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Andrew Wenaus

Andrew Wenaus received his PhD in English at University of Western Ontario in 2013, where he currently teaches. His dissertation, “Metaphor and Metanoia: Linguistic Transfer and Cognitive Transformation in British and Irish Modernism,” examines the works of Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce through an analysis of linguistic metaphor and cognitive science. His most recent research on Les Baxter and “space exotica” has most recently appeared in the Journal of Popular Music Studies

“Breaking into the Anthropocene: Dislocating the Human Voice in Space Exotica”
In 1979, Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking horror film Alien was accompanied by the dramatic tagline “In space no one can hear you scream.” Decades earlier, many popular exotica musicians, turning their attention away from far off islands and smoldering volcanoes, became fascinated with a more distant other place: outer space. Space exotica came to represent an ambivalent sentiment: one of both familiar comfort and profound existential isolation. In his landmark book, Mondo Exotica (2008), Francesco Adinolfi writes that “space sound, like exotica, had a tendency to comfort listeners and suggest harmony and order” and that “musicians were asked to evoke an outer space that, though thick with presumably threatening noises and sonic perversions, would turn out to be innocuous.” While Adinolfi privileges the comfort associated with this phase, the “threatening noises and sonic perversions” may prove less innocuous than assumed. The genre may serve to quell Cold War anxieties of spy satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles, yet it also reveals a less physical and more philosophical menace: that outer space, unlike exotic islands, is radically inhuman. So, space exotica may ask: how might we know something outside of ourselves? A recent movement in philosophy which is neither typically analytical nor Continental in its gesture, Speculative Realism, may allow us to think about that which is not human: that which is “posited...as anterior to every form of human relation to the world.” Thus space exotica draws attention to the Anthropocene Epoch: that brief moment in cosmic history that is marked by human activity. At once familiar and close to home, the quirky genre asks what is outside: a move away from the anthropocentric to a recognition of the limitations of the Anthropocene. From Les Baxter’s Music out of the Moon (1949) and Space Escapade (1957) to Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher’s more technologically experimental Soundproof (1956) and Blast Off! (1959) to NASA’s Golden Voyager Records (1977) and the NASA Soundcloud page, this paper considers how space exotica is as much about what we are and what we share as it is about the inhuman reality and cosmic indifference ­­devoid even of threatening noises and sonic perversions ­­that outer space signifies on its own terms: the most profound asemic silence.

 “Locating the Voice in Exotica”
In the postwar period, many new artists, such as Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman, found popularity by mining musical exoticisms dating back to the 19th century. Though their liner notes all used the word “exotic” to describe their albums, it is made evident by listening to the music that this was a catchall word. Timothy D. Taylor notes, “Exotic could mean Hawaiian, Latin, Indian, Middle Eastern—it was a single musical sign system.” What was innovative about this music was not the use of Orientalist musical motifs, but how they used the technological capabilities of LPs, hi-fis, Hammonds, Theremins, and stereo recording to transport listeners to other spaces. What was produced was a sound that offered the experience of travel from the comfort of one’s home.

Given the rich layering of electronic mediation evident in Exotica music, trying to discuss the role of the voice may seem counterintuitive. However, this panel will explore what are the stakes of the voice when they are either replaced by voice-like instruments, electronic sounds, and/or divorced from the discourses of liveness. To that end, these papers embark on a musical safari—like the ones promoted in Exotica albums—in order to locate the voice amidst vast sonic spaces that stretch from the jungle to the South Seas and all the way into outer space. By listening for the voice, we seek to trouble the often tourist-friendly ascriptions given to Exotica. Specifically we ask: how does this music give voice to Otherness? We frame Otherness as racialized and/or gendered difference and/or notions of the inhuman.

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