Last month, I talked about the sexuality of my Rock Band avatars. Since then, I’ve been singing an unusual amount, and I’ve realized that, for me personally (as distinct from my avatars in game), singing is sexually charged in a way that the other instruments aren’t.
Datum one: when singing in Rock Band, I prefer to sing in my head voice. (Or in falsetto, I’m not entirely sure what, if any, distinction there is between the two terms.) Also, I’m quite happy to sing female parts instead of male parts. This is an obvious (if not unproblematic) metaphor for being gay, and is one (though not the only) reason why I labeled my vocal avatar in the game as gay.
I’ve been singing more over the last month than ever before, and I’ve frequently been having the game chose songs at random. This means that I’ve been exposed to a wider selection of vocal ranges than I get from my standard diet of female singers. So I’ve been spending more time in chest voice recently, and I’ve also been getting used to the transition zone, moving from one to the other.
And if we extend the above metaphor, then my chest voice is a metaphor for being straight, and the transition zone is a metaphor for being bi. Or, indeed, singing as a whole is a metaphor for being bi! I am, as it turns out, okay with that.
Despite my recent experiences, I still prefer singing in my head voice over my chest voice; and, actually, the quality of my tone in my head voice has (I think) improved noticeably over the last month, which I’m quite pleased by. So this metaphor ends up flipping the way my sexual preferences reveal themselves in non-musical contexts. This is fine; actually, I’ll even say that having artistic experiences point at aspects of myself that I don’t normally explore as much, then it’s actively good! And the tension of shifting between the two registers is quite pleasant to explore.
Another datum: most of the time when I pick up a microphone, I ask Liesl if she’d like to join me, and most of the time she happily accepts the invitation. It turns out that our vocal ranges are rather similar; I think she has a note or two over me on the top, but I’m not sure, and I can sustain high notes better than she can; I’m honestly not sure which of our ranges extends lower. (She has a lot more singing experience than I do; I clearly need to work on expanding my range on the bottom.) But, unlike me, she prefers to sing in her chest voice rather than her head voice; I don’t think the same metaphors work for her in this context as work for me, but that fact does rather amuse me.
And: while I am (quite!) comfortable with my preference for singing in high ranges, there is a bit of regret mixed in there as well. Because it’s also the case that deep bass voices make me respond at a quite fundamental level; if I had the voice to carry it off, I think I would probably dive whole-heartedly into lower ranges instead. In general, my type in men has a relatively androgenous face (with a slightly high-pitched voice), but that’s not the only type that I notice. Deep voices (perhaps linked with large beards and bald heads?) can also draw my attention, and part of me wishes that I could fit that mold myself. (I have the beard part down, at least! And I may reach the “bald head” part eventually?)
Speaking of low voices: I really should give the game’s pro bass mode a try. Liesl is our house bassist, and Jonathan fills that role on VGHVI Rock Band nights, but the right sort of bass line makes me sit up and take notice in a way that little else can.
So: my fascination with the physical aspects of playing Rock Band continues. It’s not the only way in which I find singing more sexually charged than other instruments, however. Because: in a band, all participants are not created equal, and in particular the singer is generally the lead. Singing therefore brings out alpha male resonances, which of course has sexual implications.
It’s not the only time the question of the extent to which I want to act like an alpha male has arisen recently: it came up as part of my job search narrative, when thinking about my character build. In particular, I had to ask during the search to what extent I wanted an explicit lead role. (Which I was thinking at the time in the context of a managerial role, but it can be interpreted more broadly; though, actually, managers, at least first-level ones, really don’t do a particularly good job of acting like alpha males.)
The conclusion that I came to at the time was that I didn’t want to be a manager: I like getting my hands dirty programming too much! (Hmm, I seem to have a bit of a hand fetish these days?) As far as some sort of technical lead goes: that’s fine if it doesn’t prevent me from programming (and I’m happy to embrace such a label if it gets me a wider variety of work, I do hope that I have developed technical skills worth sharing over the last few decades), but I’d really rather spend time on a small team where such labels don’t matter, where what matters is how individuals actually behave. Certainly joining a relatively young startup was absolutely the right move for me this time, I’d be happy to go smaller still next time.
So: explicit alpha male labels turn out to be not what I want. But I don’t want somebody else to be in charge, either: I’m fairly allergic to authority, I don’t like being told what to do, though I’m quite happy to be convinced by others’ ideas. If I have to chose between dominator and dominated, I’ll go with the former, but really I’d prefer to wave the anarcho-syndicalist flag, to be part of a commune.
Which is sexually charged in its own way! Admittedly, in a way that I’m not so convinced that I’d be interested in in real life, though I won’t know for sure without trying it. (Which seems quite unlikely.) Going back to musical metaphors: while I obviously love Rock Band, I in some sense feel like an impostor whenever I play it: what I really want is to be playing chamber music with other equals. (I eagerly await Harmonix’s forthcoming game String Quartet; dibs on cello.) (Actually, arguably, I feel like an impostor when doing anything other than playing fugues on a keyboard instrument, but there are levels of imposture.)
Coming back to singing: as I mentioned above, I generally don’t sing alone, I’m much more likely to sing with Liesl. (Probably a good thing, given the topic of this post.) And the game’s vocal harmonies mode means that we have to chose who will sing the lead and who will take harmonies; generally I do the latter. (And I’ve been getting better at harmonies recently, too!) So, returning to the question of whether I’m more dominant or submissive, there’s another answer (and a different one than I gave two paragraphs up; sexuality is complicated stuff), and it again means that I’m not a good fit for an alpha male role. (I may have said earlier on that I “need to work on expanding my range on the bottom”, but perhaps I gave myself too little credit…) All dom/sub joking aside, the vocals that I most enjoy listening to outside of the game are a-capella and choral harmonies: again, a meeting of equals is where my tastes lie.
The third way in which Rock Band vocals are sexually charged: its performative aspect. Rock Band is always a performance, in fact a double one: you’re playing a game where you pretend to be a character who is in turn on stage giving a performance. And with vocals, both aspects of this performance are strengthened: your behavior as a player is much more nuanced than when playing any of the instruments, and the singer is the most prominent person on stage.
Also: singing involves lyrics, bringing explicit narrative into the picture. And, frequently, explicitly sexual narrative: when a video game discusses infidelity, it’s rare enough to throw me for a loop, but the topic is quite unremarkable in pop music. (That’s perhaps the saddest thing about Catherine, that it and Rock Band are such outliers when it comes to the nitty-gritty of relationships, comparing them to the other games I’ve played over the last year or so.)
And there’s yet another performative aspect to the game, one that affects me personally: as I mentioned above, part of me feels like an impostor whenever I’m performing pop music. (“Pop” in the broad sense, as opposed to classical or jazz.) There were only two or three years in my life when I regularly listened to pop music on the radio, and those years are decades in the past; I just looked over the track lists of the three main Rock Band games, and if I’m counting correctly, each game contains exactly one song that I owned a copy of before playing the game. (And my music collection isn’t tiny: I don’t buy music as much as I used to, but I have something like 500 CDs around the house.)
This isn’t to say that I don’t like pop music: I do, and I’ve been listening to it significantly more often than classical music over the last few years. (We really need to get symphony tickets so Miranda can listen to more classical music; not that there’s anything wrong with the show-tunes-heavy diet that we currently feed her!) But there are huge, huge gaps in my pop music background, and in particular Rock Band is full of both bands that I’m aware of but have never really listened to and bands that I’ve never heard of.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s great: the folks at Harmonix have excellent taste, I very much appreciate having my horizons broadened, and I happily listen to the new DLC released each week and buy pieces of it not infrequently. (I’m up to 510 songs in my Rock Band collection, and of course that doesn’t count the Beatles content.) But there are quite a lot of layers built up here: I’m doing a double performance in a musical genre where I feel like an outsider, singing about a wide range of topics indeed. (Or, alternatively: singing over and over about whether or not I’m getting laid.)
So it’s one big invitation for me to think about alternate identities. And not just any alternate identities: identities that are outgoing, identities that are flamboyant, identities that are (I hope) charming at times, identities that are (returning to the lyrics) obsessed with sex. (And that have screaming crowds in support of that last one!)
And an invitation to experiment with those identities: to pick up different ones, to see what I like and what I don’t like, what surprises me, what makes me feel just a little bit uncomfortable. In fact, the very word “experiment” has sexual overtones! (“Experiment: make it your motto day and night / Experiment: and it will lead you to the light”; I eagerly await Rock Band: Cole Porter.)
Le sigh. Back to my singing. Or perhaps I’ll find some other way to pass the time this evening…
This post has not been revised since publication.