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thesis – proposal feedback

once we submitted our thesis proposal, we got a feedback from it. I got thumbs up but they definitely made me think a lot of different things. i’ve high lighted a few things on the comments that i thought that were interesting or made me rethink what is the scope of my project.

Matt Romein

You’ve done a great job researching and articulating the elements of your research that you find interesting. I’m starting to wonder if the central idea you want to explore has outgrown the context of opera though. The central idea of language and words and vocals and how they are used against women in the realm of micro-aggressions, shaming, demeaning, and catcalling is a rich area to work from and examine especially when you are looking at how to manifest and visualize/audiolize these slights. The context in opera is tricky to navigate though since it has explicit rules of how it is performed and viewed and having the text and language be predetermined makes the idea of doing live semantic analysis redundant and conceptually confusing. I would ask what is more important to you at this point, opera or verbal aggressions and slights towards women. I don’t want you to feel like I’m telling you to abandon your idea but I feel like there’s a lot of breathing room for the things you want to explore if you work outside of opera specifically. If it being opera is extremely important to you then by all means continue to explore it. I think there are a lot of conceptual parts to the project that need to be ironed out still and I’d be more than happy to work with you to figure those things out.


Your thesis proposal is clearly well researched and your reasons of intent are solid. I think you need to focus on why opera is so important to you in designing around social gender norms and which norms in particular you want to address. I agree with Matt that I think you need to consider other situations in which this project can come to life, as it has many applications to scenarios outside of opera.

Reviewer 1:

Given that opera is tightly scripted and directed, wouldn’t you be able to know in advance, and then be able to direct the performer to change her actions accordingly?

I am all for changing the gender power balance, but I don’t understand why there is need for a device to analyze a pre-scripted event, when a human can do that so much better. Instead of making a device, why not just hire a director more attuned to gender politics?

Reviewer 2:

Cool idea. I personally think this would be much more interesting device if it were pitched toward an “everyday” context. Opera, in itself, is an interesting topic too, but having the device and opera come together in this project may not be the best for either investigation.

Reviewer 3:

I like the idea of using technology to transform a female voice. In what ways will your device change the female voice in your project? Will the actual words spoken change? The tone of the voice? The tenor? What does a wild woman sounds like?

My main question is about the connection between opera and your concern about social gender norms. It sounds like opera is a personal love and something you wish others loved, too. How does this overlap with your thoughts about female empowerment? So many of the opera texts are from a long time ago. Gender norms have evolved, if slowly, since many operas were written. Perhaps your device would be better applied to more current performative art forms or even to real time social situations to show how far we still have to go.

I’d like to hear more about the social gender norms that will be used to identify the use of authoritarian speech/text. How agreed upon are they as norms? Who has determined them? Do they apply equally to male-female and female-female conversations?

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It’s used a lot in the film industry to determine whether or not a film includes strong female characters and to point out films with gender inequality that fail this simplest of tests. It’s very simple – do two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man.

Reviewer 4:

I’m very on the fence with this one, because having talked with you I really like the core ideas, but the current output relies on vocal amplification. Opera inherently is against vocal amplification. So while I really respect the question and its goals, I think the project needs a significant shift.

Backing up I agree that “why opera” needs to be addressed more clearly. I think you could argue with some deep research, that there was a cycle of opera reinforcing gender norms through history. And certain powerful sectors might still attend the opera regularly. (You could focus your study on the Met for example, and look at their corporate sponsors. You could even go through one of their programs to see top donors, or there are various non-profit tools to try to parse out their donors.)

You will know the entire score and libretto befhorehand. So the sensing might be to track where in the score they are at each performance, but you will know ‘when’ these moments occur in advance.

Also you should look at shows that were pretty sexist when written, directed today by strong women.  A great example (I think still running??) is Sweet Charity directed by Leigh Silverman. Because a strong directoral hand can help.

If you want to focus on the music, perhaps you focus on the orchestrations. Scan the score and the libretto. Find those moments. And then have the orchestration change at these moments you want to highlight. Perhaps dropping out under the male character in moments, or boosting the female characters. I believe there was some great work NVIDEA was funding on using their cards for machine learning and orchestrations.

Reviewer 5:

I love the idea…..but you would already know the libretto and what is coming so it doesn’t need to respond dynamically and live.

The interesting thing to me is that gender norms are still alive and well, so well we don’t often notice them. Anyway, they were 19th or early 20th century norms…What if what the characters displayed was what a modern woman would be thinking or saying. There’s a movie with Mel Gibson called What Women Want, where they guy develops a super power to know what women are really thinking, no matter what they are saying…

Reviewer 6:

I suppose there is a contradiction of going through the trouble of making and interactive device in an pre scripted environment. But I like the idea. Perhaps this is a setting that has all the operatic trapping but leaves room for improvisation of for instance the woman fighting agains the device.

Reviewer 7:

While sharing the concerns of the other reviewers, I kind of echo  looking at the idea not only from opera but from “everyday” context.

The idea of a device that would shift the tonality of the “performer”, make them more aware of the voice they are using and help overcome their “prescripted” voice and awaken their “wild woman” could be a powerful thing in itself.

so in the light of the feedback, i started questioning myself the following things:

why opera?

what social gender norms am i talking about? what within that i want to tackle?

what are the core elements of my project?

is there any room for improvisation?

what is the context of application?

what the wild woman archetype has to do with this?

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