Kissed was developed as part of the music programme curated by Paul Curtis (Consume Management) to coincide with the ANDY WARHOL retrospective at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia. Kissed features a score composed, produced and performed by Philip Brophy to accompany the silent film serialization of the black and white silent single reel 16mm shorts titled Kiss, directed by Andy Warhol across 1964.
Drums, sample-strings, sample-fretless bass, electric pianos & synth keyboards - Philip Brophy
Assistant engineer for studio recordings - Rhys Richards
Produced & mixed by Philip Brophy in quadraphonic audio at Gelatin
Special Thanks: Paul Curtis - Consume Management; Jose DaSilva & Steve Gooding - Australian Cinematheque; Abigail Moncrieff & Jared Davis - Experimenta; Richard Sowada & Andre Bernard - ACMI; The Andy Warhol Foundation
State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
ACMI Cinema, Melbourne
CD & DVD-A released by Sound Punch Records
Gallery of Modern Art, BrisbaneKissed - Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane © 2008 - photo by Jo Bell
Kissed is a live score to Andy Warhol's silent film series Kiss (1964) composed and performed by Philip Brophy. Presented in quadraphonic sound and based around a series of recorded and processed acoustic drum recordings by Philip, Kissed creates a pulsating rhythmic dialogue based on the film's kissing couples.
In his catalogue essay Die, Warhol, Die for the Gallery of Modern Art's Warhol exhibition, Philip describes Warhol's Kiss as "... the definitive statement on Warhol's febrile mix of necrotic and erotic drives. Couples become marionettes of meat, performing slug-like probes of each other's orifices, silently egged on to kiss until death do they part. In each reel, these mortal boys and girls are born, kiss, and die in a self-immolating chemical fire as the celluloid burns bright and eventually flares into the white heat of non-existence."
Extending this concept to his score, Philip's Kissed combines thumping with humping, bringing out the film's morbidly voyeuristic thrill and engulfing the audience into a heady swirl of lip-smacking beats.
In contrast to the musicological approach taken to the live score to Philippe Garrel's Le Révélateur (Aurevelateur), the score for Kissed employs a fixed ensemble palette (drums, fretless bass, electric piano, synth embellishments and occasional sampled strings) in order to chart the erogenous rise and fall of each couple's sexual performance. Whereas musical accompaniment to cinema is largely based upon a dance around performers exchanging dialogue, Kissed sculpts dramatic arcs and shapes by 'reading into' the performers' interior states of mind. The screen clinically depicts their kiss, but it simultaneously hides all that they might be feeling both emotionally and physiologically, leaving the accompanying score to invent a passage for their interaction.Kissed - Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane © 2008 - photo by Jo Bell
In the official compilation of Warhol's Kiss, 12 reels are included. Gerard Malanga appears in a few, while an unknown woman appears in about 4 of the reels, suggesting that maybe many of the Kiss reels were shot at the one time. It is also possible that different people operated the camera, as the framing and photography changes substantially from reel to reel: some feature zooms, some are fixed on faces set against blank backgrounds, and others show the couple on the infamous Factory couch. All reels commence in white and fade to white, evidencing the Warhol technique of utilizing every frame of the exposed roll, complete with its imperfections normally excised from release prints. Warhol's original intention was to have the films projected at the silent rate of 16fps, and Kissed is set to a screening of the 1989 compilation played on a variable speed projector running at 16fps. The complete work runs for 53 minutes.
Each individual composition composed to accompany each reel is strictly repetitive - in keeping with how Warhol's fascination with bland repetition belied a surfeit of charm and warmth in contents and themes presumed to be bereft of such depth. The music is thus lush while adhering to a grid-locked structural development. This also relates to the onscreen acton of performers locked into position, forced to perform their sensual act while being boxed within the screen's territorial scopic zone.
The drum parts were recorded first, freely disengaged from watching the Kiss reels. Each composition features two live drum performances (originally lasting around 6 minutes from which a 4 minute excerpt is used per kiss reel). The second performance is multi-tracked on top the first performance, with the idea being that each drum track is the energy core of one of the people engaged in kissing. The rhythmic intermeshing of the dual drum tracks symbolises the energy being forged by the couple's embrace.
Each of the drum tracks is recorded with a varying 10-mic configuration designed to be played back in quadraphonic surround. The intermeshing of the dual drum tracks is here intensified by the co-habitative spatialization of each drum track, as their rhythmic blend is compounded by the spatial patterns generated by shifting the individual track components (snare, kick, cymbal, etc.) across the quadraphonic space.
Once all the drum tracks were recorded, their tempos and sonic density was gauged in order to see which Kiss reel complemented the energy of the drums. And once each dual drum track was accorded a reel, the rest of the composition of bass and keyboards was then undertaken in consideration of the relative couple's performative energy.Kissed - Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane © 2008 - photo by Jo Bell
The 1st reel is the only reel incorporating a 'blooper': for about 1 minute, a girl (Naomi Levine) kisses a guy, but then they break into laughter. Following an in-camera edit, Gerard Malanga appears and is kissing the girl through to the conclusion of the reel. The score tracks this rupture, featuring a slow build-up of drums alone, then opening out into a swirl of bass and keyboards to accompany the Malanga performance that saved the day.
Shimmering slightly out-of-focus, the 2nd reel's couple mostly stay still and clinched, framed in a classic 50s'-style embrace. The stillness and softness of the image inspired the distant reverbed drums which slowly fade up in layers in the surround mix. The vibes accordingly 'shimmer' to reflect the inner glow this idealised couple are potentially experiencing.
Many of the Kiss reels perform an anthropological function, documenting precise mannerisms and behaviour of people at a certain historical juncture of time and space. The 3rd reel exemplifies this, depicting two bare-chested teenage boys (possibly John Palmer & Andrew Myer?) locked in a particularly feverish tongue-fest. Bordering on kiddie porn, their gangly bodies and arms flail about in an unabashed erotic display, culminating in one boy aggressively tugging on the other. The score here features layers of improvised gestures playing on prepared drums and cymbals, generating a heat haze drone of sizzling textures to reflect the suggestive danger of this couple's knife-edge consumption of each other.
Baby Jane Holzer - one of Warhol's richest muses - features in the 4th reel with John Palmer. Her blonde bountiful hair blooms as she manages to pout while kissing. Playing upon the exaggerated sex-doll persona she projects, the score ironically exudes a soft jazz-funk slickness which (still) tends to symbolize 'rich people with taste'. Warbling synth overlays build up with modulating intensity to reflect the gaudy emotional display of this reel.
The intriguing quaintness of Kiss is mostly foregrounded in the same-sex couplings. Filmed in a pre-gay - and even pre-Stonewall - era, the blunt depiction of two men kissing is equally radical for both its time (1964) and even by today's standards. While an overt porno-sexuality is absent, there is a strong suggestion of undercurrents in this 5th reel in its unflinching near-emotionless capture of two young men (Gerard Malanga being one) frenching it full-on. The score is based on a set of 2-note motifs which gurgle in the low resgister and bubble toward upper registers in gravelly timbrel arcs. This composition features 3 drum tracks, each bearing a frenzied military-style beat. The idea was to take a celebratory tune like Village People's In The Navy but time-warp it a decade earlier to project how it might sound in an earlier era. The drums are compressed into sheets of noise which gradually clear to reveal their constituent parts, at which point they are obliterated by a 4/4 thud of a bare disco kick-drum.
While the Factory epoch has been historicised as a decadent period born of Warhol's fascination with the hedonistic Others of the early 60s lower village, so many of Warhol's silent films from the time depict some remarkably 'clean' looking types. The couple in the 6th reel (Naomi Levine & The Fugs' Ed Sanders) almost evoke a mythical princess and prince - perhaps sardonically synchronizing with the 'Camelot era' of the JFK/Jackie union. The keyboards riff on these associations, evoking a slightly maddened overlay of music-box tinkling - sparkling yet oppressive in it harmonic density. Mock french-horn lines mimic the mustachioed allure of nordic lover as his follicles are gently tongued by his maiden in waiting.
Starkly contrasted to the other reels, the couple in the 7th reel are isolated in pitch black. Their black sweaters and black hair leave only their faces and hands visible as white orbs and stunted tentacles. This composition was the first composed in the Kissed suite, and the jazz-like palette of drum kits, eclectic pianos and fretless bass was inspired by the vampira-like neo-Beat cocktail lounge vibe of this reel. The darkness aids in casting this couple as a statuesque goddess (played by the sculptor Marisol) being set upon by a very creepy looking mime guy. The composition thus quivers with a spooky aura, suggesting that all the kisses depicted here are impelled by dark undercurrents.
The 'race issue' never figured prominently in Warhol's early prints, painting and sculptural installations, however it undeniably comes to the fore in many of his early films. While social histories point to cinematic advents as signs of how 'the Kiss are changing', the taboo of the interracial kiss does not mark the Hollywood screen until the late 60s (and even then, under the most distilled conditions). The 8th Kiss reel thrusts the interracial kiss in the viewer's face. This is no guarded peck on the cheek or brush of the lip: a hyper-sensual tango of lips unfolds as the frame captures theatre actor Rufus Collins towering over a lithe WASP girl. It's the Mandingo effect in overdrive, risible to conservative America yet titillating all the same. The score plays upon this exploitative thrill of the scene with pumping primal drums topped by a slinky string section to match the unbridled sexuality of the couple's embrace.
A fractured drum motif and various cut-up percussive elements drive this track toward a slow climax. This kiss seemed the most opaque, and the the couple's slow-simmering arousal is far more internalized than the other that of the other couples. To emphasize this invisibility, the accompanying pop-ish track suggests that there is an entirely unheard song playing in their heads.
Most of the Kiss reels dance a fine line between people agreeing to 'act out' the kiss for the camera, and them becoming aroused uncontrollably by their innocent pretence to 'kiss'. Typical of Warhol's purported game-playing with people, the results waver between cabaret spectacles and uncomfortable exposes. The 10th reel features a couple whose theatricality blocks any true erotic impulse. They perform an archly melodramatic entwining, like Broadway thespians sucking on pursed lips. An uptight bossa nova rhythm accompanies their parlour game charade - yet this is musically undercut by a swelling synth line which ponders whether these prancing prudes might not be getting just a little moist under their claustrophobic clothing.
The most Preppy couple feature in the 11th Kiss reel. Undercutting their high-collar button-down demeanour, the accompanying score irrationally percolates with a disproportionate amount of funk bass and fuzzed clavichord. In some of Warhol's early sound films (like Vinyl, etc.) music appears in the form of whatever records were lying around the Factory. Interestingly, Velvet Underground style rock-droning never figures. In place: hot soul and froogalicious pop yelp from the portable record player. History now soundscapes the Factory years with the Velvet's seminal sonic scrawl, but there are indications that such a dark angel tonality was not the sole ambience in the Factory. The score here alludes to that aesthetic clash.
The most slug-like performance arrives in the final 12th reel. The couple's face is heavily cropped, leaving us with a fleshy morph of lips and noses. This couple's jaw-lock is total, formidable and final. The death aesthetic arises from the morbid stillness of their action. Somewhere between narcolepsy and necropsy, the image is part sleeping princess being kissed by a prince, and part deviant suckling on the dead. The score is distilled into these two parallel thematic lines: a lulling chord sequence gently cycles against a 3-octave pattern filtered with saliva-bubble crackling. Truly a goodbye kiss. xx