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Professor Adriana Knouf’s Audio Piece About Vocal Training by Trans Women Recognized as Winner in The Lake Radio’s Works for Radio

Adriana Knouf. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University.

Northeastern University faculty member Adriana Knouf, Assistant Professor in CAMD’s Department of Art + Design, has been recognized as a winner of The Lake’s Works for Radio, which challenged artists to submit an audio piece that explored the question: how can art for radio sound? Professor Knouf’s piece, one of four recognized (of over 200 submissions), is entitled “A Trans Woman Reads the Harvard Sentences, with Necessary Modifications, or, Finding Occult Queer Futurities.” It is about vocal training by trans women, an arduous process that trans women who want to develop a higher voice during transitioning must undertake.

The Lake, based in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a non-profit art initiative in the shape of an online radio station. It runs a constant stream of music, sounds, and radio art from all times, all countries, and in all languages – aimed to challenge and inspire curious listeners. The Lake’s Open Call – Works for Radio #4 (fourth edition) was an opportunity for artists to respond on their own terms and interpret the prompt in a wide range of ways, ultimately challenging artist to get creative in how they present their art in the form of sound.

For Professor Knouf, her submission addressed themes surrounding gender, queer, and trans identities.

In “A Trans Woman Reads the Harvard Sentences, with Necessary Modifications, or, Finding Occult Queer Futurities,” Professor Knouf reads from the 720 “Harvard Sentences” – standardized sets of words originally used for testing telecommunications equipment – from the 1960s. This set of phrases is one example of what trans women may practice on when developing a higher voice, as the sentences are phonetically balanced and resemble natural speech. She modifies them to transpose misogynist phrases about women into queer futurities. For example, Professor Knouf adjusts the original phrase, “Her purse was full of useless trash” to be “Her purse was full of tools to dismantle the house,” while “A gold ring will please most any girl” becomes “A gold ring will please most any girl needing raw materials for smelting.”

The piece is recorded to microcassette, a device used decades ago for transcription and voice memos, and through the materiality of the tape listeners will hear variations in pitch, challenging any stable notion of gender identity.

Congratulations to Professor Knouf, as well as the other winners of the The Lake’s Open Call – Works for Radio. The four prize-receiving works are available to listen to through The Lake’s Soundcloud page.