Sounding the Arcane: Contemporary Music, Gender and Reproduction

Thompson, Marie (2020). Sounding the Arcane: Contemporary Music, Gender and Reproduction. Contemporary Music Review, 39(2) pp. 273–292.



Reproduction is a central but largely unquestioned concept in sound and music studies, where it is typically used to refer to the capture, mediation, repetition, and distribution of sound via practices and processes of recording. However, reproduction has a variety of other meanings and connotations. In this article, I use reproduction as a critical apparatus through which to address contemporary music, its gendered formations, and its connection to contemporary social life. Contemporary music’s relationship with reproduction is contradictory, insofar as the disavowal of reproduction and reproducibility, and an ideological attachment to the ‘now’ and the ‘new’ have been central to its (re)production as a discursive formation. Yet reproduction is also central to contemporary music as a material practice. Making reference to marxist feminist theories of social reproduction, I consider the relationship between contemporary music as a mode of artistic production and the ‘arcane’ of reproductive labour. I propose that Áine O’Dwyer’s Music for Church Cleaners functions as a sonic analogue for this relationship. I then consider contemporary music’s implication in reproductive crisis, as exemplified by The Industry’s experimental opera Hopscotch. The sonic disruption of the opera by anti-gentrification protesters in the Boyle Heights neighbourhood of Los Angeles serves to amplify contemporary music’s relation to reproductive crisis and the systemic functionalisation of artistic autonomy. In using social reproduction as a framework through which to both analyse music’s formal attributes and account for contemporary music’s changing organisation, circulation and social effects, I aim to provide an alternative theorization of contemporary music, gender, capitalism and social inequality.

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