Kim Gordon's new soundtrack to "Kiss" carries on Andy Warhol's multimedia vision.



(Originally aired on WYEP, May 22nd, 2019)

In mid-May The Andy Warhol Museum celebrated its 25th anniversary as well as the opening of a new exhibit of work from artist and musician Kim Gordon, including an improvised score for Warhol’s silent film Kiss, putting a new spin on Warhol’s multimedia concept.

Adding music to the silent films of Andy Warhol is nothing new.  In the 1960’s, Warhol himself organized multimedia events with musicians, like avant-garde composer La Monte Young, and later with the band most closely associated with Warhol - The Velvet Underground in an experience called “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable”.

Ben Harrison, the Warhol’s Curator of Performing Arts, says that the Museum is continuing on Warhol’s original concept for his films.

“In my mind he created them for multi-purpose use. He utilized so many of his films in Exploding Plastic Inevitable - from the Screen Tests to Kiss, Sleep… I mean, he would take segments of those films and use them, as textural treatment in this kind of multimedia rock show before that was a thing. So, I think that gives us a really clear precedent to kind of continue in that spirit.”  

In 1994, the Museum’s inaugural year, John Cale of the Velvet Underground, composed his own soundtrack to the films Kiss and Eat and performed it at the museum with other members of the group. 

On May 16th, the Warhol Museum debuted a new exhibit of the work of Kim Gordon, best known as a founding member of the experimental rock group, Sonic Youth.  When you enter the exhibit the sound of Gordon’s commissioned soundtrack to Kiss begins subtly and then gets louder as visitors get closer to the area where the film is screened along with the music.

Jessica Beck, The Warhol’s Milton Fine Curator of Art, says the bleeding of the soundtrack throughout the exhibit was planned.

“Yeah, It was really important from the beginning not to silo the sound in the exhibition design.  So, I worked with Ben to come up with a way to make the sonic element present, and to have it permeate the floor plan, it’s all blended then into the exhibition, because the sound isn’t pushed to a back room with a door, it’s really allowed to breathe and to live and to vibrate in the exhibition”  

Kim Gordon is the most recent of many contemporary musicians to add their sound to the artist’s silent films. In the past, the museum has commissioned them for shorter films, like Warhol’s Screen Tests, but Gordon explains that she chose Kiss because she wanted more room.

“I wanted to pick a film that was an hour long, because previous projects had been with five minute Screen Tests and were song based. So, I suggested we approach something from the improv point of view and it just made more sense to choose something longer”

Kim Gordon, along with collaborators Bill Nace, Steve Gunn and John Truscinski recorded the soundtrack last year in the Warhol Museum’s theater, and played it live again for the exhibition’s opening and she says the improv-ed work went through some evolution.

"Well, we had kind of a strategy, I mean, originally the way I thought we would do it, we ended up not doing it.  It just seemed more organic. Originally it was going to be Steve and John for 20 minutes, and then me and Bill overlapping, and then me and Bill. But it just kind of made sense not to do it so formally.”

Ben Harrison says that Gordon’s soundtrack sheds a new light on Warhol’s film..

“I talk about it in the terms of being a strange duality, of the film and her soundtrack, those dualities being like eroticism and repulsion, passivity and aggressive, it’s very physical  - almost like abstract - the way the couples are kissing and interacting it has this voyeuristic element but also is kinda off-putting, and I think Kim’s soundtrack just brings those things out, but also adds this kind of aggression to that film - this haunting quality”

Instead of issuing a exhibition catalog, the Museum has pressed a double-vinyl record of the soundtrack. The record itself was mastered under Gordon’s supervision and with a sound in mind.

“As I was mixing it with the engineer Aaron Mullan, that I wanted it to actually have the sound of a Velvet Underground record - of one of those early records. So, what we did was after we got the edit of things, cause we played it a few times, and mixed it, we then sent it through two amplifiers and mic-ed the amps, and so that it has this really kind of nice warm, thick sound that reminds me of the Velvet Underground.”

Kim Gordon - LoFi Glamor is on view at the Andy Warhol Museum until September 1st.

- Brian Siewiorek

(Album Image courtesy of the Andy Warhol Museum)