Doctoral Colloquium (Music): Jennifer Iverson, University of Chicago


Elizabeth Wirth Music Building Room A832, 527 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 1E3, CA

The Doctoral Colloquium is open to all. 

Music students for whom attendance is required must sign the attendance sheet at the colloquium.



Liminal Synths: Sonic Pre-Histories and The Search for Legitimacy

Electronic sound pervades our experiences: A sci-fi thriller opens with electronic whirrs, clicks, and hums, as listeners are dropped into the film’s technologically saturated future world. Top-40 hits radio perpetually resuscitates sounds of early synthesizers like the Moog and DX-7. Teenagers gather at clubs to lose themselves in the trance-inducing loops of DJ-produced electronic dance music. How did electronic sound become so ubiquitous? This talk focuses on liminal moments in electronic music history, before such canonical scenes solidified. In three case studies—the Barron studio in NYC, East Germany’s Subharchord, and early Moog cover albums—I explore the uncertainty that circulates with new instruments. New electronic instruments feature a porosity of design—an openness to new technologies and affordances—as well as a porosity in use value. Focusing upon liminal uses, especially in genre-crossings and dust-bin experiments, this talk asks how electronic experiments gain legitimacy—or don’t. Ultimately, I show that electronic instruments and sounds mediate ideologies that are aesthetic, economic, and political in nature. These dynamic, multi-faceted negotiations, if they succeed, make electronic music legitimate and ubiquitous.


Jennifer Iverson is a scholar of electronic music, avant-gardism, sound studies, and disability studies. She is an Assistant Professor of Music and the Humanities at the University of Chicago, and previously taught at the University of Iowa. In 2015-16 she was a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. Her first book is Electronic Inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War Musical Avant-Garde (Oxford University Press, 2019). Her articles appear in journals such as Music Theory Spectrum, Journal of the American Musicological Society, and twentieth-century music, and in collections such as Sounding Off and the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies.