When the hero leans over to kiss the girl in a Hollywood film, they “cue the music.” The affection starts, the music swells and fade out. But in porn, when the action begins, they usually cue a wholly different type of music, music sure to dampen any prior arousal the viewer has cultivated, a sort of audio anaphrodisiac. Bad porn music is like an embarrassing side effect of a promising arousal pill, and is part and parcel of our porn viewing experience. Most porn consumers hate it (and most porn reviewers loathe it), yet we are stuck with it during some pretty crucial masturbatory moments, and we either put up with it or consign ourselves to the mute button.
But not everyone feels this way — people’s reactions to porn music vary widely, resulting in several blossoming porn-music-related subcultures. Detractors despise it and decide to reinterpret sex soundtracks, fans adore it and create compilations, remixes and streaming Internet radio stations. Pornographers handle it with distaste and disdain for the viewers, use it as personal vehicles for their ego-fueled rock star dreams, or create innovative, intelligent soundtracks that set them apart from the pack. Independent pornographers apply their understanding of movie soundtracks to their porn and use haunting, romantic — even appropriate — music for their enterprises.
And the porn music crossovers are endless, with rappers and rockers making and starring in porn while some porn stars pursue their love of music and work on their own side projects, using profits to pursue jazz hobbies, performing in rock bands and bringing the music they love to their work on the blue screen. This three-part series begins at home, with you and me, the listeners.
My first encounter with porn music happened long before I began watching porn, when I worked and lived a block away from a famous San Francisco recording studio. I became good friends with the engineers and after work I would stop by the studio and drink beer, meet and hang out with whatever current band was at work on their new album. They handled a lot of high profile bands such as NOFX, but in the studio’s downtime they recorded and mixed porn music. I got to see firsthand the sleazy producer telling the saxophone player to make it sound “more sexy,” and listened to some of (what I thought then) was the cheesiest music ever made. If this was porn music, then, the thought of porn and sex intersecting in my life was a laughable concept. Make myself come listening to the “sexy sax”? No way!
Obviously things have changed for me as a porn viewer, but complaints about the music are something I encounter weekly in the course of my job. Local Bay Area audiophile Shannon Mariemont took her feelings a few steps further and joined with other porno music upstarts to form the renegade orchestra group PornOrchestra. This somewhat spontaneously assembled orchestra creates live (and lively) reinterpreted porn scores in Bay Area movie theaters and art galleries, complete with an authentic conductor.
Allegedly one of the founding members of PornOrchestra became so fed up with the bad music in her porn that she re-mastered porn rentals with thoughtful soundtracks, returning the rentals in devious silence. PornOrchestra went further, out of homes and into movie theatres, and not only with their live music accompanying big-screen porn but with their mission to “…radically reinterpret the soundtrack to pornographic film.” Their web site states that they “are the equivalent of a circus band with its eye on the trapeze artist.” They perhaps sum up the conundrum of porn auteurs vs. viewers with their statement claiming that porn music is a “complicated genre that has taken its share of scorn, from adult film producers who refuse to pay it any mind to legions of consumers who instinctively snap the sound off after pressing ‘play.'”
However, the definition of “good” is as subjective as the definition of “obscenity” — and the recent emergence of cheesy porn music as a trendy and cool music genre perhaps demonstrates that “community standards” may be a faulty measure. One stop in a hip Lower Haight bar and seeing Pornosonic with Ron Jeremy (a collection of porn music soundtracks) on the jukebox hints at a porn-music lovin’ subculture bubbling beneath the surface of our sedate lives.
Take for example the Deep Note series, audio MP3 collections that compile cuts from classic 1970s porn films. They do their best to ensure plenty of wa-wa guitars, analog synthesizer music, random bits of dialogue and yes — the sexy saxophones. Inside Deep Note: Music of 1970s Adult Cinema is the newest in the series, further fetishizing the genre with more cheeseball grooviness and includes a 16-page booklet and an eight-page full color digipack.
People who love this music might also enjoy 1970s softcore/horror Spanish director Jess Franco’s soundtracks, such as the music to his cult lesbian vampire film Vampyros Lesbos. In fact, there were oodles of softcore and erotic horror films made in Spain, France and Italy in the 1960s and ’70s that were tracked with a lot of very cool music — Chet Baker worked with Jess Franco on a few films — and music collections from these classics are usually hidden gems that suggest influences such as Bossa Nova, nouveau lounge and campy funk. Some favorites from my collection include the Beat al Cinecitta series, the Easy Tempo series (through #6) and Shake Sauvage.
While Deep Note and other audio anthologies covet and catalog the old-time music of onscreen screwin’, beware the modern impostors who reinterpret the music of yore, creating some of the most unbearable instrumentals ever spawned. Pop Porn by the Pop Porn Band is one of such monsters, masquerading as 1970s effluvia while imitating music that was questionable to begin with. Sex-O-Rama might be the best-known of these audio nightmares, again a collection of late ’90s imitations, replete with ’90s blandness, lots of “wakka-wakka,” and the very media-overexposed Jenna Jameson trotted out on the cover hawking the curious lack of innovative content in a strangely fitting way. Pornosonic falls neatly into this stiff unsexy genre of imitation, with both their Ron Jeremy album and Cream Sheets, music from an unreleased ’70s-stylized porn film.
But retro porn music isn’t all that is loved by porn music fans, there is an equally growing fan base for modern audio wankers. Look deeper into listener opinions on porn chat sites and find arguments on web sites claiming that in general, Eon McKai‘s and Courtney Trouble‘s porn music is superior to all, while others claim that German porn music is the best in the world.
Further proving that there are really connoisseurs of porn music out there is the emergence of people such as Texan John Dial (aka DJ Vanyanovitch) who claims to “watch porn for the music.” Much like the PornOrchestra T-shirt I bought which reads, “I just listen to the music,” Dial shares with the ‘Orchestra hopes of a better tomorrow in adult soundtracks and devotes an entire web site to adult audio fetishists, fluffertrax.com. On this site, one can not only read sporadically entered reviews on porn music in general, but one can also download porn music MP3s or listen to Dial’s own brand of streaming porn music radio.
Soulstrut.com is an MP3 and streaming site dedicated to “crate-digging DJ and hip-hop culture” that features the retro Porn Beats 1 and 2, a “fondu (sic) of lost porn scores” ranging from funk psychedelia to disco soul. The recordings are selected with care, and though quality is inconsistent due to the found nature of the source material, some of the recordings have comparisons and hyperlinks relating certain funk songs to the porn scores.
Whether you love or hate the genre, the fact remains that porn music needs to be different than music for non-explicit films. In the next article, I’ll explore contemporary porn music that transcends the typical, and where the people who capture the “money shot” care just as much about their viewers’ listening experience as their masturbatory enjoyment.
For now, just turn down the pr0n and crank up your favorite tunes.