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Meenasarani Linde Murugan

Meenasarani Linde Murugan received her PhD from Northwestern’s Screen Cultures program. Her dissertation, “Exotic Television: Technology, Empire, and Entertaining Globalism,” explores how U.S. Cold War variety television was central to visualizing and refashioning a global community of gendered racial diversity that was predicated on imperialism. She has been awarded fellowships from the Mellon Mays program, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. Her chapter on the transnational stardom of 1960s teen idol Sajid Khan will be part of the anthology Indian Film Stars (ed., Michael Lawrence, BFI, 2016).

“Chant of the Chosen Maidens: Gender and Exotica”
While the technological foresight of artists like Les Baxter and Esquivel has been the subject of much scholarship about exotica, a different language is used to discuss the musical contributions of women artists in exotica such as Yma Sumac, Sondi Sodsai, Bas Sheva, and Ethel Azama. In discussing the differences between Baxter and Sumac, Rebecca Leydon notes, “Unlike the formalism often connected with Baxter’s music, in which representational aspects of the exotic are down-played for the benefit of the audiophile, Sumac’s albums deliberately foreground the network of vivid images and associations inherent in the notion of the exotic.” Furthering this insight, this paper aims to insert Sumac, Sodsai, Sheva, and Azama into larger histories of women in electronic music and gender and technology while also interrogating how their presence in the genre of exotica troubles distinctions made between the authentic and the touristic in previous scholarship on exotica. If women’s voices grunt, howl, scream, and lustily sigh amidst layerings of electronic sounds and instruments, how does that complicate the “tourist-friendly” sonic landscape that this genre is supposed to offer?

“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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