I I was taking a shower and, as it sometimes goes, I became erect and instead of wasting a good erection I decided it would be best to masturbate. I was listening to music, specifically Holly Herndon’s “Chorus.”
Herndon is a very techy, experimental electronic musician concerned with the body as it relates to technology and “Chorus” is a song that employs her voice and electrical found sounds to create a warped dance. It’s quite dissonant and would be confused as cacophonous to some. I think its beautiful. It’s an alternate universe pop anthem.
The song plugged my ears as fantasies of nude men whose hairy pectorals I was petting played in back of my mind. I then wondered: has anyone else ejaculated while listening to Holly Herndon? Has anyone intentionally done so? I don’t necessarily want to steal this title—nor do I really want it—but it is definitely an interesting one to have. Has she ever thought that her music would be something played in the background while love is being made between two people or oneself? Do artists ever think about this?
An intellectual tailspin began and I release my penis to focus on this thought: do artists know or realize that their works are a part of their audience’s intimate actions? When I have sex with my boyfriend and works by Steven Harrington and Evan Hecox and Tauba Auerbach watch, do they have any idea? I know that these paintings and prints aren’t communicating telepathically with their maker but, when they were made, did these artists ever envision that they would be voyeurs?
With music, I don’t prefer to have anything playing during sex but, whilst showering, I always do. And I masturbate quite a bit while showering. The music is never setup as something to grind to but simply a friendly enough soundtrack to play alongside a ritual. I usually turn on a playlist: it can be a a combination of upbeat songs from Rihanna to Madonna to Arca to Jam City, it could be a combination of more mediative Tim Hecker and Babe Rainbow songs, it could be a combination of melancholia from Molly Nillsson and John Maus. It’s just music. Yet, the same question arises: do these people know listeners, patrons of their art, are involving them in sexual activity? Do artists consider their being complicit in intercourse?
I sometimes think about this, usually via the tangentially related question of “Will people read this while they poop?” This private discharge is much different but, in many ways, much more dynamic and concentrated and intentional. When you read while on the toilet, you are keeping busy or distracted from the task at hand. That task may be quick, soft, and smooth or laborious, long, and rugged; regardless of the experience, you have brought a piece of me along with you. Do you consider your reading a text of mine as an accompaniment to your literal shit? I won’t take offense if you do. It’s just something to think about.
The same goes for artists in relationship to sex. Some make music that clearly is intended for sexual activity to happen against (See: the entire catalogue of Boyz II Men.) but most are likely aiming for people to ingest, to not divide any attention when indulging in what they create. Would you go to a concert and masturbate? Surely you would never. At home, in a private performance? Yes, you would perform right back in your own way, intentional or not.
Technology is owed some of this credit too, thanks to its making all media extremely portable and easily reproduced. This is why music and video and any other creation by another can now watch us back, acting as a muted but very alive dressing to your state of undress. Do the creators of these devices and smart items consider the sexual byproducts of their making? Did Yves Behar think when making a Jambox, “Damn, people are going to fuck in the presence of this thing.”? Did Charles and Ray Eames consider the sexual support their Eames chair may provide? Have any of these makers used or had their products witness their own sexual inclinations? Has Holly Herndon gotten off as her music played? I have read (Well, proofread.) my own writing while taking a dump many, many times.
Related and further down this hole of satisfaction is the receiver of phone calls and text messages and emails: have you ever sent a text message without considering what the person getting the message is doing? Surely you don’t suspect them to be sitting, waiting, wondering if you would text. Some are getting or giving pleasure! The scenario is common enough: you are looking at pornographic materials on your phone as you touch yourself and then—BAM.—someone who is not on your sexual radar all of a sudden is. It could be your mother asking about holiday plans, your boss requesting an assignment, a boyfriend relaying how his workday is, etc. These moments project third parties into your own sexuality, not too dissimilar from when an artwork—an abstract message—is placed within the context of your pleasure.
The situation of these messages illuminate an obvious awkwardness and the ease in which we accidentally enter the intimacies of others. Do we mean to? Of course not. Do we? Yes, we are constantly entering each others privates. We live in an era of being in each others privates.
So what is an intimate act today? It is something done in private, something that others can enter and exit or coexist with without knowing. It is being invisibly visible in the goings on of others. It is the propelling of yourself onto someone or being unwillingly propelled. Is the goal of life today to participate—knowingly or not—in the loves of others? Absolutely. I think that is absolutely what Holly is getting at with her universalist lamentations of technology enabling and disabling our lives. This is a beautifully ugly thing.