Diary of Ponim71

“By clearly identifying where these physical realities connect to the social imperative to pass, we might then be able to identify that which escapes this sublimation – the sublime voice exceeding its own entrapment., in a duet with the architecture in which it lives.”

Currently in progress.‘Diary of Ponim 71’ is a performance and concept album, based on the years (c.2000-2009) during which I lived in the gender segregated, insular Chassidic world studying law, bible, ritual, mysticism and liturgical music, while passing as cisgender.  The recording combines live and studio for vinyl release which will include album artwork and text insert. This project is mentored in part by Center for Traditional Music and Dance Apprenticeship Program.  The post-9/11 era witnessed increased nationalistic tendencies, including those designed to absorb unaffiliated male youth, as well as an erosion of human rights such as the right to travel in favour of a framework of legal rights based on notions of citizenship; and an hyper-accelerated Islamophobia in New York that is a well documented symptom. During that period I was immersed in chassidic life, and closeted. I took great risk to learn primary texts of Judaism. I applied my training to learning about liturgy and men and vulnerability in ways I might never have accessed otherwise. The ‘Ponim71’ lyrics invoke motifs of travel and of the body changing shape in order to reach its destiny. In this way, transsexuality
 is a key epistemological tool in developing the material, through ethnomusicological research as well as live art practice.”The Diary of Ponim71″ will include fieldrecordings, and album art of film imagery and performance scores drawn from my sousveillance of that period. 
 This project manifests and shares what I call ‘transgender knowledge’ — “The Diary of” is meant to evoke Anne Frank, for me this literary reference to the memoir, is a secular framing that I can echo as a way to talk about being ‘hidden’ — both in terms of living stealth and as a person who can pass as cisgender, confronting the expectations for memoir, Jewish art, and Queer/trans representation simultaneously.The’Ponim71′ diarist examines Talmudic laws concerning gender variant bodies and their roles and responsibilities in society, in contrast with the sociology of religious gender-segregated lifestyle in 21st century New York City through consideration of the varied masculinities cultivated under those conditions, and the varying ways those bodies are legislated to participate in society. The Ponim71 repertoire thus far includes chazzanut, liturgical music, various lesser known ‘women’s songs’ from Central Asia/Eastern Europe, certain Chassidic chants, and carefully chosen anthems from the gay/Queer musical canon, which I translate with my mother into her first language of Yiddish. In what ways could voice and ethnomusicological research relate to a Diasporic identity and orientation of ‘placelessness’, as a counter-indication to nationalistic tendencies, and to the Zionist promise? The protagonist ‘Ponim71’ is named with a portmanteau, referencing Jewish meta-texts regarding concepts of destiny and nation (indicated by the number 70) combined with homily and exegesis referencing the face (panim), some of which are used by Levinas and later by Benjamin in their writings about the “other” and face á face relation. In this light, a question emerges: what can transgender vocality, experience and the transsexual body indicate as a 71st face? Funded in part by Franklin Furnace Award for Performance Art.