Urban Spaces, Dreamscapes, Contested Territories
Alien Voice Transformations: Klaus Nomi’s Appearance on the Scene of New York’s Subculture
Confronted with his interpretation of Robert Schumann’s “Der Nussbaum,” most people would no doubt associate Klaus Nomi’s voice with the musical tradition of the nineteenth century, ‘reading’ it as carrying a whole system of mutually dependent attributions that – to engage Roland Barthes’s trenchant definition of the “bourgeois ideology” – turn “culture into nature” (206). This system legitimizes its aesthetic strategies by means of diverse references to ostensibly ‘natural’ organizing principles, thereby activating, among other things, the normative potential of fixed gender differences, the categorical attribution of which, in turn, appears to make plausible the strict separation of genuine artistic production from mere appropriation (cf. Kittler 25 ff.). In what follows I will attempt to explain why this voice, though so easily situated in a nineteenth-century context, does not actually belong in that tradition, why it is not so much at home in Schumann’s Rhineland (not to mention Bonn) but structurally linked to New York City. After all, the voice heard in the “Nussbaum” recording is not that of a woman, the interpretation of the nineteenth-century art song is far from faithful to the original, and the aesthetic phenomenon it gives expression to does not have its cultural and social origins in Germany.
Klaus Sperber, son of a Bavarian confectioner, is born in 1944. He grows up in Essen and receives some vocal training there, but soon moves to Berlin where he studies at the Conservatory and (unsuccessfully) applies at the Deutsche Oper. On his journey from the...
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