Add N to (X)

Checking the Registers With

Add N to (X)

Add N to (X) is machine sexy, but not the machine sexy you usually think of. It is not the gleaming chrome and suggestive curves of a dimly-remembered Kelvinator. It’s more like parting tightly kinked strands of multi-colored wire to reveal a redly-glowing core, its diffuse light refracted by a light patina of dust. Add Insult to Injury, the band’s latest foray, is a heady mix of seductive analog warbles and imposing rock beats. The trio — Barry Smith, Ann Shenton, and Steve Claydon — makes a music that is all future, despite its now-retro analog synth sounds. I spoke to Barry Smith about those vintage keyboards, interesting side projects, and the nature of porn…

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Are you preparing to come over Stateside?

We’re going around England and Ireland, and all around Europe, so hopefully at some point in January. But we’re going to Moscow for the first time, at the end of the year, then to America.

I take it you’re fans of analog technology. Do you expect to find something in Moscow along those lines?

I’ve already got a Russian synth that I found; it’s like a tank, and it’s scary. It’s one of the noisiest synthesizers I’ve ever found. It has some Cyrillic writing on the side. Very bizarre.

Can you at least identify what the components are?

No. I can’t identify any of it. That’s what’s great about it, an anonymous sonic tank.

What are some of your other favorite toys for sound?

On the last couple of things I’ve done, I’ve recorded a lot of sound in New York, onto a MiniDisc. A lot of life sounds, real sounds. Especially your police trucks. But I didn’t use any of it on [the Add N to (X)] record, I used it on another record I just finished.

Are American police trucks more musical?

Your fire trucks are fantastic. They don’t muck about, do they? There’s about six different sirens. Brilliant. Really good sound.

What do they sound like in England?

Not as romantic. If you’ve grown up on American film, when you’re actually in America and you hear these things, they sound exactly like you’ve heard on the films, and it has a romantic, nostalgic thing to it. In England, it’s very different. Very harsh, nasty sounds.

What’s it like to take all this analog equipment on the road? Do you take extra special care?

Nah, they’re all sort of worn and about ready to explode. They’re a testament to their individual makers, that they made them so robust. They often go wrong, but that’s the whole point. There’s something quite special about that.

How do you keep your sounds consistent?

The sounds are pretty much worked out to be how we recorded them, but that’s part of the battle of playing live. We have these little charts that we refer to on stage; we’ve been doing it so long that we’re quite good at doing it without the charts.

How close do you get night to night? Is it down to a science for you?

We know what we want from them. Certain ones are used for bass, certain ones are used for more noise things, and certain ones are used for melodies, so we know what we’re doing.

Do you tour as a trio?

Yes, with a live drummer [Rob Allum]. He often plays in a band called the High Llamas. He’s our live drummer. Very different from what he plays [in the High Llamas] — it’s almost like he’s schizophrenic. He has to cope with two very different styles, but he’s very good. With us, he rocks out, and with the Llamas, he Latins up.

I heard you just finished a video for “Plug Me In.” It’s a softcore porn video…?



The promo is a softcore version, which is a trailer for our hardcore porn film.

Is this your hardcore porn film, or were you just doing the music to it?

I made it; directed it with a good friend of mine. There’s a very specific reason for doing that, as well. In England, the censorship laws are very tough, and they’ve recently been changed. A lot of intellectuals in England have these debates about pornography, and it seems like unless you go and find out from the real people involved, unless you make one yourself, then you can’t really make a comment. It’s a specific thing, and there’s a lot said about it by people who don’t know anything about it and who don’t know the people actually in it.

People often have the comment, “Well, I never see the porn I want to see.” Then you think about it, “I live in a society where television is mostly about distress.” I’m against violence, and I see that certain performances on porn films are incredibly sadistic, incredibly violent. I wanted to make something erotic but sensual. There’s a revolution going on right now, with shows like Big Brother. That sort of stuff disgusts me; in a way, you could say that Big Brother is probably the best definition of pornography as it stands now. You have an artificial environment, and all these people are competing for what is essentially a very small sum of money, for the amount of privation they go through. And then you’re watching them saying nothing, doing nothing of any interest whatsoever.

I wanted to do something that was anti-Big Brother. In the film, we used surveillance cameras; they’re very small, about an inch high. We gave the performers these cameras to film themselves having sex. They filmed what they felt was sexy for them and what turned them on…

What plugged them in…

We wanted to make something that challenged the rules of pornography, and challenged the British establishment as it is, and its views on sexuality.

So what’s the porn industry in England? It sounds like there wouldn’t be much of one.

It’s very big, and very rough. It’s a similar situation that we have with soft drugs. Society feels that if you smoke marijuana, then you end up being a smackhead, and if you watch porn, you end up being a rapist. Because it’s kept underground for those puerile reasons, you have very dangerous and difficult people providing this service; it’s always going to be in demand, it’s always going to be used.

It sounds criminalized.

It is. And I don’t think sex should be criminalized. And I don’t think it’s wrong to watch people having sex. Making the film, I didn’t feel like Russ Meyer. I felt like David Attenborough. Like I was making a nature film. It didn’t seem to be wrong, although going through the industry and meeting all the real people that do these things, it makes you question your whole moral system, as to why you wanted to do this in the first place. That for me was very interesting.

What are your plans to distribute it?

We’re in the process of coming up with a deal with all the main sex shops in England, and then it’s just a matter of working out what to do in America. We’re going to stream a hardcore trailer on the Internet for a couple of months.

You did the music for the film…

Just myself, really. It’s going to be called Plug Me In, like the song [on Add Insult to Injury]. But the soundtrack is a real soundtrack, the sound of them making love, and the sounds of the Machine. Like sexual musique concrete. That sort of sounds sexier than the cliche of porn music.

So you’re building the soundtrack from these actual sounds.

The little cameras have built-in mikes, so all the slurping, and the moaning, and the groaning got all constructed into a score. It’s going to be released with a single. Sometime next year.

What I found interesting about the porn film, and about female sexuality, is the machines, the soft machines they have in order to facilitate their own private orgasm. The whole history of the vibrator is fantastic, and they’re really funny objects.

You know what the ultimate sex toy is…

What’s that?

The VCR.

For men. Not necessarily for women.

You can’t deny that the film you made is sexist, meaning aimed at a single sex.

And for men, do you have something as brilliant as a Dr. Johnson? I don’t. I’ve never really seen a male sex machine, have you?

I’ve seen them. I’d hesitate to use one.

[Laughs] Exactly! As an invention, it’s not successful. But 70% of the female population owns a vibrator. That’s the idea within the porn film, that they’re using these mad machines. But it’s our relationship to machines that’s important.

Are these off-the-shelf machines, or specially constructed for the film?

I made an Add N to (X) fucking machine.

How big is it?

It’s massive. If you can imagine a cross between a Harley Davidson, a machine gun, a heavy metal guitar, and a prop from Alien, which at the same time has a medieval, hand-pumping action… the girls attack it, they hate it. That’s the joke, that represents all male sexuality, a stupid thing that doesn’t work very well.

Is it plugged in?

No, it’s manual. Analog, you see.

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