR), an additive rather than reductive analytic, one useful for seeing relationships between various phenomena. I will employ AR to conceptualize gendering as multiple, ongoing, iterative processes entangled with other phenomena and practices within an ontology of connection and relation. Agential realism draws from and builds upon traditions in science and technology studies (STS) and poststructural gender studies to offer a supple tool for analysis of technological phenomena: an emphasis on identities as socially produced and continually maintained and reconfigured, a conceptualization of technological actors as equally involved agents, a worldview of actions rather than things, and a reframing of limiting binary dualisms. This paper critically examines contemporary and historic discourses around the period of early synthesizing, including scholarship and historiographies, as well as media artifacts, including music, television programming, and an extended examination of “moogsploitation” album jackets. I will demonstrate how technological gendering is a complex, negotiated, and at times contradictory ongoing series of processes,

not relatively fixed objects or attributes, a perspective agential realism offers.  I utilize it to argue that reproduction was a key concern in the gendering early synthesizers. At stake were not only what designs and affordances they would acquire, but also what users they would reproduce.

Gender Studies and Technology

Some have argued for appreciating gender as “the major and most fundamental division of the social world” (Newton xii-xiii). Denaturalizing the linkages between the biology of sex and the associated attributes and behaviors of gender (including sexuality)—undoing biological determinism—has been a fundamental component throughout feminist activism and scholarship. Social constructivist views came to the forefront in postmodern and poststructural feminist theorizing, in which, drawing on Michel Foucault, discursive constitution of social categories displaced the intellectual viability of an essential subject, such as “woman.” Judith Butler theorized gender as performative rather than innate. Jack [Judith] Halberstam illustrated the unique and productive performances of female masculinity. Historian Thomas Laqueur demonstrated that even biological sex has been, to a degree, socially constructed. The epistemological foundations of sex, some feminist scholars have argued, extended to and shaped disparate arenas of knowledge and activity, such as science and technology.1 Insights from feminist, gender, and queer studies have been applied to the construction and maintenance sex and gender categories, and, as I have argued elsewhere, they provide useful analytics even for areas not explicitly about sex or gender, such as new media studies.

A rich strain of feminism and gender studies has focused on technology, with three dominant foci. One has analyzed the gendered components of technologies and technological discourses.2 A second has identified processes by which technologies were gendered.3 A third has drawn on poststructural theorizations of discursively constituted subjects to address the production and maintenance of social categories of sex and gender within and through technological systems.4

However, transgender, feminist, queer, and intersex approaches to gender studies have been criticized for ultimately reinforcing categories of sex and gender. Even if at times fluid and protean, gender has been treated as some thing that one does, performs, achieves, or queers. All too easily such perspectives can suggest that gender, sexuality, or identity is an end result, which fails to capture the true complexity of such constantly changing social phenomena.

Technology Studies and Gender

Studies of the production and development of technological systems and scientific knowledges offer a rich intellectual lineage, too extensive to detail here. More germane is the study of gender from scholars in Science and Technology Studies (STS), particularly Actor Network Theory (ANT). Most famously, ANT offered a perspective to analyze equally human and nonhuman actants in a system. Its sociological perspective and frequent ethnographic methods offer a useful corrective to the technological determinism and hyperbolic prognostications seen in more phenomenological and humanistic approaches to technology studies. Additionally, its analysis of material and semiotic artifacts helps advance past stalemates over directions and hierarchies of causal influence. However, there are certain limitations to ANT for studying technology and gender: maintenance of an object-oriented ontology, difficulty with social categories and their production, and lingering persistence of problematic dualisms, such as nature/culture.5

ANT, although practiced and understood in a wide variety of, at times, seemingly contradictory approaches, does often employ an object-centered ontology, operating with notions of separate things interacting in cause-and-effect relationships. Akrich states that, “The sociologist must not make any a priori distinction between what is technical and what is social in what is being observed” in order to identify “the way in which technical objects participate integrally in the constitution of our culture and of the world in which we live. We therefore need to rigorously respect the categories that the actors use to describe their own situation” (289). Although not imposing categories is understandable, this approach nevertheless perpetuates the technical and social as separate categories, in which subjects may variously place different objects. Describing an exhibition of gendered artifacts, Oudshoorn, Saetan, and Lie employ a constructivist approach, conceiving of gender as something that is “imprinted onto objects” (471) and thereby “objects can contribute to the creation and reinforcement of hegemonic representations of gender” (474). They cite Akrich, who “suggests that ‘innovators “inscribe” a specific vision about the world into the technical content of the new object’” (472), as well as Dutch and Norwegian feminist research on “the inscription and de-inscription of representations of masculinities and femininities in technological artifacts” (473). While acknowledging that gender can be a fluid, ever-changing thing, overall the conceptualization of the exhibit is object-oriented. Gender is a separate thing imprinted onto an artifact or technology. A technological object has different effects on the things known as men and women. Male and female users are represented differently in the objects of technological design and advertising. This also perpetuates binary dualisms, such as male/female and real/representation, inaccurately dividing complex phenomena into separate, hierarchical realms.

Because of its resistance to using social categories as starting points of analysis, ANT has been criticized for lacking sensitivity to issues of power and inequality. It has been claimed that interactions with various social groups may not be perceived by researchers who are not a part of or sensitive to those groups’ issues and experiences. Savage and Halford note that

Latour (2005) (and others) take particular issue with the “sociological aggregates” (class, gender, etc.) that have pre-occupied sociology and promotes instead an “associational sociology,” elaborated through the Actor Network Theory (ANT), which denies any a priori assumptions about the existence of social categories or aggregates. (938)

Therefore, to analyze digital social inequity in access to information and communication technologies, they amend ANT with feminist theory and French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. This is particularly relevant to the study of emergent technologies, they argue. “ANT’s relegation of inequality to durable, established networks undermines its ability to grasp inequalities in emergent, innovative and fluid or short-term networks and this requires more thought” (950).

Although ANT may assess the formation of groups of people who belong to certain social categories, it is less attuned to the production of those social categories. Oudshoorn, Rommes, and Stienstra have examined the privileging of male users in the design of information and communication technologies. When describing the work of herself and other feminist STS scholars, Oudshoorn, Saetnan and Lie assert that the existence of gendered relations among artifacts is now “widely accepted” in STS, and argues that these “gendered artifacts can contribute to the maintenance of gendered social relations, especially relations of power.” Akrich and Pasveer have examined such explicitly gendered medical technologies as those involved with childbirth and obstetrics. An STS analysis of gender and workplace technologies, drawing on ANT, discusses how typewriters “came to be feminized,” how clerical work was sold to certain women, and how narratives around the introduction of Automatic Teller Machines illustrate the “continuity of the ‘female-machine’” (Boyer & England 242). While important work, such research does not sufficiently address the creation and maintenance of the categories of male and female, or their gendered associations.

The limitations of ANT for certain studies of technology and gender are apparent in Trevor Pinch’s review of Karen Barad’s book on agential realism. Although acknowledging that Barad’s project is “fascinating, complex, and important” (440), the review focuses almost entirely on historic details and nuances of the history of physics, for the most part failing to engage with the critical ramifications of agential realism from feminist and queer perspectives. In other words, it is a science studies approach focusing on the development of knowledge, not addressing the cultural and philosophical aspects of her approach that offer more nuanced ways of thinking about the combined constitutive processes of social categories, such as gender, and artifacts, such as technologies. Indeed, in her response to Pinch, Barad emphasizes how Pinch’s review overlooks her use of studies of creation and maintenance of social differences: “Precisely where Pinch thinks my account starts to lose its clarity is just at the point where I seriously engage with feminist and queer poststructuralist theories” (448).

Synthesizing Poststructural Gender and Technology Studies: Agential Realism

Agential realism offers an analytic that combines an action-based, constitutive perspective on gender combined with traditions from STS and elsewhere. Developed by feminist science and technology scholar Karen Barad, AR eschews an object-oriented worldview of things for an action-based ontology of becomings. This allows it to address social categories, as well as their constitution, maintenance, and reconfigurations. By reconceiving the cause-and-effect interaction of things as the intra-action of entangled processes, it helps move past hierarchical dualisms.

Agential realism draws from and builds upon several traditions to offer a supple tool for analysis of technological phenomena. Barad calls her philosophy “agential realism” for several reasons. “Agential” grounds her perspective in active agents, drawing on Butler’s performativity theory, which reframed gendered attributes as actions persons perform rather receive passively as social categorizations, and Actor Network Theory in science and technology studies, which reconceived machines and inorganic technologies as possessing agency in terms of force, power, and effects (if not conscious intent). Barad integrates corporeal feminism, science and technology studies, quantum physics, and poststructural theories, such as Foucault’s discursively constituted subjects, Haraway’s cyborg theory, and N. Katherine Hayles’ posthumanism. AR is not a theory of gender per se, but a broad and flexible analytic that can be applied to various ongoing, related processes. It allows one to frame questions in terms of gender’s continual becoming—not determining what gender something is. This foregrounds the perspective that there is no fixed, achieved, or stable thing of “gender,” but, instead, the continual (re)productions of genderings.

Barad earned her doctorate in theoretical particle physics from SUNY Stony Brook and now is Professor of Feminist Studies, Philosophy, and History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz. Her major work is Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Although too lengthy to summarize, her detailed descriptions of laboratory experiments describe cutting-edge scientific observations of how the physical world actually works. Moreover, these claims are not unique to quantum particles. Barad asserts, and recent experiments prove with increasing frequency, that, contrary to popular thought, there is no hard evidence that the rules of the physical universe change at a certain degree of magnitude.

Actions, not Objects

With agential realism, she reconceives the universe as comprised of actions instead of things. “The primary ontological unit is not independent objects with independently determinate boundaries and properties,” Barad writes. “Phenomena are … the basic units of reality” (33). Phenomena are not tidy and discrete, but in various relations. In contrast to separate, discrete objects interacting in cause and effect, Barad offers the notion of intra-action, in which “subjects and objects do not preexist but rather emerge from their intra-action” (2011, 444, emphasis original).

In contrast to the usual “interaction,” which assumes that there are separate individual agencies that precede their interaction, the notion of intra-action recognizes that distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action. . . .  The “distinct” agencies are only distinct in a relational, not an absolute, sense, that is, agencies are only distinct in relation to their mutual entanglement; they don’t exist as individual elements. . . . [Therefore, intra-action] signifies the mutual constitution of entangled agencies [and] . . . the notion of intra-action constitutes a radical working of the traditional notion of causality. (33, emphases original)

Intra-actions are not the first meeting of separate things, in which one thing affects another, they are entanglements that produce recognizably distinct agencies. Diffractions, such as interference patterns between waves of light or sound, are a common example of intra-action. (Fig. 2).

Diffraction pattern between two waves

Fig. 2. Diffraction pattern between two waves.

Public domain. Wikicommons.

Entanglement is a term from quantum physics that refers to a relationship in which a change applied to matter in one place can affect matter across distances, despite having no apparent physical connection. No longer only theoretical, nor relegated solely to subatomic matter, was Einstein referred derogatively to entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.” From the perspective of agential realism’s entanglements, we are not separate things but process and relations that consolidate matter in different ways and relations across space and time. We are entangled phenomena, not separate things interacting. For example, relations and logics of racial difference may play out in social realms and fields not explicitly about race, as Tara McPherson argues in her work on 1960s computer programming. Phenomena are happenings and always-unfolding events. Being in-relation means connectivity. We are all connected: men, women, transgendered, intersexed, genderqueer, masculine, feminine, human, machine, sight, sound, word, meaning, music, discourse, media, keyboard, user. For critical scholarship invested in advancing human values of equality and fairness, a perspective based on universal connection is not merely useful but necessary.

Reconceptualizing Dualisms

Agential Realism reframes false dichotomies and dualisms that often limit studies of culture, communication, gender, science, and technology, such as the direction or degree of causal influence between things separated into mutually exclusive categories (e.g., real/representation, technological/social, objectivity/subjectivity, nature/culture). For example, whereas ANT studies both material and semiotic components in a network, AR unites the two as material-discursive practices, breaking down the nature/culture dualism. Questions and debates of which is more important, and which effects what, and directions of causality, become less significant when material and discourse are viewed as connected, entangled phenomena. For example, debates on whether technology studies should focus more on material culture (infrastructure, design, policy) or discourse (representations, discourses), as in a panel at the 2011 Society for the History of Technology conference, can be surpassed by realizing this is a false dichotomy. Our phenomena of study are intra-acting material-discursive practices.

Breaking down dualisms is particularly important for critical scholars interested in gender because of the longstanding hierarchical valuations placed upon gender and biological sex and associated dualisms, such as nature/culture, human/machine, and mind/body. Masculinity and femininity are not things but constantly changing processes, impacted by the acts of their measurement and evaluation, and always in the process of becoming. There is never a fixed masculinity or femininity but ongoing, iterative processes of masculinization and feminization, which can be multiple and simultaneous. By foregrounding this perspective, AR moves past debates about whether technologies “have” a gender, and, if so, what gender a technology “is,” to focus instead on how the ongoing, ever-changing processes and practices of that technology constantly becoming are involved with ongoing processes of gendering. For example, Pinch and Bjisterveld, in their otherwise astute analysis of new music technologies as “breaching experiments,” write that, “In contrast to the piano, which was gendered feminine at this time, the player piano was depicted as a masculine technology” (543). Such descriptions reduce the complexity of gendering as social phenomena, stabilize its ongoing processes, and reduce particular technologies to having universal attributes. In contrast, agential realism sees categories and attributes—whether quantum spin or gender—as ongoing processes. A category, such as gender, is not about two containers for masculine or feminine things; it is about enactments of exclusion, dynamic processes of continually drawing the very shapes of those circles. It is not gender but gendering. This is particularly useful for advancing past the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality; it is applicable to many others, such as those defining race, organic life and intelligence, or mechanical systems.

Constitution of Subjects

AR’s incorporation of feminist and queer theories make it a supple tool for not only studying social categories, but also their constitution. Barad offers an analytic for, not just describing how female actors are situated within a network and impacted by other actants, but the creation of knowledge about what it means to be female and feminine—and thereby male and masculine. In this article, I will relate not merely how women and men are situated in early analog synthesizer cultures, but how the constitution of what it means to synthesize or become a synthesizer player intra-acts with the continual, ongoing social processes of constituting knowledge of what it means to be masculine or feminine. My focus is on the processes of masculinizing and feminizing within synthesizing, not the locations and activities of men and women.

In his analysis of electronic “glitch” music, Prior argues for supplementing Bourdieu’s field theory with ANT for its ability to address non-human actors, yet maintain a sociological perspective of complex interrelations between activities, industries, and organizations. However, this complexity still neglects two areas that AR foregrounds: Rather than locating stable actors within networks, AR emphasizes the iterative processes by which actors or any kind are continually becoming. AR’s diffractive method also foregrounds issues of difference, whereas work such as Prior’s treats human actors as a general category, not taking into account how practices and networked relations vary according to processes of gendering, racializing, and otherwise measuring different human attributes.

In combining and advancing intellectual traditions, AR offers a preferable choice to the “perverse” (Savage and Holford, 946) “temporary intellectual adjunctions” (Prior, 317) of combining large, developed bodies of theory. AR synthesizes several amenable intellectual strands to offer a unified toolkit and approach, while maintaining a flexible application. Furthermore, with its emphasis on processes of becoming, AR is more adept for examining the processes of social categorizations in emergent technologies and networks, such as those of synthesizing. Indeed, Holford and Savage invoke Foucault, Butler, and Haraway to refute Latour’s concerns about social categories and carve out a position within ANT that “validates the work of critical anti-racist, feminist and class-aware scholars in exploring racial formation, gender-in-the- making, the forging of class, the discursive production of sexuality and so on” (951). However, such a synthesis is exactly what AR already offers. In the case of this article, neither “the synthesizer” nor “technology user” is a complete, distinct, coherent phenomenon before encountering genderings; genderings are one set of phenomena that produce them.

The Becomings of Synthesizing

Having introduced agential realism and suggested its strengths over other traditions in gender and technology studies, for the remainder of this article I will apply it to analysis of historic material-discursive practices of synthesizing and gendering. Through examination of historiographies about synthesizing as well as cultural artifacts produced, I will present an agential realist perspective of understanding that the synthesizer never “is” simply masculine or feminine. Instead, the ongoing, iterative processes of synthesizing becoming synthesizing entangle with processes of social gendering: feminizing keyboarding, masculinizing machines, feminizing emotional expression, masculinizing technical mastery. In an extended analysis of “moogsploitation” record jackets, I will argue that the repetitive nature of this musical fad can be understood as a concern with reproduction, and conclude examining more recent genderings of synthesizing. Through a diffractive analysis of patterns created, and aspects left out of those patterns, agential realism affords the ability to perceive and describe such complexities and seeming contradictions in a coherent way.

An agential realist perspective approaches past events, not as a history, but as episodes in processes of becoming that continue today. As such, it is particularly useful for examinations of “old” technologies, which, as a rich body of scholarship has explored, often assert much contemporary relevance, influence, and use. Furthermore, it resists teleologies and Whig histories by being open to absences and paths not taken, and also refusing to ever see objects in a completed state. Phenomena are always continually becoming. An agential realist perspective foregrounds that origins are not fixed moments, things, or points but multiple processes, resisting heroic narratives of unitary genius-inventors.

The intra-acting phenomena involved in iterations of becoming that precede the moment of interest here include, for example, entanglements among musical instrumentation and electrification, beginning in the early twentieth century and ranging from the Hammond organ to the theremin, famously played by moving one’s hand’s through an invisible electromagnetic field in space. Around mid-century, we also encounter the coming into being of various forms of synthesizing—electronic devices intended to produce sound, yet not to be played live in real time like an instrument, such as Earl Kent’s Electronic Music Box and the RCA/Olson-Belar Synthesizer. Also entangled are the ongoing becomings of robotics and computers. Laudadio’s analysis of early synthesizers in 1950s science fiction literature sees synthesizing as “a potent (and lasting) cultural signifier that underscores the shifting notions of what it means to be and remain human in an increasingly technologized society” (318), ultimately becoming entangled with humanity, as when synthesizing musically speaks on humanity’s behalf, as in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Agential realism is not designed for questions of precisely which device or what person is a legitimate step on the road to synthesizing. Instead, it is a way to see how multiple phenomena participated in each other’s never-ending creation. It emphasizes, not the distinctness of categories or final objects, such as “electronic,” “instrument,” “synthesizer,” “robot,” “human,” or “computer,” but their dynamic intra-actions. Rather than demarcating a stable Venn diagram of overlapping categories, we tune in to active, ongoing, organic processes. It affords a perspective that emphasizes, not merely points of contact or transfer, but ongoing relationships of mutual constitution, such as between synthesizing and gendering.

The most famous early synthesizing devices were certainly those developed by Robert Moog. An agential realist perspective sees him contributing to the material-discursive practices that bring synthesizers into being, or more accurately, the phenomena that comprise synthesizing’s becoming, but also synthesizing’s entanglement in the becoming of Robert Moog. In an excellent example of entanglement related by Darter, Moog paid his way through a PhD in physics from Cornell by building and selling theremins. In the early 1960s, he met composer Herb Deutsch, who used theremins in teaching, and they collaboratively developed “‘little gadgets making music’”—electronic keyboards, and voltage-controlled oscillators, amplifiers, and filters (quoted in Darter 70).

The theremin is usually discussed as a technological predecessor to other electronic instruments. With AR, we can see how material-discursive practices of theremin-ing—building, selling, playing—are entangled in synthesizing becoming synthesizing and Moog becoming Moog: paying for the education that would enable him to become who he would become and leading to creating the synthesizing devices that would bear his name. His own process of becoming continues even after his death, with ongoing Moog revivalism, and an annual electronic music festival and foundation in Asheville, North Carolina, both bearing his name.

The entangled processes of Moog and Deutsch continually becoming, respectively, an inventor-merchant and a composer, developed the essential components that, as other musicians began experimenting with them, would become the phenomena of playing and listening to what was christened a “synthesizer” in 1967. Later, Moog specified that:

Every instrument sold today as a synthesizer should have at least one audio oscillator to produce pitched sound, one filter to shape the overall loudness, and at least two control devices—one would be a keyboard, and the other an envelope generator to shape the overall contour. (Darter 72)

In saying this, the perhaps preeminent authority on early synthesizing asserts what a synthesizer is.

Keyboarding and Gendering

A key episode in the material-discursive practices of early synthesizing, and its gendering, involved a debate around whether to give them keyboards. Although today most synthesizing devices (or similar computing applications) involve keyboarding or an equivalent, and electric organs have had keyboards for nearly a century. Yet, keyboarding was not an always-stable or unbroken attribute of synthesizing. It could and still can be practiced using with and without keyboarding. Indeed, while Moog was developing his early synthesizers, of which keyboards were a defining component, prominent and influential musicians and inventors on the West Coast were designing synthesizers without keyboards. Whereas Moog and competitor ARP developed synthesizers as commercial products, other designers and musicians, such as Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnik, and Don Buchla, were focused on electronic music as artistic expression. Designing instruments for experimental and avant-garde musicians, Buchla’s most famous invention is the Buchla Music Box Series 100 or “Buchla box.” Its design began before Moog, but the prototype was not finished until 1965, a year after Moog’s first prototype. Indeed, given that the term “synthesizer” has come to mean colloquially electronic instruments with keyboards, Buchla has at times eschewed the term in favor of “electronic music instruments” (Darter 83).

Practices of inventing and composing were also entangled. Buchla, in the mid-1960s, explored not only electronic production of sounds but also the arranging of said sounds into predetermined orders: processes that would become known as sequencing. Rather than keyboarding, playing the Buchla box involved touching pressure-sensitive pads for producing three different voltages, according to pressure applied. Buchla has been misrepresented as being anti-keyboard. He merely saw keyboards as limiting possibilities to “making polyphonic music based on a twelve-tone chromatic scale” (Pinch and Trocco 43). While keyboards offered accessibility and mass appeal due to their musical familiarity and tradition, they also limited creativity to those traditions: Buchla’s designers intentionally encouraged musicians to experiment. As an avant-garde artist, Buchla sold primarily to other experimental composers.

            The “to key or not to key?” debate is recognized as a major moment in the development of synthesizers (Pinch and Trocco 58).6 Initially, even Moog was not in favor of them. He developed alternate input methods, such as the ribbon or linear controller, but ultimately decided in favor of the keyboard for its simplicity and commercial appeal. Such would be the course of the industry.

AR’s diffractive methodology examines patterns of difference, such as synthesizer input designs. It also attunes analysis to what gets left out, the gaps in the patterns. Its emphasis on dynamic phenomena prioritizes change and transformation, helping to signal paths ultimately not taken—which, in turn, offer insights into process of technological becoming going on today. The dominance of the keyboard perhaps limited certain processes of creative exploration and composition. What might electronic music be becoming today had the phenomenon of keyboarding not dominated synthesizing? As Rosenberger notes, “A piano-informed abstract relational strategy may have disinclined early Moog users from exploring possibilities for sound-making that are special to electronic instrumentation” (3.1 From piano to typewriter, final ¶). Moreover, “This is a contributing factor to today’s status of electronic keyboards as primarily an instrument-mimicking tool, rather than a source of entirely new sounds” (4. Implications…, •4).

What different types of electronic sounding, listening, and musicking might cultures produce and share if the material-discursive input practice involved moving arms in space, breathing, plugging in cables, vocalizing, interrupting light beams, tapping feet, or some unimagined process? What different voices might be drawn to music; how might the subjectivities and practices of musicking become different? And, if keyboarding had not dominated synthesizing, is there a possibility that it might not have also so thoroughly dominated electronic laboring, as the dominant practice for inputting, from calculating and typewriting through computing and telephoning? Indeed, touchscreening is not a modern marvel born fully formed from the head of Steve Jobs, but was actually a computer inputting process that came into being before mousing and keyboarding.7 Familiarity with piano keyboarding supported the diffusion of typewriter keyboarding. What practices of computer inputting might we perform today if computer engineers and designers in the 1970s and 1980s had been watching concerts and videos of their musical idols synthesizing without keyboards?

Gendering in the Material-discursive Practices of Early Synthesizing

AR accommodates an analysis of technology and gender by framing the issues as, How did keyboarding draw on past entanglements and intra-actions with material-discursive practices of gendering? Keyboards are neither exclusively masculine nor feminine. Men and women both use them. But they are involved in complex and at times contradictory ways with gender.

AR is an analytic of relations, not creation in the sense of steps to an endpoint. It is not for articulating the steps in a finite process; it is for perceiving dynamic connections—entanglements—in which different phenomena involve and influence one another.

It is not merely that these actors were connected within a network, in an “endless chain of associations,” a reductive analysis for which as ANT has been criticized. AR allows us to conceptualize points of contact as diffraction waves in each’s ongoing evolution. Rather than a mapping of connections, AR allows for focusing on a specific throughline in focusing an inquiry. We are all connected and within the same universal system, but through agential cuts we define the practical limits of our inquiries, if not the actual limits of the phenomena under analysis. Here, my agential cut focuses on early synthesizing and gendering in the US. Gender is not imprinted on keyboards; gendering informs what keyboarding is and will be. Likewise, keyboarding informs what gendering is and will be.

Moog historians Pinch and Trocco write, “Here was a new instrument, the synthesizer, one of the few new instruments ever to come along, and people seemed obliged to perceive it in terms of instruments with which they were familiar, the piano and guitar. Escape from these shadows would be difficult” (64). Perhaps the most familiar component of piano-playing is keyboarding, and keyboarding has rich entanglements with feminizing.8 Although, certainly, venerated piano composers and performers have been predominantly men, by the nineteenth century, the ubiquitous and unparalleled domestic musical instrument was the piano. This entangled the playing of pianos and similar keyboarded instruments with the private sphere, typically a component of feminizing. In such amateur contexts, it was almost exclusively females that played pianos. More broadly, in his history of the body and sonic representations, Richard Leppert argues that “in Europe, at least since the eighteenth century, music and femininity were viewed interchangeably” (155).

Keyboarding was a ubiquitous performance of feminine grace and charm, and conceiving of it as a material-discursive practice allows scholars to more readily appreciate and equally engage with the variety of phenomena involved, such as construction, sales, visual art, parenting, and recording and communicating technologies. Leppert reads the design and decoration of material piano and harpsichord cases, whose discursive imagery of warfare, bloodsport, and dead or near-dead women rigidly and insistently perform an “extra-musical function within the home as the visual-sonoric simulacrum of family, wife, and mother” (119). As a status symbol of conspicuous consumption, the material instruments themselves intra-acted with processes of consumerism, another feminizing process. And yet, among musicking phenomena, it is the texts of mass-produced sheet music and player-piano rolls that bring mass consumer culture into being. Critiquing mass consumer culture has included many explicit and implicit feminizations, associating it with inauthenticity, homogeneity, degeneracy, decay, social enervation and dumbing-down, infantile pleasure-seeking, and soporific distraction. In particular, these processes have been entangled with mechanical reproducing: visual prints of art but also and especially popular and classical music reproduced and spread through cylinders, phonographs, radio, movies, and other mass-media technologies. Furthermore, even non-musical keyboarding has been associated with machines used in laboring dominated by women, such as typewriters and dictation machines used by secretaries and stenographers, cash registers used by cashiers, and computers used in data entry.9 Kittler argues that familiarity with piano keyboards made a certain class of women more adept practitioners of typewriters and keyboarded clerical devices, making them more valued employees and, by entering these jobs, feminizing the formerly masculine secretarial jobs.

AR’s focus on processes of becoming clarifies the significance of technological genderings. They entangle with the user’s own processes of becoming. The genderings of musical instruments intra-act with the genderings of their performers. As one 16th century pamphleteer warned, music had the power to “‘wommanisheth the minde’” (quoted in Leppert 88). In line with AR, it is not that music is feminine, but that it feminizes or “wommanisheth.” “To key or not to key?” then, is a question rife with gendering for early synthesizing. Evidence of this can be found in historiographies and artifacts.

Producing Historiographies and Discourse

Historiographies of synthesizing typically position the issue largely in functional terms: keyboarding’s mass appeal and accessibility versus the greater functionality of not keyboarding.10 Such rational conceptualizations, however, are already highly masculinized. Indeed, as Rodgers argues, the language and representations of audio technologies in the history of synthesizing, although presumed to be neutral, actually privilege Western, white, masculine subjectivities. The general lack of discussing keyboarding’s entanglements with feminization is, I argue, indicative of the gendered anxieties provoked, particularly given the rich opportunities available to discuss synthesizing and gendering. The relative lack of addressing the richly feminized history and associations of keyboards, especially in writings by keyboardists and enthusiasts, suggests perhaps anxieties over their own genderings. Whereas keyboarding is a material practice, AR connects it with these discourses, so one does not have to separate or hierarchize them. All are material-discursive practices open to analysis in the entanglements of keyboarding and gendering.  

Electronic music, particularly its experimental branches, included significant female composers and performers, such as Moog pioneer Ruth White, performer and software developer Laurie Spiegel, and Suzanne Ciani, who added sound effects to platinum-selling records, was the first solo-female composer of a major Hollywood film score, and was nominated for five Grammy awards. Indeed, Hutton argues that Daphne Oram, electronic music composer and founder of the BBC Radio Workshop, expressed her dissatisfaction with early electronic music from a gendered perspective: “In
music composition, it is possible that her frustration was with a prevalent masculinist approach to electronic music, a representation of sound according to principles of logical patterns, an overstated need for compositional rules, control of harmonics, and cyclical rhythmic or motivic phrases within a defined structure” (52). Women keyboarding may have been arguably subject to even greater sexism for the doubled feminization of a woman playing an already-feminizing device. For example, an otherwise glowing review of Sally Oldfield’s fourth album begins patronizingly: “I know nothing of Sally Oldfield except that she is English and the sister of Mike Oldfield, whose song ‘Tubular Bells’ was popular in the early 1970s, and that, like her brother, she composes on the Moog synthesizer” (Collins 13). However, these and other women in the history of electronic music have been largely neglected until recent correctives.11

Gendering as a process entangles very literally with the most famous Moog album, Switched-on Bach. Released in 1968, this groundbreaking collection of synthesized classical music won three Grammy awards, was one of the first classical albums to sell 500,000 copies, climbed to the Top 10 of Billboard’s pop music charts and stayed in the Top 200 for over a year. Igniting the “moogsploitation” fad, Switched-on Bach was recorded by Walter Carlos, arguably still the most famous musician associated with analog synthesizing. Two years before the release of the album, Carlos had begun hormone treatments and began living as a woman. She underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1972, and is now known as Wendy Carlos. She is private about the topic, having sued the electronic musician Momus (aka Nick Currie) in 1998 for writing a humorous homage, “Walter Carlos.” The suit was settled out of court for $30,000 and deletion of the song from future CDs. Significantly, Carlos is still the most famous woman in early synthesizing, featured in Keyboard magazine’s book Synth Gods (Rideout). With no mention of goddesses, Carlos is included with 19 men, and not one woman.

The seemingly contradictory complexities of gendering resist simple classification, something AR’s action-oriented worldview accommodate readily, rather than fixed things of gender categories. For example, Pinch and Bjisterveld first invoke the feminine history of the keyboard, yet then position the keyboarded Moog as masculine in the Moog/Buchla debate, invoking the dualism of machine/musical instrument, with associated gendering. A studio musician who played both devices “perceptively captured the differences” when he described the Buchla as “‘wild and wonderful’,” whereas the Moog was “‘conservative, rigorous and well-controlled. . . . Everything under exact control.’” With Buchla, “each individual instrument had its own characteristics, idiosyncrasies, and ways of responding to human senses and touch” (550). The Buchla here is feminizing with its response to touch and capricious nature, in contrast to the masculinizing control of the Moog. This seems in contrast to their earlier invocation of keyboarding as feminine. However, AR opens conceptual space for complexity and resolving seeming contradictions by reframing categories and dualisms as processes. As Barad writes in response to Pinch, “To begin analysis with the nature/culture dichotomy [or human/machine, male/female, etc.] already in place is to begin too late” (449).

 In their history of Moog synthesizing, Pinch and Trocco do explicitly tackle gendering, but it is not in regard to keyboarded or unkeyboarded synthesizing. Their gendering discourse appears when they turn to a different input technology, the ribbon controller. Developed by Moog, this thin, two-foot-long rectangle was played in a manner similar to how one runs one’s fingers up and down a violin string. Pinch and Trocco attack the gendered dimensions of this technology, derogatively describing its resemblance to a guitar and its use in “pomp rock regalia” by prog-rock acts such as Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Keith Emerson is described as

lifting his ribbon controller upward from his groin as the music swells and climaxes[,]. … running around with a big electronic phallus. … By, in effect, turning the ribbon controller into a guitar, Emerson and his audience (mainly made up of young men) were reproducing all the cultural and gender symbolism that the guitar as “technophallus” in rock music evokes. (63)

Putting aside questions of degree and excessiveness, if guitaring is more masculinizing than keyboarding, then keyboarding is, by definition, more feminizing than guitaring. This connects the gendered distaste expressed toward the ribbon controller and the reserved, rationalizations generally used in the key-or-not-to-key debate: Gendered anxiety can be expressed towards the hypermasculinity of ribbon controlling, but the relative femininity of keyboarding cannot be embraced and must be instead justified with compensatory rational, masculine terms.

What, then, of the Buchla box? Again, AR accommodates an analysis of, not what gender the Buchla box was, but that multiple and varied, even contradictory, processes of gendering were at play in its development. Its very name incorporates a slang term for the female genital. However, in contrast to the commercial, mass appeal of keyboarding, its emphasis on creative expression and possibility engaged masculinizing traditions of genius, individualism, and self-expression. And yet, particularly in the Cold War era when the United States was economically booming and culturally dominant, there was also something feminizing about artsy-fartsy, West Coast hippies, in contrast to Moog’s masculinizing spheres of economy, commerce, and mass production. Indeed, the more feminizing interests of Buchla and his circle were often blamed as the cause of his commercial failure and inability to dominate the ultimate conception of synthesizing. Even their respective locales or geo-spatial becomings intra-acted with genderings: Buchla was associated with the Tape Music Center in San Francisco. By the late 1960s, this West Coast city was widely recognized as an epicenter of feminized youth- and counter-cultures and was on its way to becoming synonymous with homosexuality. In contrast, the R.A. Moog Company was headquartered in the northeastern industrial village of Trumansburg, NY.

Performing, Recording & Representing Synthesizing

Media artifacts also evidence processes of masculinizing keyboarding.

controller="true" loop="false" plugsinpage="">

Fig. 3, 1973 Schaeffer beer commercial
with Edd Kalehoff

A 1973 Schaeffer beer commercial (Fig. 3) features Edd Kalehoff jamming at his Moog to perform the beer’s jingle. Sensuous, technophillic pans and close-ups show his fingers controlling keyboards, knobs, and buttons, while lights flash. He vigorously pours a foamy beer and bursts into song. His moustache, casual clothing, and mug of beer are masculinizing, and counteract feminizations of keyboarding. The concert-like lighting and rock-documentary-style edits and angles masculinize synthesizing as more of a traditional rock and roll star (typically, a guitarist) than a cocktail-sipping Cole Porter. Japanese musician Tomita described embarrassment at his failure to live up to expectations of rock-star live performance in an early tour of his Moog version of Debussy (cited in Pinch and Bjisterveld 553). Indeed Pinch and Bjisterveld state that, “It is in the area of performance that the synthesizer is often seen as lacking the qualities necessary to produce proper musical art” (557). Although no longer directly addressing gender in their article, an AR approach to gendering can accommodate a throughline of the complexities of gendering in these phenomena. Keyboards carry feminine associations, which they bring to the Moog. However, the Moog also has masculine attributes of regimentation and control, in contrast to the sensitive, idiosyncratic expressiveness of the more feminine Buchla. And yet, although emotional and creative expressions may be typically seen as feminizing, at a certain level of proficiency it becomes masculinizing in the sense of heroic, individualist genius and virtuosity. To play piano is feminizing, but to be Beethoven—or Phillip Glass—is masculinizing. Indeed, technical mastery, it can be argued, was a factor in the flamboyant pianist Liberace being able to maintain his fans’ suspension of disbelief regarding his blatantly effeminate homosexuality.

More complicated, negotiating processes of gendering can be found in Moog music. For example, Richard Hayman’s 1969 album Genuine Electric Latin Love Machine included a highly stylized cover of the tropicalia classic, “The Girl from Ipanema" (Fig. 4).

The recording begins with a woman’s high heels clicking on a hard surface, the echo suggesting an open, unprotected space, such as a street or alley. This emulates a longstanding suspense device in cinematic thrillers, and soon two lascivious wolf whistles accost the woman. These and subsequent acoustic phenomena masculinize and heterosexualize the listener. The lyrics describe unrequited longing for a beautiful woman, sighing sadly “She doesn’t see me.” However, Hayman’s vocalist performs in a strange pitch that could easily be the voice of an adolescent male or an adult woman. Ultimately, given the lyrical perspective of the song, its masculinized composer, and its inclusion on an album by a masculinized artist, I argue that the ambiguously gendered vocal provides less of a destabilization of masculinity than a sort of universal heterosexualization that incorporates feminized listeners, male or female, gay or straight, into the material-discursive practices of ogling femininity.

Fig. 4, “Girl from Ipanema,”
Richard Hayman, Genuine Electric
Latin Love Machine.

Other elements further this masculinization and heterosexualization. One lyric is typically sung as, “Each guy she passes goes, ‘Ahhhh!” In Hayman’s version, however, maniacal, masculinized laughter replaces the enraptured sigh. Another crazed, masculinized vocal effect, an exaggerated sigh, takes place simultaneously with the vocal line “When she passes, I sigh, but she doesn’t see,” overpowering it. At the climax of the song, the rhythmic, bossa nova music stops, and the high-heel clicks resume. A guttural, masculinized voice growls hungrily, “Hey, baby!” followed by a sudden, dissonant ejaculation of electronic noise. Aurally evoking a typically masculine perception of a sex act, this also transforms the song from light-hearted voyeurism, as in the Top 10 hit from two years prior, “Music to Watch Girls By,” into something more ominous. The masculinized listener-spectator becomes what seems to be a threat, entangling with gendered histories of sexual violence.

Moogsploitation: Gendering and Reproduction

Having presented evidence that gendering was a process entangled with the material-discursive practices of the early days of synthesizers development, I turn now to a specific cultural moment, the “moogsploitation” fad, to argue that a key concern of these genderings was reproduction: not what synthesizers are or were becoming, but how they intra-acted with their users’ and listeners’ becomings. AR will continue to show genderings as complex, ongoing processes rather than terminal categories. Furthermore, its emphasis on ongoing becomings will help reveal the repetition in moogsploitation as, not redundancy, but iterations of becoming.

From approximately 1968 to 1971, record companies in the US released scores of albums focusing on the Moog synthesizer. The exact number is hard to determine, but, for this project, I examined the covers of 108 long-playing album covers and listened to approximately 50 albums. Capitalizing on the unexpected success of Switched-On Bach, the original fad occurred during a period that included the protests at the Democratic National Convention, the Stonewall riots, a man on the moon, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, second-wave feminism, and other countercultural uprisings. Many social identities and practices were in tumultuous phases of (re)becoming: national, technological, generational, religious, racial, sexual, and gendered subjectivities. Entangled with these constitutive phenomena came what writer, musician, and vintage synthesizer collector Steven Zeeland calls “moogsploitation.” While some albums consisted of original compositions, such as Dick Hyman’s The Eclectics of Moog and Hugo Montenegro’s Moog Power, the majority of this trend involved transformation of familiar songs and genres into new electronic sounds, such as Big Band Moog, Chopin à la Moog, Country Moog, Moog Indigo, Moog España, Moog Plays the Beatles, and Everything You Always Wanted to Hear on the Moog. This fad, although brief, was a significant phenomenon in electronic music’s commercialization and consumption, two components of synthesizing often neglected in favor of technological invention and innovation.

Laudadio considers this the “watershed moment” (317) in the synthesizer’s assimilation and humanization. I would add that, if synthesizers were now familiar and humanized, questions arose of more specific human attributions, and the jacket covers of moogsploitation LPs evidence intra-actions with gendering. Dominant themes in imagery suggest masculinizing and heterosexualizing consumers, and reassuring anxieties around feminization from keyboarding’s proficiency, performance, or consumption (Figs. 5-7, all collection of author.).

Fig. 5, Electric Love

Fig. 5. Electric Love.

In this album cover from the Electronic Concept Orchestra,
electricity courses across breasts
of an enraptured topless woman.

Fig. 6, In the Moog

Fig. 6. In the Moog, The Mocha Beans.

In this album cover, a bikini-clad beauty kneels
poolside, arching up her buttocks.

Fig. 7, The Sounds of Love

Fig. 7. The Sounds of Love …
A to Zzzz, Seriously Sinthesized.

As in Moog Rock, Les Baxter,
and Moog and Piano,
Shorty Baldan and Jimmy Rusca,
heterosexual couples
kiss and embrace.

The synthesizer itself is, in turn, masculinized as well, becoming something of a wingman, a masculinizing, heterosexualizing buddy who helps you sexually hookup (Figs. 8 and 9).

Fig. 8. Open Circuit, Claude Dejean & Synthesizer

Fig. 8. Open Circuit, Claude Dejean & Synthesizer.
Note that “Synthesizer” shares equal credit with human.

Fig. 9, The Happy Moog, Perrey and Breuer.

Fig. 9. The Happy Moog,
Humans not credited on cover, but instead
the Electronic Super-Wonder of the World!”

Similar “starring” role of synthesizer on
Moog Plays ABBA;
Moog Plays Switched-on Bacharach,
and Moog Plays The Beatles.

Repetition is significant in moogsploitation’s genderings. In much media theory, repetition has been seen as devaluing and deadening, unoriginal commodification that numbs or sedates audiences. Agential realism, however, offers a position from which to reconceptualize repetitions as part of the ongoing, iterative process of becoming. Such a perspective is useful for appreciating the ways in which repetition is central to moogsploitation, across several dimensions. Perceiving this emphasis on repetition suggests that a central issue is more accurately reproduction: How will the genderings of this emergent sonic technology be reproduced in the genderings of users, performers, listeners, and practices?

Multiple types of repetition occurred in moogsploitation. One, new electronic music occurred largely through phonograph recordings, not live performances. Although Moog synthesizing did occur live, it was more typically a studio phenomenon (unlike playing the theremin). Moogsploitation was almost exclusively limited to recordings: mass-produced reproductions purchased and consumed repeatedly in private, group, or broadcast situations.

Covering introduced another dimension of repetition. Whereas the West Coast wing of early U.S. electronic music focused on original, avant-garde compositions, moogsploitation relied heavily on reworking familiar material from various genres of music. Reproducing familiar compositions through covering songs and ‘moogifying’ genres through emulation could be considered a defining aspect of moogsploitation. While the actual recordings might have been new, their appeal was linked to reproducing the familiar. As in jazz, cover versions or interpretations of standards inevitably point beyond themselves to other musicians, performers, and recordings. The stilted bleeps of Moog Machine’s Feelin’ Groovy or Claude Denjean’s Bridge Over Troubled Water shriek contrast to the smooth sounds of their originals. The cover and the original dynamically intra-act and change each other’s ongoing processes of becoming: Appreciation of synthesized songs from the musical Hair, a Catholic mass, or a Jewish Shabbat is largely dependent on familiarity with the original. And yet, hearing the Moog reproduction of “Rhapsody in Blue” also changes the listener’s processes of hearing the Gershwin composition again.

Additionally, moogsploitation involved reproducing the various new sounds a Moog could create.12 It was an opportunity to present, again and again, aural encounters that were, at the time, shockingly new. A dominant style in moogsploitation was for all or several verses and choruses to be, not vocalized, but produced by a dominant synthesizer. This reinforced the processes of stardom and musicianship being reproduced in the synthesizer itself, entangling with larger ongoing process of mechanizing and humanizing. Similarly, the listener, who typically is meant to identify with a singer, experiences processes of sonic identification that intra-act with these posthuman processes of entangled mechanic-human subjectivities. New soundings, new listening experiences were produced, but, through intra-acting with their reproduced recordings, new listeners, performers, and technology users are also continually (re)produced.

An agential realist perspective conceives repetition as, not a unique type of aesthetic quality or mechanical process, but a normal part of all processes in the universe. When the world is seen as iterative processes of becoming, repetition can be more usefully understood here as reproduction, of becoming users—a significant issue within studies of culture and technology, as I and others have argued elsewhere.

Ongoing Mooging, Synthesizing, and Gendering

An agential realist perspective also reminds us that these processes never end. In terms of technology studies, this helps advance past the problematic dualism of old/new media. Two songs from decades after moogsploitation evidence distinct entanglements with synthesizing and gendering processes, making explicit efforts as masculinization. “Synthesizer Man” by Invisible Zoo was released in 1982, during a flood of synthpop music into popular culture. Over heaving drum machine beats and aggressive synthesizer squelches, the first verse describes feminizing activities of a boy who disliked sports, fighting or “smoking cigarettes with other little boys.” However, subsequent verses describe how his prowess at the synthesizer make him irresistibly attractive to women, masculinizing him and, by association, synthesizing. In 2000, “Music for Girls” was the lead track on a synthpop album by Baxendale. The male singer describes being chastised in previous years for listening to electronic dance music, first by his brother and then by “boys at the bar.” Yet, as suggested by the album’s title, You Will Have Your Revenge, dance music later becomes the connection by which he meets his female love.

These two songs can be seen as material-discursive practices of masculinizing synthesizing and, likewise, entangling practices of synthesizing with other masculinizing practices, such as heterosexual romance. These are not moments when synthesizers or keyboards “are” masculine. AR also allows to see feminizations as, not contradictory counter-evidence of what gender synthesizers “are,” but how synthesizing continues to be involved with processes of gendering—whether masculinizing or feminizing. For example, electro-funk band Chromeo’s 2007 CD covers featured keyboards with shapely human female legs, wearing black stiletto heels, and standing, kneeling, and demurely crossing at the ankle. Here, the material-discursive practices of designing these CD covers feminize keyboards, but in such a way that does not feminize their player. Instead, their mastery of them suggests instead masculinization of the player through mastery of the feminized keyboard. Such complex, entangled relations can be appreciated more readily through AR, rather than trying to argue for what gender(s) the keyboards and keyboardists are, do, or perform. It shows us the complex, contradictory, intertwined processes of gendering—a more nuanced perspective that better suits the enormous lived complexity of gender as a social reality.

Elsewhere, the hypermasculinity of the ribbon controller is mocked via its 1980s counterpart, the guitar-synth hybrid “keytar,” appearing as a gag in the television sitcoms Flight of the Conchords and Community.

Such mocking can be seen as a masculinizing of keyboard synthesizing through postmodern tropes of ironic losers and geeks (Bell; Benwell; Messner & de Oca). Rather than accruing a confusing typology of masculinities, AR accommodates this easily.


In this article I have attempted to demonstrate the utility of agential realism through a case study in the gendering of a new technology: analog synthesizers. Agential realism offers supple conceptual tools and vocabulary for describing and emphasizing how social processes, such as the development of new technologies and genderings, are entangled, ongoing, and material as well as discursive. It also helps theorize significant concerns at play, as with reproduction in the case of moogsploitation. This approach not only describes phenomena more accurately, it also helps prevent reductive analyses or interpretations of gender studies and technology, bypassing dead-ends such as “What gender is a synthesizer?” or even “What is a synthesizer?” It supports worldviews of dynamic process and connection, rather than interactions between static objects and things, which offer a perspective highly amenable to humanistic and critical scholars of technology.


  • 1. E.g., see Keller; Wajcman; Silverberg.
  • 2. For example, the impacts of technological change on women’s employment in H.I. Hartman, R.E. Kraut, and L.A. Tilly. “Historical Patterns of Technological Change.” Computer Chips and Paper Clips: Technology and Women's Employment, Volume I. Ed. by Richard Kahn. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1986, 24-61. Female participation in video game culture in Cassell, Justine & Henry Jenkins, (Eds.). From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998. Justifying women’s repair work in Bix, Amy. “Creating ‘Chicks Who Fix’: Women, Tool Knowledge, and Home Repair, 1920-2007. 2009. WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 37: 1 & 2 (Spring/Summer 2009), and gendered rhetoric in the Manhattan Project in Easlea, Brian. Fathering the Unthinkable: Masculinity, Scientists, and the Nuclear Arms Race. London: Pluto Press Limited, 1983.
  • 3. E.g., Oldenziel, Ruth. ‪Making Technology Masculine‬: ‪Men, Women, and Modern Machines in America, 1870-1945.‬ Amsterdam, Netherlands. 1999‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬; Rodino-Colocino, Michelle. “Selling Women on PDAs from ‘Simply Palm’ to ‘Audrey’: How Moore’s Law Met Parkinson’s Law in the Kitchen.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 23(5): 375-390. 2006. Print.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  • 4. E.g., de Lauretis, Teresa. Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1987; Balsamo, Anne. Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women. Durham, NC: Duke University, 1996.
  • 5. Let me be clear, such limitations are not exclusive to ANT, but I focus on ANT here because it is one of the most common approaches to analyzing technological systems.
  • 6. See also Pinch and Bjisterveld, Rosenberger.
  • 7. All of these input methods actually exist, as does the technology of the Musical Instrument Digital Interface protocol (MIDI), which allows real-time communication between musical instruments and related devices such that a variety of input controllers can be connected to a variety of different instruments. The fact that, despite these options, keyboarding still not only dominates but defines synthesizing underscores my point.
  • 8. See Leppert, Pinch and Bjisterveld, also Jody Berland, “The Musicking Machine.” Residual Media. Ed. by Charles Acland, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007, 303-328. With male plugs and female receptors, analog synthesizing involved gendering in other ways than input devices.
  • 9. See Hartman et. al, also Kathleen McConnell, “The Profound Sound of Ernest Hemingway’s Typist: Gendered Typewriting as a Solution to the Problems of Communication.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4. (December 2008), 325-343.
  • 10. See Pinch and Trocco, Darter, Zeeland, also Apple Computing, “A Brief History of the Synthesizer” (n.d.); Douglas Keislar, “History and Principles of Microtonal Keyboard Design,” Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics: Stanford University, 1988; Haken Lippold, Ed Tellman and Patrick Wolfe, “An Indiscrete Music Keyboard,”
 Computer Music Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring, 1998), 30-48; and Marius Wojton, “Synthesizers and Samplers: The Development History Part II.” ECP Studio Cosmic Sound Factory, 2007-2008.
  • 11. This is the focus of Tara Rodgers’ Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound. Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. See also Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, Jo Hutton, and Christine Ammer’s Unsung: A History of Women in American Music, 2nd edition. New York: Amadeus Press, 2003, 236-237; and Andra McCartney’s 1997 Creating Worlds for my Music to Exist, Master’s thesis, graduate programme in music York University, North York, Ontario, Canada.
  • 12. A significant problem in studying historic sound is the lack of access to sounds in their original contexts and subjectivities. Pinch and Bjisterveld describe that “The synthesizer didn’t just sound like an acoustic or electric bass; with its fat, resonant, squelchy sound it sounded better” (552). One can trust, given their authority on such subjects, that this descriptive language accurately paraphrases the many musicians interviewed about their experiences at the time. And yet, a description of a sound through the lens of memory is different than when first experience. It is colored by the subsequent decades of experience. Moreover, writing about music is notoriously difficult. What does a “fat” sound mean? What did it mean in 1970? What does it mean today? Was it fat in comparison to an electric bass or an acoustic piano or later digital synthesizers? And it is also clearly gendered, as “fat”—especially as a compliment—is certainly distributed and experienced differently among men and women. Even when quoting musicians—Sun Ra describes the Minimoog as “‘total inharmonic distortion … out of this world sounds … fabulous” (555)—we face challenges. “Inharmonic” offers compositional specificity, but we can only guess at the feel of the sounds produced. “Distortion” suggests the familiar twisted into something strange and often unpleasant, “out of this world” suggests the completely unfamiliar, and “fabulous” suggests something quite pleasing. Moreover, these seemingly contradictory terms are all still comparatives: Distortion of what? In what way? Out of what world? Fabulous, compared to what? Fatter than what? To what degree? Even when looking at contemporaneous historical language, such as composer Daphne Oram describing electronic music in 1960 as much “‘blips, bloops and bathroom noises’” (quoted in Hutton, 2003, 52), we are left with imprecision and lack of clarity. There are innumerable kinds of blips, bloops, and bathroom noises in the world—to which does she refer?

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D. Travers Scott is Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies department of Clemson University. His book manuscript, Killer Apps and Sick Users: Pathological Technoculture in New and Old Media, is currently under review.
The author thanks Aaron Sidney Wright, Steven Zeeland, anonymous reviewers, and the staff of Technoculture.

© 2013 D. Travers Scott, used by permission

Technoculture Volume 3 (2013)