January 27, 2003

Stirring the savage breast. A

Stirring the savage breast. A musician friend told me over lunch at LMNOP in Oakland the other day that PornOrchestra had launched. The project involves composing and improvising new soundtracks for existing porn films.

There will be several live performances and the project coordinators welcome contributing musicians, composers, and artists.

I contacted spokesmodel Shannon Mariemont to find out more about where this idea comes from and where it's going:

xian: um, ok. where did the idea come from?

sm: There is a tradition of live musical accompaniment to film that still flourishes, although not with the same practical intensity as when film didn't include its own... sound. Whether you go early to the movie palace to hear the organist or pine for another Clubfoot Orchestra show, or stare unblinkingly at music videos (I do) or shudder in pleasure or pain when your favorite band is swallowed up by a projected image on stage, the success of that moment has as much to do with the ear as with the eye.

Except in the case of pornography. It's a common complaint (levied carefully because of a lack of social acceptance of the genre) that pornographic film soundtracks blow. And not in a good way. From what I gather, the reason for that is chiefly economic, but also aesthetic: the adult film industry is making an assumption that the consumer is looking at the sex, not listening to the ridiculous dialogue and the repetitive musical phrase. For me, it is impossible to separate, and, by extension, tolerate.

So I asked people working in pornography how I might get involved in soundtrack work (I was inspired by an article about Matmos that reported they had composed music for Dutch fisting films). The pornographers I talked to just laughed and laughed and laughed.

Then I thought I would change the world one porn video at a time by renting a title, overdubbing with my original soundtrack, then returning the video to the store shelf.

This is not only technically difficult (could I invent and remaster the audio in the two-day rental period?) but quite possible illegal (I never inquired). A couple years ago I saw a parodic community orchestra massacre Serge Gainsbourg's "Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus," devolving in the middle of it to libidinous playacting, and I thought...

Hmmmm.

What if orchestras were the engine of expression in pornography?

So the PornOrchestra in this incarnation is attempting to radically reinterpret pornographic soundtrack, first by simply being present; secondly by creating sounds that recontextualize the visual events; thirdly by inviting people from diverse backgrounds to reflect openly on this enormous, and enormously closeted, cultural form. One of the participating musicians told me for him this project is "an experiment in subverting the commercial element of the original to present the inner world." Another mused that it could just be "really hot, or really evil, or both and sick, or maybe a little beautiful."


have you ever seen metropolis?

The silent 1927 version only a couple of times, and never with Clubfoot's performance, sadly. I usually make a note to rent it again after it's been invoked by MTV (was it Smashing Pumpkins followed by Red Hot Chili Peppers? No matter, if it leads a middle-american pre-teen to Fritz Lang, so much the better).


what about all the great funky disco soundtracks from "golden age" '70s porn?

See you at fluffertrax! Truly, there's nothing wrong with any individual example of music used in pornography, which ostensibly takes its cue from popular music (now more than ever with the affiliation of hip-hop and rock and roll with the porn industry). The homogeneity of porn soundtracks is the crusher, just as the homogeneity of ClearChannel FM radio programming can dull the senses. Porn invariably proves it: it's possible to have too much of a good thing.


how much of the upcoming performances do you expect will be improv?

Every show will have a completely improvised section with the PornOrchestra taking cues from a conductor while the whole ensemble observes the action of the film, much in the way a circus orchestra keeps an eye on the people swinging from the trapeze. To make it thoroughly "interesting" I'm attempting to make sure neither the conductor nor the musicians know in advance what film will be screening. I see now I suffer from one too many Iron Chef episodes.

The show will also include small ensembles and soloists that are all experienced improvisers and accomplished composers, although I haven't made any requirement that the work be one or the other. That portion of the show should be fairly mixed. I hope the audience is as interested as I am in the results.


i'm thinking it would be fun to (a) make a list of porn clichés, (b) assign a sound/sample/effect to each one, and then (c) have a band or a keyboard "perform" the score based on whatever happens onscreen...

Yeah sure you betcha it'd be fun. Especially if you employed moo-cow noises and car alarm cadences and excerpts from any (truly, any) State of the Union address. Pick your p(orn)oison.

The PornOrchestra premiers radical reinterpretations of pornographic film scores March 22, 2003 at "21 Grand," a small space located at 449B 23rd Street in downtown Oakland (btw. Broadway and Telegraph).

Shannon also sent me this "crude assortment of urls to consider, since the contemplation of this is vast":

Posted by xian at January 27, 2003 12:17 PM
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