I like pleasure spiked with pain and
Music is my aeroplane
It's my aeroplane
Songbird sweet and sour Jane and
Music is my aeroplane
It's my aeroplane
Pleasure spiked with pain -RHCP
Comparing music and sex is surely not new. Mind you, we are not referring here to the nearly ubiquitous presence of sexual themes in popular music, but to the ways in which what it is we enjoy in music, and how we enjoy it, parallels key facets of human sexuality broadly, and of D/s specifically.
In each of the sections that follow the ultimate goal is not just to add a bit here and there to these lines of comparison, but equally or more so, to help improve and deepen our collective appreciation and understanding of human sexuality (and of D/s in particular) as a result of shedding more light on these parallels.
Musical Consonance & Dissonance (and other duals)
When the Red Hot Chili Peppers sang that they liked "pleasure spiked with pain" and spoke about "songbird sweet and sour Jane" they were touching upon much more than just S/M (or drugs) or food flavors like sweet versus sour. They were also referring directly to music itself. At the core of so much in music — almost any type of music — are the duals of tension & release.
Other than a few comments below, the subject of consonance and dissonance in music is a too huge to cover here, but even readers without any music background or even those who listen to very little music will not require a lot of reflection to bring to mind examples of either harmony "resolving" or a melody (to the "tonic") or a "rougher" sound changing to a more pleasing one, and the tension transitioning to resolution, release, and relaxation both mentally and emotionally.
This same dual pair is central to all of human sexuality: arousal and release, and in D/s specifically there are levels of tension or "winding up the spring" non-physically, in additional layers on top of those of our common basic vanilla sexuality.
And what's at play here is found more widely than in music and human sexuality: the pleasure of reading a novel or watching a film often involves being "wound up" and the tension of this winding up is part of the pleasure. If you've watched or read anything suspenseful you know that, yes, this heightened tension is pleasurable (so long as it is within tolerable bounds, and well crafted) even before the 'release' that comes with the plot's resolution. The release itself provides a second (type of) pleasure. Even when designing a game, if we are to enjoy it, the game must be not too easy nor too hard; it's the combination of temporarily being frustrated (or challenged) and the tension inherent in that, with the satisfaction and resolution of success that bring out a desirable experience.
The same goes for things we don't consider to be games at all but which have a tensing up 'challenge' and a resolution or success, such as a hiking, biking or jogging in the outdoors.
And if someone like myself can notice and appreciate these dualities in what makes for a good experience in a novel or film or game despite not being one who watches/reads much movies or fiction, and not being much into board games (being more partial to an eclectic set of experiences from being out in nature, to intellectual pursuits to, well, the themes of this website..) then surely these similarities can be worth noticing, and be a source of insight or at least enrichment of our experiences, for anyone.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's step back and have a look at a more measured pace (no pun intended) at these ideas.
As noted, one similarity between sex and music is the complementary pair of opposites, and the natural pairing of, tension and release. It's the buildup of tension that forms an essential part of the mental/emotional pleasure when we anticipate and move closer and closer to a spine-tingling moment in music, whether popular music or a classical music crescendo, whether the human voice is present or whether it is purely instrumental. Similarly with sex: the sexual climax is the "release" and often that term, "release" is used to refer to orgasm; yet what is orgasm without the buildup, and what is this buildup, if not largely a buildup of tension, both physically and also psychologically and emotionally. [Note: "release" can mean many things other than orgasm; in fact the more types of release including non-orgasmic, emotional and psychological types are added, the richer the experience. See "layers" comment below -added 2014]
This building up of tensions takes places on many levels and in multiple ways. Physically our muscles tense up, not just in the moments before climax, but also when grab our lover, and even long before that point. And the same happens to our muscles in the non-sexual examples.
What about psychologically? When the "vanilla" couple have a Date Night in which they act out and pretending to be young lovers, or perhaps lovers on their first-time encounter, rather than husband and wife who have been "at it" for years or decades, the roles create a deliberate and enjoyable sense of the forbidden. This element in sexuality, The Forbidden, is often a powerfully erotic one, but why so? At the very least, the taboo and the forbidden are closely bound together with escalating tension (again, "good" tension will be within tolerable limits of extent, length, unpredictability, etc)
For that matter, what does that well known expression, "the thrill of the chase" (whether one is a chaser or the chased) mean if not an admission that the coil-winding, the spring-tensing buildup is a key part of, dare we say an essential element of, what is so enjoyable about the sexual encounter?
To these physical and psychological examples from the vanilla world, D/s adds the possibility of many more layers of tension, and correspondingly therefore, many more layers of later release, and/or later cathartic resolution in the worlds of the mind and emotion. This fact is, I suspect, familiar to most readers who have experience or even just an interest in BDSM, and is too large a topic to fully delve into now. Also, I may speak of physical layers in the case of B&D, and psychological ones in the case of D/s (my orientation tends to be more towards the latter) though ultimately the mind and emotions underly even the 'purely physical' of course, at least when care is taken, and when thoughtfulness underlies planned (and/or spontaneous) activities.
The title of this piece is borrowed from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song Aeroplane, whose line I like pleasure spiked with pain and music is my aeroplane is repeated many times, though here the BDSM-like language is actually using (non-vanilla) sexuality to tell us about music rather than the reverse: "Songbird sweet and sour Jane and music is my aeroplane" It is the combination of "sour" (pain) with "songbird sweet" (pleasure) that makes music such an effective aeroplane: that is, such an effective vehicle, a vehicle which we can use to transport ourselves to new places with, and to help our mind, heart and spirits truly soar.
Part II — What's it for? How and Why do we soar?
When the first version of this essay started coming to me a while back, the comments now under 'Part I' above were the main ones that initially assembled themselves, first and foremost the issue of tension and resolution in music, vanilla sexuality, and in BDSM.
They were on the back of my mind also when I found myself with a tempting and delicious combination while on the highway one day It was during a stretch of open road, beautiful and clear, safe and without any nearby drivers to worry about, and I was listening a song which had, and which I knew had, several a strong emotional highs, and it was now approaching a series of these highs. I probably don't have to tell you what happened next, and that it involved the accelerator of my car. I am, believe it or not, a pretty straight laced guy in everyday life, almost shockingly so when contrasted with the stereotypical image of the male Dom, and I seldom go more than 5 (and virtually never more than 9) mph above the speed limit..but I did it, albeit with safety in mind, by which I mean, being consciously aware that one is about to enter a period of time when my emotions will undergo a rush which may diminish the alert rational mind's "sentinel" role, and making a deliberate mental point to monitor this rush as if watching myself from the outside, all while simultaneously being present in my body and enjoying this rush. In a phrase: Controlled passion.
One part of the brain was Mr. Spock, analyzing how fast was safe and setting parameters within which the other half, a head-banging Rocker part of the brain, can soar. And with those limits in place, that other half very much enjoyed the trance-like state, a natural 'high' state, as the car kept accelerating through the musical crescendo, and through the beautiful natural landscape passing by more and more rapidly.
Aside: Actually several famous personae come to mind to symbolize what complements Spock. One of them came up while on the road in my car, on another vacation trip and looking for stations to listen to, found a station which played a 1980s song, White Wedding by Billy Idol, you can find a copy online, if you're unfamiliar; one can definitely hear the barely controlled, but controlled, passion and urgent desire perhaps mixed with a touch of anger, in his voice in some passages, including some D/s themed ones...hey little sister what have you done? Hey little sister who's the only one? Hey, little sister, who's your Superman? Hey, little sister, who's the one you want? and later Hey, little sister, what's your vice or wish If you haven't heard it, I strongly recommend listening to the audio only, no video, the first time, to appreciate it. You can watch the over-the-top video later if you really want...
But this experience brought to mind several other parallels with D/s. How do we wish to soar, in what manner, and why do we do so? There are many layers and they seem to melt together so as not to be truly distinct, being folded into a single whole, and yet there is the "adrenaline rush" pure passionate heat aspect in music (and the "rushing" physically of the landscape as we accelerate) and likewise in BDSM. Other similarities? There is the hot but "heart-warm" of strongly open-hearted deep emotional connection which has an obvious musical version (when our reaction is a feeling of being deeply touched by the music, even if it lack lyrics), and, Yes Virginia, there really is also, even a "warm" part of D/s as well!
You can add other layers, and this is perhaps worth revisiting in a separate essay another time, but those similarities in "How and Why do we soar?" were not the only parallels that came to mind.
Perhaps a far more important parallel to being as a Dom is hidden in plain view. As I made the decision to press the accelerator as the musical peaks approached, I had decided to do what? To indulge the passionate, the limbic, the emotional parts of my brain but only after the rational and logical one set safe parameters for how long and where the "let's floor it!" rush would take place in sync with the music.
And this is what a good Dom does.
Logic and planning and being just good at the "craft" part, would not be much fun for the sub or the Dom, after all (I suppose enough women think Spock is hot, and could enjoy some of it; "This is highly illogical, my lady, but if this flogger is what you need, I shall comply, and be assured that it will be with sufficient force.." Yes even us serious Doms can have a sense of humor!) But with all due respect to 'sensation players' (and 'sadists') in the kink community, that side alone just doesn't do it for many of us. On the other hand, at the other polar end of things, just Passion alone becomes less than safe for all concerned, and that crucial element of D/s was paralleled very well in those moments of the accelerating car set to the musical peak..
We all must exercise the logical, "planning", rational part in everyday life of course and not just in music and sex: we can't piggishly stuff our faces with cakes and candy during an important crucial business meeting and tune the rest out if we value our career (or do so more than on special occasions in everyday life, if we value our figure not to mention our health) In D/s it is critical, partly because the stakes are high in terms of physical and emotional safety, but also because unlike the business meeting we are deliberately choosing to play with those very passions. Notice that here "play" does not refer to something 'pretend' rather than 'real' but the way musical notes are the objects of play, the objects being used as the clay from which the Work is constructed, for the musician: creative exploration, in other words.
III: Ya can't "fly" without wings (without an open and receptive heart)
We now come to another crucial parallel, perhaps as important as needing "Spock" (rationality and planning) to balance our "Billy Idol" inner passionate beast (and 'beastette') for our physical and emotional safety. Let's return to another insight that hit me like a crescendo while driving and listening to music (I actually drive less than your typical American. But vacation get-aways do free up the mind and spirit, don't they?)
Just take your favorite moment of spine-tingling heights being reached in a music piece.
As I tell prospective partners, the D/s experiences I either create for them or more often, directly or indirectly co-create with them, are intense in the most positive and satisfying sense of the word, but this assumes their active mental and emotional participation: I can't "make" them do that. I can't make them have the reactions they need, crave, and desire...I can only offer them a safe, welcoming, inviting, loving and respectful (as well as appealing to their erotic and other needs) environment. But I can't 'make' them have the reactions they (and/or I) want them to have. If I could, I would be engaged in D/s with a machine, not a person. Of course, I and other Doms can "make" the sub take a spanking, a flogging, a nipple clamp, etc, but the positive intensity comes from the sub's very active engagement and participation in the physical and especially the non-physical realm..from the sub's open-hearted participation and presence in it, on all levels. It's only when she does her part, and does that, that the magic can happen..
So now back to music, and back to your taking a favorite, poignant piece of music that gives you shivers when you listen with an open heart. Well, if you choose to listen to that very piece, to that exact segment of musical climax, but listen at a time when you are very distracted or very angry at traffic and how some other aspect of the world 'sucks' of how the whole world is a cold unfair lousy dog-eat-dog place with no one giving a damn about anything but themselves, and you have a ton of work to bring home from work and a hundred ills from our environment and culture around us and your personal life's challenges....then Guess What? You will find the spine tingles are most likely partly or entirely missing even as you listen to this favorite portion of a favorite piece. In other words, even the most brilliantly composed, sung, organized, and performed music can't make you have that reaction: it's only your active engagement with it that makes the magic possible there too.
Of course, the intensity of D/s is not strictly spine-tingles, it usually has many components besides those shivers (looking at some of the main components, in another future post), but the point here I think is quite clear: the sub must come to the D/s experience with an open mind as well as open heart or "heart and soul" that is, with true, genuine emotional vulnerability and emotional receptivity, or else the magic won't happen, or will be significantly diminished if she just leaves it for the Dom to "do it for her". Of course, the Dom needs to do their part too, setting up the D/s analogs found in our favorite multi-climactic, powerful passages of music which has all that intense potential..and this is something I put in a lot of work, involving mental and emotive effort.
And on top of that I as a Dom allow myself to be engaged and receptive, too. Not in exactly the same way as a sub would, since I have different responsibilities that go with that role, but still I must come to it with an empathic openness, and an openness to new possibilities unfolding that I might not have planned, and I must do this for my own enjoyment, as well as for hers. But without question the important lesson the music analog teaches us is that, we should not think of submission as purely passive (even though there are times when that is required) when in fact the sub has her very critical and very active part to play, in allowing her to be open on the inside, emotionally, as well as letting the empathic Dom see and sense her reactions on the outside, on her face, and so forth. (As a straight male Dom I am using gendered language that's appropriate to me. But readers of all genders and sexual orientations and BDSM orientations/roles can and should translate, as appropriate. This disclaimer applies to this entire essay and website of course: a lesbian sub could easily read a story written in the second person and pretend the voice is from a Domme rather than a Dom, for instance)
IV: 'Artificial' is not a Four Letter Word
A penultimate but important note. Without a doubt, music is created as an artistic self-expression. In addition however one could say that on the most cold, mechanical level, both "artistic" music and popular music are also created as a means to artificially stimulating the listeners' emotions. We shouldn't be bothered by the term "artificial" here, as it just means a situation that was consciously and deliberately created rather than the emotions reacting to what just happened by chance.
And further, the emotions, the nervous system, are artificially stimulated when we listen to music, towards emotional thrills, or spine tingling shivers, passion, excitement, or towards a sentimental state, and other emotional catharsis (as well as music used for relaxation, which is also a physical and emotional state that we can be taken to, or helped to move to, through music) Fiction and movies with their plots can do the same. So can erotic stories. So can any form of 'erotic play' in the vanilla sense of the word (I don't use the term 'vanilla' sex in any negative sense here; I enjoy it in food as well as sexually, as is clear from the erotica section. But why limit to just one flavor?)
If you still think it's unfair or a bit too strong a term when applied to music, just think of the last time you got a spine tingling sensation or goose-bumps from listening to a singer as her or his voice seemed to just slightly crack in that touching or emotive way during a poignant line about, say, heartbreak, vulnerability, loss or yearning, or similar theme. Am I accusing the singer of "just acting"? It is similar to acting, but use of the word "just" here is, well, unjust ;-) When an actor portrays a poignant scene (whether that involves her voice cracking or other elements) do we say she "just faking"? No, it's the combination of practiced technique and of letting herself feel as if she is, and become, the character she is portraying. A good singer combines those too elements too: technique with letting herself personally feel and experience what the song is about. Yes, quaint though it may sound, a lot of it is about balance between mind and heart, planning and passion/spontaneity.
But an important disclaimer here is that I don't want and do not a sub to try to 'technique' her way into 'subspace' except in very limited ways as guided by me or whoever her Dom may be (for an example of what such 'very limited ways' see my comments in the piece on dacryphilia in the Shorts portion of the Essays section). A Dom does not want a sub who forces a non-authentic reaction out of herself, after all! (and she would be short-changing herself as well) For a submissive, who by definition is not engaged in much or any of the direct planning per se, most of the time the main ingredient which complements the "let yourself be in the moment and experience it fully, let yourself feel it," is not practiced technique. Instead it is working with her Dom beforehand and communicating during, and other elements which fall under preparation and the less formal but equally important part of 'planning' and which parallel the Dom's direct planning beforehand.
So, the term 'artificial' is not meant to refer to the inauthentic, which we definitely want to avoid. But the term can refer to something else which is a necessary and even positive ingredient, and not be a bad thing at all, provided that it refers to a yang part of the yin-yang duals we've outlined above: the carefully-orchestrated preparations before by the Dom and by the Dom-sub team in deep personal communication and other elements; this 'craft' part, if done in a loving way, that is, with heart is very positive, and complements the 'yin' of the passionate fire of the Dom and the sub's open and vulnerable be-in-the-moment deep personal experience of the scene, which provides the place for the fire to embody the Divine sensuality both partners seek.
V: Music Theory and now D/s Theory? Composing Music is a Craft.
As a last, for now, postscript, recall the term "craft" used earlier. Indeed, composing music is not just a passion from the heart (and "an art"), it's also a craft. On a more personal note, there is the fact that I sometimes enjoy analyzing why some piece of music, especially popular music, has the spine-tingling effect on me that it does. It does seem that this proclivity on my part somewhat mirrors my tendency as a Dom to put a lot of thought into trying to analyze what works, and why it works — to let go of the " Fear Of The Not-Unknown" (Essay by that title) and not to be afraid of asking "Why does this turn on the Dom or the sub or both?" To be unafraid that this would 'ruin the magic', but understanding that is can in fact help our mental connections to ourselves and our partner(s) and can actually and powerfully increase that Magic. [I hope this is one of the things readers take from this essay, and website, though not the only thing, yet important: though one can only partially accomplish it even over an entire lifetime, attempt to know thyself. Fear not looking into your soul, and into the needs, not the ones at the surface, but the needs behind the needs. Then with self knowledge, try with respectful empathy to know your partner, whether dom, sub, switch, vanilla, or other.. Added, 2014]
And as readers may have noted after the first post, this series of essays, are in part attempts to share a few perhaps small and humble but still useful and significant steps in the direction of a 'Music Theory' for the music of D/s.
Of course one needs to find a sub who understands and appreciates this, and is willing to work with you on that level as well: a sub who is not just smart, but who can engage mentally about D/s as well, and communicate with you.. And also: one who is not afraid of being asked lots of questions. Not afraid that she is going to lose the magic of wanting "complete surrender to his desires" As my Alt profile says, "There is no contradiction between being the Dom, being in control, versus putting the sub's inner needs at the heart and center as I do, for it is her reactions - including the physical but primarily the non-physical - which, in fluid but careful relation to her adroit, passionate, but empathic Dom, form the foundation for the D/s exchange, including for what is most satisfying for him." Some subs seem to think there is something wrong if they are asked for their input, or asked to look inside herself and share why she wants/needs or is turned on by, etc, as if you're not a true Dom, because True DomsTM know exactly what they want, no matter what the sub wants or needs, and no matter what the sub's innermost mental and emotional landscape looks like, nope, this True Dom would be great at Domming' a robot..and not very well being any other kind of Dom! ;-)
Thoughtful readers, whether femsub or not, I'm sure realize that I (or any other thoughtful Dom) do know what they want in the deeper interactions with the sub, in terms of the sexual charge and other aspects they intend to help bring forth and in tension and release of the body, mind and spirit, but those same effects will come though different surface-level (and yes physical) acts of D/s or BDSM, depending on how she is 'wired in her body, mind, emotions, and spirit..and so yes, I need to ask (any good Dom needs to ask) a lot of questions. Don't worry, the time would come when as Doms we would and will make our own determinations for what we decide to do with and to her without always asking ahead of time ahead of each little act (while still always taking feedback afterwards) but that mode is not not for all the time, and certainly not at the beginning, and in any case, not without lots of communication. This Essay has however now definitely flowed into another mode, into topics (rambling thoughts?) for another time..
Until then, may all your Aeroplanes fly well and safely, while giving you breath-taking, soaring experiences..
© By Panaeros
A final lighthearted postscript (and reward to patient female readers?) since I was reminded that the band RHCP alluded to in the title have this habit of performing mostly nude, so since straight (and bi) women form the majority of my readership, I thought you might enjoy a little peek. (As a straight man how could I not like the idea of sexual arousal by, or at least any erotic enjoyment by, women?)