Yun Emily Wang
Listening Incommensurably: Sounding “out” and Queer Taiwanese Toronto’s Multiple Sexual Modernities
February 21, 2023 (Tuesday) — 5:15 pm to 7:00 pm
Penn Music Building
201 S. 34th Street, Room 101
This paper draws on fieldwork from 2013 to 2018 (the pivotal years during which Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalized same-sex marriage) and traces how a group of queer Taiwanese immigrants listen to and for multiple incommensurable sexual modernities in Toronto. I analyze the roles of sound and listening in three ethnographic moments: 1) against the early debates and imaginations of queer equality, in their Toronto home, my interlocutors listened to and danced with a campy EDM remix of a Presbyterian anti-gay sermon from Taiwan, which had gone viral, and 2) vocally performed sexual deviance throughout their regular Mandopop karaoke nights. I juxtapose the sense of unruly excitement in these early days with 3) their sonorous participation in the 2017 Toronto Pride Parade, in response to Taiwan’s Supreme Court Ruling, with a make-shift “party mobile” drowning out the other queer Asian activist groups. Through the lens of sound, I show how each of these moments perform a different socio-politically situated queerness. Together, the incommensurable and multiple sexual modernities audible to my interlocutors reveal how Western queer politics have become a kind of imperialism in itself, while underscoring that failures and complicity might just be inevitable sometimes. Ultimately, I show how fraught the popular political slogan “sounding out”— so often deployed as a call to increase minority representation— can be. In its stead, I suggest “listening incommensurably” as the more accurate sound metaphor for intersectional minoritarian existence.
Yun Emily Wang is Assistant Professor of Music at Duke University, where she also holds a secondary appointment in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. Working at the nexus of sound studies, migration and transnationalism, and queer of color critique, Emily is broadly interested in how the politics of difference orient people’s experience of sound, and how, in turn, ideologies of sound structure race, gender, and sexuality. Emily’s current book project, Mishearing Home: A Queer Poetics of Sound from Sinophone Toronto, is an ethnography of everyday sounding and listening practices among Chinese-speaking immigrants interfacing the cunning of Canadian multiculturalism. Emily’s work has been recognized by multiple prizes at the Society for Ethnomusicology and the Society for Queer Asian Studies. Her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Toronto was supported by grants from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council and the Government of Ontario, among others. She was previously a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Music at Columbia University
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This lecture is part of the 2022-23 Penn Music Colloquium Series. The Department of Music's main Colloquium Series showcases new research by leading scholars in music and sound studies and composers both in the United States and internationally. All Music Colloquia will take place in Room 101 of the Lerner Center on Tuesdays at 5:15 PM.