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Trans electronic musician Seal Eggs explores transcendence through music 

Maybe it’s just because of Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, but I can’t help but associate trans musicians with punk rock. I grew up with punk rock, and didn’t hear about electronic music until I was already a man (who was transitioning to a woman). However, trans women have a long and storied history in electronic music, starting with Wendy Carlos, who won three Grammy Awards in 1969 for her renditions of Bach on the Moog synthesizer. Today, trans musicians like Anhoni carry the electronic torch internationally.

Locally, we have Seal Eggs, the musical project of Gwen Wolfenbarger, a 20-year-old Colorado College junior. Like Imogen Binnie’s amazing novel Nevada, and Jen Richards’s Emmy-nominated web series “Her Story,” Wolfenbarger’s music is art created by a trans person, which resonates uniquely with a trans audience. Being trans is a specific experience that is often difficult to translate for cisgender audiences, who are incidentally the target audience of the majority of our culture’s art and entertainment. So even media with explicitly trans content tends to come across as oversimplified and watered down to people who are intimately familiar with the details of existing in the world as a trans person. That’s not the case with Seal Eggs.

I first heard Seal Eggs when they opened for local punks Cheap Perfume at the Triple Nickel. As an avowed punk elitist, I was skeptical of an opening act with no guitars, amplifiers or drums. A girl, a microphone and a Macbook wasn’t the kind of “band” I was used to, but Wolfenbarger’s music is just as visceral and emotional an experience as any hardcore or emo show I’ve ever attended.

Influenced by artists like Anhoni and Björk, Seal Eggs’s music consists of two main components: Wolfenbarger’s voice and harp. “I started playing harp and piano when I was 6,” she says. “My grandmother played harp and she wanted to pass that on to me.” The mellifluous harp tones, combined with looped, live recordings of Wolfenbarger’s impressive vocals create ethereal walls of sound. Songs like “One Day” from her 2016 debut album, Sunday Will Be Snow, sound like something taken from the soundtrack of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Wolfenbarger’s music has to be experienced live to be truly appreciated. A music major, Wolfenbarger is fascinated by psychoacoustics, the branch of psychology concerned with the perception of sound and its physiological effects. She notes: “[It’s about] understanding how the brain interacts with the ears and how all of that comes together to form a sound.”

The mournful, minor key harp sounds and her otherworldly, at times almost keening vocal delivery tends to elicit strong emotions from the audience. “There’s moments when my music really resonate[s] with another person and what they’re going through. Usually at every show one or two people come up to me afterward in tears. It’s what I live for.”

While Sunday Will Be Snow addresses a number of explicitly transgender themes with songs like “Dysphoria,” Wolfenbarger’s recent work uses lofty academic concepts from transhumanism to convey “feeling trapped in a body, but not in a way that is transgender. It’s about having a relationship with the body. Or not. It explores ways of escaping the body through transcendence and using technology to improve the body.” Her work explores the thematic connections between the transgender experience and genres of science fiction and body horror, which involves “the disintegration or mutilation of the body. I thought my experiences being transgender had a lot of parallels there.”

Wolfenbarger isn’t the only trans woman I’ve met who relates to sci-fi depictions of body horror. I’ve had a number of long conversations with other trans people about how the gritty 1987 film Robocop — which chronicles the graphic murder and then cyborg reanimation of Alex Murphy, his existence in society in the face of expectations imposed on him as a robot cop, his denial of his human feelings, and his experiences being constantly taken apart and put back together at the whims of the exploitive capitalist police state — is a metaphor for the trans experience. When I write and direct the explicitly trans reboot of Robocop, Seal Eggs will be the soundtrack.

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