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High-octave soprano to auto-tuned rapper: Item numbers and technologies of sonic eroticism

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The item number, a microfilmic musical form, has been shaped by a wide range of intersecting influences: the fashion industry, music video culture and the 24/7 music television format introduced with globalization in India. The name item number (a special song and dance sequence) is probably derived from the term ‘item’ (nowadays used for petite gay men as well), the Bombaiya equivalent of the slang ‘looker’, the worst way of objectifying a human body by disintegrating it into individual units (items). Item numbers tend to be big budget productions, like stand-alone attractions that are staged to have a life independent of the narrative. The production economy for these dances is intricately designed with a special focus on sets, costumes, make-up, digital technologies for lighting, music, cinematography and editing. The identifying marker of an item number is the way in which it foregrounds the body as a sexualized force. In this article, I locate the sensual affect of the item number in its sonic template. DJs, rappers, playback sopranos and mixing engineers are the assembling figures of this article. While questions of new media technologies, in terms of lip-syncing and digital mixing battles, form the vortex of enquiry here, cultural references to the gender and sexual charge of the voices are equally significant. I argue that the technical matrices of its circulation, sound amplification and the performative force of the item number conjure a new sonic ecology that heightens the wildness that is associated with its loud sound. The article also enquires into censorship debates that frame this sonic eroticism.
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Keywords: digital; item number; loudness; rapper; sonic-eroticism; soprano

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Jawaharlal Nehru University

Publication date: December 1, 2016

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  • The Soundtrack is a multi-disciplinary journal which brings together research in the area of music and sound in relation to film and other moving image media. A complex cultural, technological, industrial and artistic phenomenon, sound-with-moving image is a rich area for analysis, investigation and speculation. We encourage writing that is accessible to audiences from a diversity of intellectual backgrounds and disciplines as well as providing a forum for practitioners. The Soundtrack's aim is to nurture this new and expanding area of academic investigation in dialogue with soundtrack producers of all kinds.
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