In 2015, analog synthesizers are resurgent in popular appeal. Robert Moog is often celebrated as the central and originary figure who launched a so-called revolution in sound by making synthesizers widely available in the late 1960s and early '70s. This essay examines the figure of the humble tinkerer, as exemplified by Moog, along with other historically specific and archetypal forms of masculinity that are embodied by the male subjects at the center of electronic music's historical accounts. Critical readings of audio-technical discourse, and of the periodization of synthesizer histories, reveal that women are always already rendered out of place as subjects and agents of electronic music history and culture. Yet a set of letters, written by young women across the United States to Harry F. Olson at the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in the mid-1950s and analyzed in this article, demonstrates that women were an enthusiastic audience for the RCA synthesizer a decade before Moog built his prototypes. As they did with new media, including wireless radio and the phonograph, in the early twentieth century, women played a key role at midcentury in enabling the broad-based market for analog synthesizers that greeted Moog and others in the 1960s once these instruments were made available for widespread use.
Tinkering with Cultural Memory: Gender and the Politics of Synthesizer Historiography
Tara Rodgers is a composer, historian, and critic of electronic music and sound. She is the author of numerous essays on music, technology, and culture and of Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound (Duke University Press, 2010), a collection of interviews that won the 2011 Pauline Alderman Book Award from the International Alliance for Women in Music. She has held faculty positions at Dartmouth College, the University of Maryland, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and she currently serves on the editorial boards of Leonardo Music Journal and Women & Music. http://www.analogtara.net/.
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Tara Rodgers; Tinkering with Cultural Memory: Gender and the Politics of Synthesizer Historiography. Feminist Media Histories 1 October 2015; 1 (4): 5–30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2015.1.4.5
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