The sound of sexuality: capturing goosebumps, touch and freedom in music

24 August 2020

Imagine the moment you see somebody on a train and instantly fall in love. If that sweet tingle was turned into music, what kind of sound would it be? The sonic research of sexuality is at the heart of WET, a collaborative platform blending field recordings, spoken word, electronic music, and the sounds of the human body in intricate and intimate weekly mixtapes.

Besides its literal meaning, WET also stands for Weird Erotic Tension, says founder Alexandra Zakharenko, who is also known under her music alias Perila. “It all started with my poet-friends in Berlin, Zoe Darsee and Nat Marcus, founders of the Tabloid Friends. We recorded them reading erotic poetry and I did the sound design. The first WET mixtape was born,” she recalls.

Since the launch of WET two years ago, first as part of the Sex is Pure platform and later as an independent project, Zakharenko has received various field recordings and audios from listeners. She says she is mesmerised by sexuality manifesting itself in sound: conversations, background noise, voices, and gasps. They are “elusive, powerful, sweeping and energetically pure.”

For Zakharenko, working on mixtapes for WET feels like embarking on an archaeological expedition. She has found working on WET has had a therapeutic effect, and triggered further research of sexuality through dance and text. “Digging inside yourself is like finding true artefacts of existence, exploring desires that lie beyond the surface of the flesh,” she says.

There are plenty of mixtapes out there that are meant to serve as stimulating background for intimate encounters, but creating an enticing accompaniment to sex has never been WET’s aim. It is looking, instead, to use sound as a way to speak out on various subjects, including opening up on some disturbing experiences. For Stoner Round Table, for example, Alexandra asked various people to record uncensored verbal messages that she used as samples for her therapeutic mixtapes. Such actions can “help release emotional tension”, Zakharenko says.

“People are not always ready to express their sensuality. It is so beautiful and elusive, and it’s something the world really needs,” says Zakharenko, commenting on WET’s plans. Her collection of human emotions will soon be manifested in a digital zine of poetry, music, and visuals, as well as a six-track compilation to be released on Bandcamp. Several of Russia’s most promising musicians and artists have already contributed to the project, such as Daria Redkina Zz: Diary Of a Nympho, KP Transmission, sound artist A.Latif, mxdr, artist Ilya Volum, as well as Alexandra herself under her alias Perila.

Her recent audio performance, Flesh. The Healing Patch, seeks to study flesh and touch, a theme that became particularly relevant in the Covid-19 era of self-isolation. “I wanted to create an immersive reality, a space filled with movement, bodies, and words on lost intimacy that would take you to a new level of perception,” she says.

WET is now occasionally going offline in a form of spoken word events with sensual music, such as WET Readings in Tbilisi and Berlin, the two cities that Zakharenko has claimed as home since leaving Russia a few years ago. She mainly works with European contributors, as she feels there was more resistance to the theme in Russia. “Sensuality [in Russia] is more tabooed and there is a lack of emancipation,” Zakharenko says. And yet, she hopes that WET’s surprising and intimate content can boost “inner freedom” in Russia too.

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