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UNC Music Research Forum

April 26 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Navy, light blue, and white triangles in a varied pattern. Navy text on a white rectangle reads: UNC Music Research Forum, 2023-2024 Series"

“Castrato Remix”
Dr. Bonnie Gordon, University of Virginia

Bonnie GordonIn 1565 Guglielmo Gonzaga sent his ambassador, the humanist scholar Girolamo Negri, on a fruitless mission to look for castrati. After one died and others were too expensive, a frustrated Negri decided that it made more sense to just make them locally. This talk links the practice of surgical alteration and vocal training to an ontology of body remaking, and tunes in to structures of knowledge that, between the 1560s and the 1660s, led to increased professionalization of both surgery and singing: new techniques for vocal training, and new techniques for working on the body. Surgeons emerged as what Sandra Cavallo calls artisans of the body, artisans who worked with human flesh as their material.

To situate the voice of any human—castrato or not—as a musical instrument and as a product of techne necessarily questions the limits of the human body and points to the dehumanizing potential of aesthetic practice. And to posit the castrato voice as a kind of machine is to argue that the posthuman turn is not new, that the act of critiquing the Enlightenment notion of human happened before the Enlightenment. It is to argue that humans have always been malleable and remade, and it is maybe even in agreement with Bruno Latour that we are closer to the sixteenth century than the twentieth    “precisely because the agreement that created the bifurcation in the first place now lies in ruin and has to be entirely recomposed.

The UNC Music Research Forum hosts invited lectures by distinguished music scholars from around the world and informal research presentations by members of our department and colleagues across campus. It serves as an intellectual hub for the department and is open to all. The Forum is held on the final Friday of each month during the semester from 2-4 p.m. in Person Recital Hall.


April 26
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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Hill Hall, Room 103
145 E Cameron Ave
Chapel Hill, NC 27599 United States
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