Living Loud

Julian Grey, School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Collaborators: Conner VanderBeek (U-M student), ethnomusicologist, composer, filmmaker; “Zooey Gaychanel,” drag artist; “Virgos Horror,” drag artist, concept designer; Adrienne Alton-Gust, drag artist, ethnomusicologist; Will Beischel, Psychologist, drag artist; Sandra Andrade, 3D artist

My project is a direct response to the rising anti-trans political movement in the U.S. Unlike conventional musicology, which centers writing, Living Loud is an educational short film featuring popular music, original composition, and ethnomusicology, all through the lens of drag performance.

I also go beyond typical drag practice found at a brunch or nightclub to interweave layers of sound and visuals akin to an art film whereby social commentary manifests through complex narratives not possible in traditional drag. It will be released on YouTube with an accompanying discussion guide for classroom or personal use.

I offer a non-binary perspective of not only the difficulties trans people face in society, but their potential. As a non-binary person, my work is necessarily personal and in search of community liberation.

How may we decolonize binary perspectives where non-binary people are deprived of legitimacy and safety? How can we become grounded as fully realized people in history? I see Living Loud as a launch point toward a larger endeavor to amass trans and non-binary knowledge and history, and recontextualize our understanding of gender inquiry and performance in musicology.

It is also in response to something my community lacks. As non-binary people, we do not have centralized, archival knowledge or performance history passed down through generations. Instead, we have fragments of gender non-conforming biography and art found sparingly amidst a binary catalog where we are deemed Other, if noticed at all.

As public scholarship, Living Loud must engage communities through media legible and accessible to all. Typically, short films are produced by a whole team of creatives. In order to stay true to both musicological and drag methods, however, I am completing most of the production by myself. I have a unique background as an ethnomusicologist, drag artist, and filmmaker that will allow me to cross these disciplinary boundaries to create something entirely new that benefits them all.

The film contains two drag “music videos,” amidst a metanarrative featuring poetry by queer authors, ethnomusicological theory, and newly composed music. This will be my first short film of this kind, but my sixth professional video work.

Fellow ethnomusicologist Conner VanderBeek will assist me when filming outdoor scenes this winter. I am currently in pre-production and am set to begin filming in January 2024 with a final product released by late March. I have already been approached by a university interested in screening this work in Spring 2024.

Living Loud takes social justice as not merely a subject referenced in a footnote but aims to become an embodied discourse for artist and audience alike. I hope to create what I would have wanted to experience as a younger queer scholar navigating a world that, even in 2023, often denies my very existence.

My art shows younger generations that non-binary adults do exist, and there is joy. Many in my community have expressed how drag saved their lives. It has been an avenue where they could abandon their anxieties, explore their desires, and find a home that accepted and uplifted their journey through gender.

Living Loud is an opportunity to expand traditional ethnomusicological modes of education while likewise impacting the queer community. It is a window through which we can see trans dreams conferred.