In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “My Wife”:The Tape Recorder and Warhol’s Queer Ways of Listening
  • Gustavus Stadler (bio)

Introduction: “Human Sound”

In a droll anecdote early in his 1980 memoir POPism: The Warhol Sixties, Andy Warhol describes his transition from silent to sound filmmaking in late 1964: “Now that we had the technology to have sound in our movies,” he writes, “I realized that we were going to be needing a lot of dialogue.” Subsequently, he claims to have enlisted poet and playwright Ronald Tavel as his screenwriter after attending a public reading at Café Le Metro in downtown Manhattan. The memoir describes Warhol’s delight upon seeing “the sheer amount of stuff [Tavel had] evidently written. While he was reading, I was thinking how wonderful it was to find someone so prolific just at the point when we were going to need ‘sounds’ for our sound movies.”1 Warhol’s remark here is telling in its focus on “sounds” rather than dialogue, as well as in its wry characterization of sound as quantifiable in a manner analogous to the pile of manuscripts at Tavel’s side. In an interview in which he, too, recounts this meeting, Tavel claims to have known immediately that “[Warhol] was interested in my voice, not my words,” and that “it was human sound itself he wanted rather than any particular words.”2

The accounts of this encounter reflect the broadening engagement with sound and its reproduction evident in Warhol’s work and life during the vital 1963–67 period.3 During this time, he announced his retirement from painting, and in POPism he describes this move as meant in part to free more time for listening: “Art just wasn’t fun for me anymore; it was people who were fascinating and I wanted to spend all my time around them, listening to them, and making movies of them” (142). Elsewhere in the memoir, Warhol recalls the mid-1960s Factory studio as drenched in recorded music, an aural environment constituted by odd overlays of musical genres, such as opera records playing on one phonograph while [End Page 425] the latest hit single played on another; audio recordings of the daily life at the Factory, of which Warhol made thousands of hours, confirm this account. During these years, the artist not only kept an ear open to trends in contemporary pop music but also courted relationships with many of the era’s most eminent pop musicians, including Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, and Bob Dylan. In 1963, Warhol himself was a backup singer in a brief-lived rock group made up of artists, including Claes and Patti Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Lucas Samaras, and Walter de Maria, as well as minimalist composer La Monte Young.4 He began producing sound films with Tavel’s assistance, beginning with Harlot, in December 1964. A year later, the artist began his collaboration with the Velvet Underground, an experimental rock group. Warhol introduced the band to another musical protégé, the German model and singer Nico, with whom the Velvets agreed, ambivalently, to collaborate. Warhol subsequently acted as producer for the LP The Velvet Underground & Nico (recorded 1966, released 1967), with its famous, Warhol-designed banana cover. The recording is now widely considered one of the most influential albums in the history of rock music. This same period also saw the artist’s “authorship” of a book eventually published by Grove Press in 1968 as a: a novel. A 450-page tome, this literary experiment was the muddled, imprecise, oddly formatted, reader-unfriendly transcription of eighteen hours of audiotape recordings Warhol had made, mostly in July 1965, while following extravagantly queer Factory denizen Robert Olivo—better known to the Warhol circle (and viewers of the film Chelsea Girls [dir. Warhol, 1966]) as Ondine—on his amphetamine-suffused wanderings from the Factory to various points around Manhattan. Enabling this endeavor, and—I want to suggest—providing an important model of listening for the others, was Warhol’s procurement, sometime in 1964, of the first mass-marketed portable cassette recorder, the Norelco Carry-Corder, a device to which he felt so closely devoted that he began referring to it as his “wife.”5

The diversity...


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pp. 425-456
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