If sex were music, what would it sound like? Our pop stars and musicians have come up with some deft approximations over the years, but nothing quite as literal as Rory Viner. The Japan-based sound artist has been strapping movement sensors across his and his partner’s bodies during intercourse, feeding the signal to software programmed to respond with synthesizer notes, and playing the output back live.
This is what sex music really sounds like:
“The whole point was to explore how sound can dilate emotional immediacy,” Viner told me in an email explaining the new project, which he calls “Sex, Sensors, and Music.”
Viner, who made headlines last year when he translated Japanese suicide statistics into a 22-minute piano opus, says that what we’re listening to is the aural equivalent of the highs and lows of actual sex.
“The more intensity, the quicker the sensors triggered,” he said. “That is, more physical contact set off the sensors more rapidly. That score was a whole, cough, act so to speak.”
In a blog post on his website, he explains the inspiration for the project, which isn’t just rooted in an interest in sex sounds, but in self-monitoring and data-sharing:
“The corporeal self is constantly being self monitored and other-monitored as our technological self extends. As the intimate becomes public, how does the emotional distance change? What is more intimate than our sex acts? What if the biometric data from our sex were exchanged or collected live? Would we feel more close or distant to ourselves and our partners?
"In my this experiment, I transformed sexual kinesthetic movements into sound. To accomplish this, I attached various piezoelectric sensors to myself and my partner at the waist and limbs and streamed and recorded the live output. Each piezoelectric sensor was programmed to trigger a different, specific note within an Arduino sketch after the sensors were connected to a microcontroller. The notes as MIDI data were then sent out of the Arduino program and into a synthesizer. This output was streamed live to be heard during intercourse in order to create a feedback loop where both the sound and our movement would interact with each other- our bodies instrumental, editing our actions in real time to change our behavior in order to change the musical output."
So, you’re listening to Viner and his partner, covered in motion sensors, limbs akimbo, triggering a flurry of notes and progressions that do indeed mimic the sound of the real thing—just a bit more delineated and polished than, say, a porn soundtrack. Personally, I find it melancholic and beautiful.
Still, Viner says that the project ultimately actually thwarted his expectations.
“I thought I would be closer to the person but the effect was the opposite,” he wrote me. “I had previously thought that this feedback loop would create a greater sympatico or feelings of connectedness, but the experience itself was quite different."
"Rather than collapsing distance," he continued, "in fact, this created a distance that interfered with the emotional immediacy of the event, creating a sort of depersonalized effect.”
Electric sex symphonies, then, may be something of an acquired taste.