Movie music is an art. Porn is seldom art, so it’s no surprise that most porn music sucks. Movie music is seldom done well either, but in regular non-erotic films, the person (or team) doing the scoring takes into account a variety of factors with the goal of enhancing the feeling, mood or action onscreen. Perhaps porn scorers believe they’re doing the same when they slap that wa-wa, wakka-wakka or wailing rock guitar track over the same old sex scenes. Porn films are by no means the same as Hollywood films, and perhaps shouldn’t be put to the same types of music, but many of us who dread music that often ruins our horniness think that more effort should be put into the aural atmosphere elicited by porn’s auteurs.
Movie music that works well goes largely unnoticed by the rapt viewer, but still subtly manipulates the feelings inspired by the filmmaker’s images and narrative. It adds to the creepiness of a David Lynch film or takes you into dreamy worlds crafted by Danny Elfman. Bad music interrupts the scene, distracts from the story (usually by trying to be showy, or too hip) or gives away the impending danger (Freddy, Jason, et al).
In porn we have a whole different ball of wax — porn music by nature must be different than the type of movie music we’re used to, because generally we watch porn for an entirely different reason — to get off on a particular sex scene (or scenes). Adult films seldom have a watchable plot, and because decent plot in porn seems so fragile, elusive and shakily held together when you do find it, the music seems like it would be just another thing that can go wrong.
So unless the porn video is going to have a professional treatment on all levels, we can only assume that a good score is going to be hard to find (pardon the pun) because you not only have to score an actual film, but also a film with the unusual element of extended scenes of explicit sex, intended for the masturbatory gratification of the watcher. This is something that Hollywood pros have no experience with either, though it would be interesting to see what concept Angelo Badalamenti would come up with.
Porn without plot is sometimes put to music. Such “wall-to-wall” (all sex, no plot) films, where the sex scenes take place in their own world and the scenes are loosely strung together by a theme, are typically the most egregious offenders of bad music put to sex. “Gonzo” films, where the cameraman directs and participates in the scene, giving a first-person experience, rarely ever have music in them — thus lending the “reality porn” feel. Maybe this is why I’ve become such a fan of gonzo porn, because nothing is worse than awful music when I want to lose myself in fantasy onscreen sex, and when porn is shot sans music, I get to hear the real, natural sounds of sex (an incredible turn-on).
Some adult filmmakers have gotten it right in the porn music arena, intentionally creating audio atmospheres that subtly enhance the viewer’s experience. It’s no surprise that these auteurs are musicians themselves, though I don’t mean the likes of wanna-be singers and rock stars who populate porn and subject helpless masturbators to their pet projects (which porn, like all low-budget films, is a constant victim of).
John Leslie is perhaps the best-known example of a porn-industry filmmaker-musician. A former golden age performer, he is recognized as a skilled jazz musician and a jazz aficionado. A jazz player long before he entered porn, Leslie was a member of a 1970 band called the Brooklyn Blues Busters, which produced the legendary guitarist Brian Bisesi and bassist Johnny Ace. Leslie cultivated his refined tastes in both sex and music over the course of his 30-year-plus performing and directing career. His wall-to-wall films combine hot sex with smooth camerawork and cool jazz, with music always audible in the opening credits and wafting to the surface of some sex scenes (though not all). Leslie knows when to add, and when to take away sound, often allowing the natural noises of the sex and the performers to come center stage — and often doesn’t include music during the sex at all. Any of his Voyeur series will show his skill at blending sex and music.
Michael Ninn, on the other hand, would be the David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti combination in porn. His visceral, visually liquid features take you into dark, dreamlike future worlds where women and men succumb to their most carnal desires and act upon them, usually in gothic, fetish-fueled, music-video-esque panoramas. They’re really all that — and it’s no wonder that Ninn directed music videos for Capitol Records. He knows the power of music to transport, and to convey shadowy moods, and he uses music that adds to the erotic detachment of his characters that are often compulsive, crazy or spiraling into madness. Yet his music — ambient techno mixed with classical influences — seldom interferes with the sounds of sex, though it is always present.
Andrew Blake‘s films are like long explicit Playboy-style music videos come to life. To his credit, however, the fetish elements, energy and attractiveness of his performers outdoes Playboy’s dated standards of beauty and arousal. But his movies are all about watching the women preen, pose, pout and play with each other for the camera, and while they are low on penetration (and even cunnilingus), they come across as visual foreplay. Adding to this atmosphere is the music scored and arranged by Raoul Valve exclusively for Blake’s films — modern infusions of tribal, techno, operatic and classical arrangements. Playthings, The Villa (which was nominated for best music at the 2003 AVN awards), and Possessions (avant-garde jazz) all are great examples of Valve’s original scores.
Still, I’m seeing Eon McKai’s and Courtney Trouble’s porn music as superior to all — they constantly look for new bands, different music vibes when appropriate, and stay on the cutting edge of emergent musical talent as art to parallel their film making. Refreshing, no?