VISUAL AND MATERIAL PERSPECTIVES ON EAST ASIA and
Oct 26th (Friday), 4:00-6:00, CWAC 156
Ph.D. Candidate (the University of Chicago)
“The Courtesan Singer: Problems of Acoustics and Aesthetic Bifurcation”
This paper (in the abridged form of my dissertation chapter) addresses the courtesan’s vocal art in late Ming China (1547-1644). I contextualize aesthetic problems in a sequence of historical performances and fictional presentations of singing. Concerning the sources for styles at the courtesan’s disposal, I propose two extreme models of performance: the typical late-Ming courtesan’s solo was what I call “the midnight vocal chamber music,” rendered in a pleasing-sounding and soft voice, with no string accompaniment but the mechanical beats of clappers. Contrariwise to this courtesan tradition of singing, there was also the mountain hiker’s solo (similarly, lacking stringed instrumental accompaniment), performed and listened to in natural landscapes with rich ambient noise, especially the sound of rapid streams and waterfalls. The division of singing style, I argue, had both gendered and auditory implications. Evidence of the two styles will be assembled from the written and painted materials of the time.
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