Porn again

marke@sfbg.com

SEX + MUSIC What does Tumblr sound like? Is there an xTube channel on Pandora? Does Grindr have autoplay? (Perish the thought.) Already the gay porn soundtrack seems a relic of some ancient age, when people used pterodactyls to press “play” on the VCR, or put their real ages in their AOL chatroom handles. But even just a few years ago, during the increasingly desperate gasps of the dominant adult film studios, porn soundtracks were an essential part of big, expensive productions, and local background composers like JD Slater and Minor9 were taking experimental liberties.

Now, we’re about to be treated to the Holy Grail of lost porn soundtracks, with the upcoming release of School Daze, a double-album collecting the skin flick work of SF electronic pioneer Patrick Cowley for Fox Studio, composed from 1973-1981. Cowley, who died of AIDS in 1982, is famous for his production work with disco diva Sylvester and epic Hi-NRG tracks like “Menergy” and “Megatron Man.” School Daze contains some pretty trippy stuff — in the buffed, blonde, hairless heyday of early ’80s gay porn like Muscle Up, you’d hardly expect to come across such expressionistic (yet still playful) compositions with titles like “Seven Sacred Pools,” “Zygote,” “Pagan Rhythms,” and “Tides of Man.”

School Daze is being released on HNYTRX, local DJ crew Honey Soundsystem’s label, on Oct. 19 — Cowley’s 63rd birthday — with a celebration at Honey’s weekly Sunday party, Oct. 20. (Details at www.megatronman.com). I talked to Honey members Josh Cheon and Jacob Sperber about the unearthed gems.

SF Bay Guardian OK, rumors have been flying about these tracks for years. How did you get you get your hands on them?

Josh Cheon In 2007, Honey Soundsystem was blessed to meet the former owner of Megatone Records [Cowley’s label], John Hedges. He was moving to Palm Springs and invited us over to his basement to collect over 2000 records from his collection. Among the archives we noticed three moldy boxes of quarter inch reel-to-reel tapes. Some of the tapes had unreleased music by Patrick Cowley. Inspired, we contacted Patrick’s friends and family to discover as much information as possible.

A few of Patrick’s friends asked if anyone had discovered the gay porn soundtracks Patrick had composed. Digging deeper, we unearthed John Coletti, the owner of famed vintage gay porn company Fox Studio in Los Angeles. John had heard about Patrick’s music from the legendary Sylvester and proposed he write music for his films. That was in 1981. Patrick jumped on this offer and sent reels of his college compositions from the ’70s to John in LA. We were able to locate Coletti in Los Angeles though an old address on a porn tape. In May 2013, I flew to LA to pick up the tapes from the Fox Studio storage garage and brought them back to San Francisco.

SFBG Why do you think Patrick went so moody and trippy with these compositions?

JC I think the ambience reflects the gay bathhouse scene of San Francisco during the late ’70s. Patrick frequented the bookstores in the Castro and the bathhouses of SOMA, a few blocks from his recording studio. He had the perfect setting to compose songs there. He also smoked a lot of pot and most of these songs could be stoner jams.

Jacob Sperber It can’t be denied that these compositions have that tripped-out sound that most San Franciscan musicians end up folding into their music. The jam bands that made this place famous and the microclimates of this city breed a noodle-y and melty sound in the musicians that live here. In conversations with people who worked with Patrick, we learned how much the session musicians and jazz artists in the Bay Area influenced the sounds of 12-inch disco here. Undoubtedly Patrick worked with a lot of these session musicians and took inspiration from them. There is a foggy melancholy to this city and it comes through in the music, with perhaps a premonition of the storm to come in the ’80s, when HIV first hit.

SFBG Have you had a chance to watch the actual movies these tracks went with? Are the soundtracks effective as porn music?

JC Yes, I own both movies that use Patrick’s music. This compilation features soundtrack music from two Fox Studio films Muscle Up and School Daze. The movies were originally shot on 16mm with no microphone so they were silent. Rather than overdub fake sex moans, John Coletti decided to use Cowley’s music as soundtracks. Coletti used a variable speed oscillator to adjust the pitch and speed of Patrick’s songs in-sync with the film scene. So yes, a lot of thought went into fitting each composition with the film scene, and it works wonderfully.

SFBG After spending so much time with this, what do you think about the sounds of porn today?

JS Honestly we don’t know many people who watch traditionally produced porn these days. Most of our friends either don’t want to pay for it, aren’t turned on by it, or are making their own at home. The new soundtrack to porn is sex. The raw grit of an iPhone microphone recording or even the silence of your laptop on mute, so that your roomies don’t know you’re jerking off, is way more of a turn-on these days.