You are on page 1of 17

THE EXCESSIVE MACHINE: ON THE QUEER

CONSTRUCTION OF THE ORGAN

Philip Rice

I heard the sound of the organ; and then I began to understand [...] What I
now heard was utterly different from what I had heard up to then. [It] seemed
to me at first one long, awful, magnificent sob. But, little by little, it expressed
every emotion, every suffering of which mankind is capable. It intoxicated
me; and I opened the door that separated us.
Christine, from Lerouxs Phantom of the Opera

his year, the 33-year-old virtuoso organist extraordinaire Cameron Carpenter released the inaugural recording of his so-called virtual touring organ by Marshall & Ogletree, a Massachusetts organbuilder specializing in digital instruments. Carpenter has come to be known as the very embodiment of
camp in the classical music world, donning glitzy jewels, skin-tight pants, and a
chic mohawk. His publicity photos tend toward overt sexualization, displaying
him against a sparkling city night-scape ripping open his tuxedo shirt to reveal a
chiseled, glistening torso (Figure 1). His glaring gaze at the camera carries an expression of srieux smoldera seductive image on par with the great millennial
sex icons Lady Gaga, Beyonc, or Justin Timberlake. The young star has cited his
campy image as a vehicle of liberation for his instrument, claiming that Each
jewel that Im putting on equates to another blow struck for artistic freedom
with the organ.1
Carpenter has claimed his digital instrument, which utilizes live recorded samples from the worlds great organs,2 will free him from problematic
confines that hinder the audiences sense of connection with organists. What
could be a bigger symbol of its monstrosity than it cant move and the player has
his back to the audience?3 Carpenter illustrates two of the organs great limits
in terms of performanceit (1) has no kinesis, that is, its components remain

1 Vivien Schweitzer, In Concert: Talent, Style and Sequins, New York Times, November
11, 2009, under Music, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/arts/music/15schw.html (accessed November 22, 2014).
2 The International Touring Organ: Vision, cameroncarpenter.com (accessed November 22,
2014).
3 Michaela Boland, Anxiously seeking virtual end to organ grind for Cameron Carpenter,
The Australian, October 9, 2009, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/anxiously-seeking-virtual-end-to-organ-grind-for-cameron-carpenter/story-e6frg6n6-1225784621530 (accessed November 22, 2014).

Figure 1. Cameron Carpenter publicity photo for Sony Classical, 2014.

motionless to the audiences perception, and (2) the performer is often hidden
from view. Even in those organs where the console is situated so the organist can
face the congregation, as in the Great Organ at Notre-Dame de Paris, the stack
of manuals is usually taller than the performers seated body, hiding it from view.
What a waste of a perfectly good torso! Especially one as lovely as Carpenters.
However, Carpenters noble mission to liberate the organ from the
confines of enclosure ultimately fails. His console is just as tall and obscuring as
others: to display his body to the audience, he must still face his back to them.
Furthermore, the instruments digital sound production further disembodies it,
being powered by software rather than mechanics. Even more curiously, at live
events he typically hides loudspeakers inside the pipe chambers of whatever organ is already built into the hall where hes playing, giving the audience the perception that his digital apparatus is in fact acoustic. This act of enclosing what is
already artificial further renders the organ motionless, imbuing it with a mysteriously mediated distance.
Unlike Lady Gaga, whose status in the pop/rock scene erases her queerness or at the very least keeps her sexuality ambiguous,4 Carpenters identity as
4 Nico Lang, America still cant accept Lady Gagas bisexualityor anybody elses, Salon,
November 4, 2013,

an organist ensures that his sexual orientation can be nothing but gay, as myself and nearly all other American organists already know. Carpenter himself
has commented on this phenomenon, saying in a 2011 interview for Washington
Blade that, Statistically or anecdotally, yes, it seems most American organists
are gay or at least questionable if not questioning.5 The ostensible ubiquity of
gay men in the organ world is perplexing, and is in fact the impetus for this very
essay. One anonymous member of The Organ Forum in 2008 polled the online
community,
I recently met an organist and found myself attracted to him and was trying to
size up my chances with him when it occurred to me that every male organist
Ive ever met has been gay. I havent met that manymaybe tenbut it still was
a surprising realization. Is anyone elses experience similar?6

The responses to this forum inquiry, which numbered over 70, tended toward a
succinct and resounding Yes, indeed.7 Carpenter has ventured a guess at the
reasons for the queer composition of the organ worldthat perhaps it is because
theaters and churches are traditionally camp, and that the organ is a kind of
voice [...] and its kind of a mythical or mythological voice of empowerment and
command.8 Carpenters mentor and first piano teacher, Dr. Beth Etter, calls his
new digital organ larger than life; ultimate control.9 But power and control
are precisely what Carpenter seeks to annex to the organ in the liberation of the
instrument from its physical confines. Here I argue that the allure of the organ
as the preferred expressive musical device of gay men in the twentieth century
lies not in the instruments promise of power alone, but in its enclosed designa
feature of the instrument that an uncloseted Carpenter attempts unsuccessfully
to discard by shedding the very physicality of the instrument.
In late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century churches and theaters
inhabited by homophobic ideologies, both the organ console and the pipes
themselves functioned as public hiding places for mechanisms and agents of
http://www.salon.com/2013/11/04/america_still_cant_accept_lady_gagas_bisexuality_or_
anybody_elses/ (accesed November 22, 2014).
5 Joey DiGuglielmo, A night with the mighty Cameron, Washington Blade, September
29, 2011, http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/09/29/a-night-with-the-mighty-cameron/
(accessed November 22, 2014).
6 Thread: Gay organists, The Organ Forum, March 18, 2008, http://www.organforum.
com/forums/showthread.php?6444-Gay-organists (accessed November 22, 2014).
7 Ibid., response #2.
8DiGuglielmo.
9 Cameron Carpenter: Birth of the International Touring Organ, Vevo, March 3, 2014,
digital video, http://youtu.be/jLzgFkouSmc (accessed November 22, 2014).

homoerotic episodes thatthough very literally closetedwere able to transmit


expressively t0 communities and audiences across mediated thresholds. This notion of organ as a house of unseen lascivious activity came to be characterized in
the twentieth-century cultural imagination as sexually threatening (though not
dangerous), as we will see most clearly in the orgasmatron of Barbarella (1968).
Additionally, the organs canonic literature (mostly French Romantic) reiterates
a model of isolationism and deeply personal expression in opposition to community-based hegemonic ensemble music of the German symphony orchestra.10
This isolation of a queer organ and organist is further borne out in French literary depictions of the instrument that posture it as a locus of horror and evil power. These literary depictions are uncoincidentally contemporaneous with French
innovations in organbuilding that expanded the organ to its monstrous size
and ultimately precipitated its total separation from audiences. Although the
use of organ as a signifier of evil power will briefly factor into this paper, a more
complete analysis of nineteenth-century French organbuilding innovation and
its concomitant effects on literary depictions of queer villains must be saved for
another discussion.
The inert Phallus and the erotics of enclosure
In his book, Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature, Cary
Howie argues that monastic isolationism delimited metaphors and practices that
might be understood sexually. He shows how the spatial complexity of religious
life [...] is figured most powerfully, as it was for the Old French saints, in sexual
terms.11 While Howies discussion of enclosure is literary, dealing mostly with
allegorical notions of book as inhabitable space, his argument addresses architectural enclosures in the third chapter, where he discusses how the bowels of the
church (perhaps the realm of the organ?) constitute a new space [...] of ongoing transfiguration.12 Furthermore, his ideas come into dialogue with Carpenters assertions about the motionlessness of the organ: Enclosure refuses to be
reduced to stasis. Even within the confines of the hermitage, saints seem constantly to be moving.13 Thus, the organ cannot be understood as truly motionless, only that our perception of its edifice detects no visible gesture. Beyond the
music itself, which can be understood as a kind of sonic motion, the mechanisms
of the instrument, of course, are full of movementmyriad levers, cables, and
10 See the organ symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne.
11 Cary Howie, Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 6.
12Ibid.
13 Ibid., 70.

valves that transfer kinetic energy from key to pipe. All these motions are present
yet hiddento an audience or congregation member able to see neither the inner workings of the organ nor the organists moving body, the music is optically
inanimate. An audience is privy to the product but not the process; the music
but not the man. It is this protective shield, along with the promise of affective
power, that I believe has made the organ especially attractive historically to gay
men. Beyond this surface protection, however, the organ carries with it especially sexual qualities that might invite a sense of kinship with anyone seeking to express alternative sexuality. Frankly, the word organ itself should not be counted
as merely a humorous coincidence with slang penile referenceits etymology is
shared with its biological homonym. The root, werg, is one of the oldest used to
signify an instrument, and is, in fact, rife with sexual implicationgiving rise
not just to organic and organize, but also to orgy and orgasm.
The phallic shape of organ pipes is perhaps an elephant in the room.
When I first told a fellow organist about this project, he remarked You should
include a rendering of the French pipe organ. But instead of pipes...dicks. The
pipes should be dicks. But such a rendering need not be generated especially
for this paper; an 1886 etching by Belgian pornographer Flicien-Joseph-Victor

Figure 2. Rops, LOrganiste du Diable (Saint Cecile), 1886 (not on display).

Rops shows an organ made of towering penises played by a nude woman (Figure
2). LOrganiste du Diable (Saint Cecile) illustrates a carnal, diabolical image of
the organ, one that Cameron Carpenter continues to propagate in contemporary culture. The image can be used to inform our understanding of a queered organ in several important ways. The presence of supernatural creatures in the imagea devil/monkey/skeleton crouching under the console, and a winged putto/cupid resting atop the music standmark the organ as inhabiting religious
space. Yet, the apparent chamber size of the organ and the absence of church-like
architectural elements seem to preclude an ecclesiastical setting. Here the organ
may invite visitations by mischievous goblins and fairies, but not inhabitation by
throngs of great angels.
Comparing the image to visually similar ones that would have been on
display in church, we can observe how a distinction between the playful, juvenile treatment of Ropss image marks it as secular. In altarpiece images (Figure 3),
angelic figures are adult, rather than babies (putti), and seem to be quite serious.
In all the images, it is notable that the organs shown are small in scale, no doubt
smaller than the actual instruments present in the cathedrals where these paintings were displayed. This smallness might serve two purposesfirst, it lends legitimacy to their being operated by delicate women (even if supernatural beings),
and second, it ensures the piety of these female practitioners by precluding excessive sensory indulgence that a large instrument might impose. In his article on
eighteenth-century depictions of women at the keyboard, Matthew Head shows
how domestic keyboard music provided a place for avoidance of excess, and a
cultivation of noble simplicity14 It would seem that earlier ecclesiastical depictions of women at the keyboard indicate a tendency to downplay an excessive,
and perhaps dangerously carnal organ. Here, simply miniaturizing it, even to an
absurd degree, as in the Altarpiece of the Holy Cross, renders it harmless. Of
course, in Ropss image, this is not the case. Here, the woman seated at the organ
is neither angel nor housewife, but rather voluptuous, hair flung wildly about
(unlike the carefully fastened hair of the angelic altarpiece figures), and to state
the obvious, fully unclothed. This figure seems much more like a Venus than the
saintly character the title of the image identifies. Finally, the intended audience
of the illustration underpins all these pointsthis is pornography after all, not
an altarpiece.
Although the organ in the etching still seems to be a chamber instrument
of comparable size to the keyboard in the Ghent Altarpiece, its faade towers
over the female body at its console. Unlike the stark, flat clarity of the painting
14 Matthew Head, If the Pretty Little Hand Wont Stretch: Music for the Fair Sex in
Eighteenth-Century Germany, Journal of the American Musicological Society 52, no. 2 (Summer
1999): 214.

a.

b.

c.

Figure 3.
a. Master of the St. Bartholomew Altarpiece, Altarpiece of the Holy Cross, c. 1490
(Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne).
b. Hugo van der Goes, Trinity Altarpiece, c. ca. 1478 (National Gallery of Scotland).
c. Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, c. 1430 (Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent).

style in the altarpieces, Ropss fuzzy sketch makes the pipes ambiguously distant,
seeming to loom in a hazy background, perhaps mounted in some far-away loft.
Most glaringly obvious are the pipes construction out of erect peniseswhat
could be more excessive than seven cocks lined up in a row for ones leisurely
entertainment? These penises, like actual organ pipes, are pressed up against one
another in a blatantly homoerotic configuration. Although not sodomitical, the
configuration of both Ropss and real-life organ-pipe phalli can be seen to interact with one another in a way that resembles frottage. The non-penetrative
nature of this act is significant: make no mistake, these penises are not here for
reproduction.
Now we must return to the notion of motionlessness in the organ. The
idea that musical instruments might be phallic is not especial to the organ; as
a recent photo-story for College Humor so eloquently expressed, Literally everything is shaped like a penis.15 An inventory of phallic musical instruments
may allow the reader to notice crucial differences in the functioning of the organ phallus, and other phalli, however. The violin bow, the conical bore of brass
and woodwinds, the drum mallet, and the conducting baton all share a common
15 Thelsa, Literally Everything is Shaped Like a Penis, College Humor, June 3, 2014,
http://www.collegehumor.com/post/6972887/literally-everything-is-shaped-like-a-penis (accessed November 23, 2014).

feature that the organ lacks: they are animate. Some, like the trombone even posses penetrative mechanisms that resemble intercourse. But the organ pipes do
not move, they merely vibrate imperceptibly. Even when motion is incorporated
into the production of sound, as in the spinning fan blades used for the tremulant, these mechanisms are always hidden from view by an enclosure. Thus, the
activities of the organ can be understood as inert and impotent. Sexual, to be
sure (indeed the phallus is erect), but totally non-penetrative. This reading of the
organ can explain why in Ropss image, and the altarpieces, women are able to
control the phallus. Its inertness renders it entirely incapable of reckoning with
female sexuality. Just as the impotence of the castrati made them objects of sexual adoration in the Baroque,16 so does the organ become an acceptable space
to be inhabited by powerful women. The sassy gay friend of today is paired
with his fag hags due to his ostensible absence of threatening sexuality, and the
organ comes with this packagean extension of the already inert phallus which
will never penetrate a woman.
This queer configuration of sex and the perhaps masturbatory action of
the organs mechanisms might explain why it needs to be hidden from view, especially in French cathedrals where Catholic notions of sexuality prescribe reproductive virulence. While a sausage-fest party behind the swellbox shutters
might invite no further questioning (just as what a gay priest does behind rectory doors goes uninvestigated), an out-in-the-open pride parade of skinflutes
might attract unwanted inquiry. The presence of faade pipes on many organs
further indicates an exterior intended to present an artifice of masculinity. These
visible pipes, which usually do not produce sound at all, are often painted or polished, and configured symmetrically in ways that would not lend themselves to
tracker mapping on the keyboard. The actual sound-producing pipes inside the
organ case are made of eclectic mixed materialswood, oxidized metals, leathers,
textiles, etc. In light of the queer hidden phallus, Cameron Carpenters decision
to place his virtual organs speakers behind the faade becomes even more problematic. The electronic speaker, unlike the organ pipe, has come to be regarded
as a prominent, masculine feature of contemporary popular music. At modern
rock concerts, no swellbox is necessary to mute the deafening din of synthesized
soundsurely the amplifier, not the electric guitar, is the true phallus of the
band. It is solely responsible for ejaculating the sounds of the otherwise acoustically impotent electric guitar, and it is usually placed in front of the band, most
closely coming to penetrate spectators ears. Like the organ console, the electric
guitar is inaudible without its mechanismsin this case amplifiers instead of
16 For more on the eroticization of the castrato, see Roger Freitas, The Eroticism of Emasculation: Confronting the Baroque Body of the Castrato, The Journal of Musicology 20, no. 2
(Spring, 2003), 196-249.

pipes. It goes almost without saying that Carpenters use of electronic speakers
seems to suggest a self-identification with rock and roll.17 But then, his hiding
of the organ within the faade strips the amplifier-phallus of an otherwise proud
voyeurism. Just as he hides his glistening torso behind the monstrous console,
so too does Carpenter re-closet the most sexually potent member of his musical
mechanism.
Barbarella and the organ as orgasmatron
I have shown how the organ has might act as a closet for a queer phallus engaged
in sexual behavior regarded publicly as uncomfortable, although not altogether
threatening. However, the characterization of the organ as an increasingly mysterious space has led to its associations with evil masterminds and horrific villains, always men, and often disfigured or crazed. Julie Brown presents a detailed
discussion of the use of the organ in horror movies of twentieth century Hollywood, most notably in Carnival of Souls (1962).18 Such literary depictions, even
outside of film, seem to stem from a late-romantic French depiction of the organ
as a place of extreme isolation and enclosure for male characters exiled both literally and figuratively. Lerouxs Le Fantme de lOpra (1910) and Vernes Vingt
mille lieues sous les mers (1870) both feature prominent male characters who play
the organ, whose identities as protagonist or antagonist are confused, and whose
powers (sexually and otherwise) are frustrated. Both characters are also notable
for living in extreme isolation; the Phantom in his hidden lair within the opera
house, and Captain Nemo enclosed in a vessel under the sea (the Nautilus).
One depiction of the organ, however, stands out as particularly apt for
this discussion. Like Vernes and Lerouxs texts, Jean-Claude Forests science fiction comic book Barbarella (1964) was first published as a serial, that is (like the
organ) its component parts were compartmentalized. Like Ropss LOrganiste,
Forests comic is vaguely pornographic, famously the first comic book of its kind
in that regard.19 The 1968 film adaptation of Barbarella starred Jane Fonda in
the title role, and featured a scene with organ that has to be seen to be believed.20
17 Of course, a discussion of rock organs could easily come here, especially the notable
association of the electric organ (usually Hammond) with particularly queer iterations of rock
and roll, such as the music and members of Queen.
18 Julie Brown, Carnival of Souls and the Organs of Horror, in Music in the Horror Film:
Listening to Fear, ed. Neil Lerner (London: Routledge, 2010), 1-20.
19 Paul Gravett, Jean-Claude Forests Barbarella: A Landmark in Adult French Comics,
Paul Gravett (website), September 25, 2014, http://www.paulgravett.com/articles/article/jean_
claude_forests_barbarella (accessed November 23, 2014). The article also appears in the forward
to the 2014 Humanoids Inc. edition of Barbarella.
20 The scene is available online to watch, and I strongly encourage the reader to do so before

In the film, Barbarella is a kind of space cowboy (cowgirl?) or mercenary who


is sent by the president of Earth to retrieve a scientist, Doctor Durand Durand
(played by Milo OShea) who has gone missing in deep space, and wields dangerous knowledge as the inventor of a weapon called the Positronic Ray. Having
been driven insane by a kind of liquid essence of evil, he hides in a remote lair
amid gadgetry and bubbling test-tubesthe quintessential mad scientist. Doctor Durand Durands name already marks him as queer, his two identical names
rubbing against each another in a kind of homo-syntactical frottage. Furthermore, his madness, brought on by a fluidic compound, effeminizes him through
a longstanding social grammar of gendered rhetoric that postures femininity as a
locus of emotional volatility, madness, and fluidity.21
When Barbarella happens upon Durand Durand, he captures her and
schemes to murder her in order prevent his return to Earth. To kill her, he plans
to use one of his inventions, called The Excessive Machine, to overwhelm her
with pleasure: a lethal dose of sexual energy. The Excessive Machine has been
called an orgasmatron22 by some who compare it to Woody Allens 1973 film,
Sleeper, but of course Barbarella came first (no pun intended), and perhaps originated the idea. When the scene opens, we see Durand Durand sitting at the
machine, which appears to be shaped something like a large grand piano, with a
row of undulating planks that resemble the set design of the Met Operas recent
(2012) staging of Wagners Ring, (amusingly also referred to as the machine23).
Durand Durand is seen reading from a musical score with futuristic/alien notation symbols of colored polygons superimposed on three-line staves. The instrument is immediately identified as an organ when it produces the distinctive
lower mordent and descending scale of J.S. Bachs Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,
so familiar in its association with depictions of huge Romantic pipe organs and
ghoulish, macabre horror.24 Although the organ has no visible pipes (it seems
continuing. It can be accessed on YouTube at http://youtu.be/J04gTJvynjg
21 For an introduction to depictions of women and madness, and incidentally depictions of
woman as angles (relating to the earlier discussion of altarpieces), see S. Gilbert and S. Gubar, The
Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination,
Yale, 2000. For more on the association of fluids with femininity, see T. Laqueur, Making Sex:
Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Harvard, 1992.
22 Orgasmatron / Excessive Machine, Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments, http://
imaginaryinstruments.org/orgasmotron-excessive-machine/ (accessed November 23, 2014).
23 Anthony Tommasini, Mets Ring Machine Finishes the Spin Cycle, The New York
Times, under Music, April 25, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/arts/music/robert-lepages-first-complete-ring-concludes-at-met.html (accessed November 23, 2014).
24 Michael Morreale, Bachs Misunderstood Masterpiece: How Bachs Toccata and Fugue
in D minor came to be associated with Halloween, CBC Music, October 26, 2014, http://music.
cbc.ca/#!/blogs/2014/10/How-Bachs-Toccata-and-Fugue-in-D-minor-came-to-be-associatedwith-Halloween (accessed November 23, 2014).

10

Figure 4. The Excessive Machine.

to be, like Carpenters virtual organ, an electronic instrument), its planks are
lined up against one another in rows of gradated height, much like a rank of
pipes (Figure 4). These planks, even more so than organ pipes, are engaged in
homoerotic gesturesthey undulate up and down in waves, perpetually rubbing
against one another, highlighting their mutual similitude through tactile redundancy. Just as the row of penises in Ropss etching are pressed up against one
another in frottage, the planks of the Excessive Machine seem to generate and/or
administer sexual energy by massaging each other.
The machine removes the clothing of a seemingly bemused Barbarella,
ejecting her shoes and other garments out of various chutes and tubes, leaving
the audience to imagine her nakedness within the instrument. Just as the organ
case hides the sexuality of the organ from view, the Excessive Machine must do
its work in an enclosureonly Fondas protruding head is visible during the entire scene. Here the covering of Barbarellas nakedness is not an act of modesty,
but an invitation to let the imagination run wild conjuring up images of the
things the machine might do to her body. The colloquialism, leave something
to the imagination might be apt hereBarbarellas plight is made all the more
titillating for being hidden.
During the course of the scene, Durand Durand performs a musical
composition that he calls Sonata for Executioner and Various Young Women,
11

implying that he has used it before with some degree of success. Most of the music is a frenzied and hilarious mix of electronic sounds, creepy choral moaning a
la Edgard Varse, myriad percussion toys and drums, and a full orchestra playing
in a particularly lighthearted idiom of pop/rock that is so idiosyncratic of the late
1960s and 1970s (think Sonny and Cher). When we reach the crescendo, you
will die, he warns, and indeed the music reaches a frightful climax with a quote
of Beethovens Symphony No. 9 in D Minorthe characteristic dotted-rhythm
I-V-I cadence at the opening of the second movement (Figure 5). The evocation
of sonata form and the key of D Minor cannot be accidental; both have longstanding associations with masculine aggression and all things dark and threatening.25 Both prove to be ersatz, howeverthe piece is neither a sonata, nor the
two musical quotes actually in D Minor (the opening Bach motive is in E-flat,
and the Beethoven quote appears to be in the key of C-sharp). Even beyond
mere key and formal associations with gender, the choice of Beethoven and Bach
is telling. One study from 1951 ranked Beethoven and Bach as the two most masculine-sounding composers (out-manned only by Wagner).26 Indicating musical
aggression and masculinity, but failing to reify it in performance might invite
comparison with the physical faade of the organ: merely a simulacrum of the
virulent phallus. The significance of Beethovens presencehis ninth symphony
no lessin a scene depicting extreme sexual and technological aggression cannot
be over-emphasized. Susan McClarys famously scandalous writing on the topic
of Beethovens music identifies the symphonys arrival at tonal goals as suggestive of murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release.27 This is, in
25 Many studies exist on the topic of gendered rhetoric in sonata form. Some notable ones
include Patrick Wood Uribe, A. B. Marxs Sonatenform: Coming to Terms with Beethovens
Rhetoric, Journal of Music Theory (Fall 2011), Marcia Citron, Gender and the Musical Canon
(Cambridge University Press, 1993), and Rita Steblin, Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early
19th Centuries: A Historical Approach, PhD diss., (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
1981). Steblins argument for D Minor is especially interesting for queer consideration. Although
she acknowledges its usual association with dark, brooding drama, she also provides evidence
that it historically may have been understood to have mixed qualities much like the organ. Apparently Lully said D Minor includes within its realm a complete gamut of stimuli for the emotions,
(3) or that it was gay et guerier, (52) and specifically that Bach and Beethoven used it to evoke a
chaotic state out of which spiritual order is created. (4)
26 Paul R. Farnsworth, J. C. Trembley and C. E. Dutton, Masculinity and Femininity of
Musical Phenomena, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 9, no. 3 (March, 1951): 257-262
27 Susan McClary, Getting Down off the Beanstalk: The Presence of a Womans Voice in
Janika Vanderveldes Genesis II, The Minnesota Composers Forum Newsletter, ( January, 1987):
7. Note that parts of the essay are included in McClarys later book, Feminine Endings, though
notably without the notorious rape analogy. It is also notable that the portion of music used in
Barbarella is not the same part discussed by McClary; the rape analogy addresses the recapitulation of the first movement, while the quote in Sonata for Executioner and Various Young Women
is from the second movement. However, the association of Beethoven with all things aggressive

12

fact, precisely how things end for Durand Durand: his Excessive Machine is no
match for Barbarellas sexual voraciousness, and it bursts into flame (a possible
signifier of queer flamboyance), leaving its would-be victim unharmed.
Thus, the machine, though sexually threatening, lacks sexual efficacy in a
heterosexual scheme. Its undulating planks, like the penises of Ropss organ and
the pipes of the church organ, present no penetrative prospect to a woman. In
the end, the Excessive Machine is nothing more than a toy to be enjoyed by the
queer Doctor, not a force to reckon with Barbarellas sex. Durand Durand, in a
confused rage, exclaims,
Wretched, wretched girl! What have you done to my Excessive Machine? Youve
undone it! Youve undone me! Look, the energy cables are shrinking! Youve
turned them into faggots!

Of course the script likely refers to the energy cables having burned into cinders
resembling little bundles of wood fuel (sometimes spelled fagots). However,
the use of the term as a derogatory slur toward homosexual men was commonplace enough in 1968 that we can assume the screenwriters were commenting
to some degree on Durand Durands crisis of sexuality and his machines cables

M
J
&bc
M
j
b
c

&

U
# R

U
r

#

.
3 j
&b4
.
ff .
j
3

?b4
.

.
j
.
.
j

.

j .

.
J
.

Figure 5. Musical quotes from Bach and Beethoven


in Sonata for Executioner and Various Young Women

and masculine is well-known, as Sanna Pederson has shown in her article, Beethoven and Masculinity, in Beethoven and his World, ed. Scott Burnham & Michael P. Steinberg (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2000), 313-31.

13

inability to supply energy in excess of female sexual demands. While the very title of the device should mark it as excessive, perhaps in line with common notions
of dangerous feminine excess and more specifically Carpenters claim of the organ as a locus of campy power, it is ultimately destined to be defined by its failure
to fulfill heteroerotic performance requirements. It burns out when it tries to
enclose a heteronormative act.
Conclusion
In Disneys 1985 cult classic, The Goonies, a band of ragamuffin kids go on a quest
to find hidden pirate treasure while pursued by thieving villains. On the final
leg of their journey, they are faced with a riddle in a mysterious cavern deep underground where an organ constructed out of human skeletons, shrouded in
cobwebs and dust, dead-ends their trek. The clue on the map includes a musical
excerpt which must be played correctly in order to gain access to the next leg
of their journey. Here the phallic imagery of the organs construction is laughable, especially in the context of the films campy toilet humor: Brandon Brand
Walsh (played by seventeen-year-old Josh Brolin) mutters in dismay, You mean
weve got to play the bones to get out of here? Young Andrea Andy Carmichael (Kerri Green) is chosen as the chaste Saint Cecelia, most suitable to the
task of commanding the keyboard, made of apparent finger-bones or knobby
twigs (perhaps fagots?). Andys apprehension nods to longstanding notions of
feminine domesticity at the keyboard when she sits down to play, This is nothing like my mothers Steinway! The organ operates two valvesone activated
by wrong notes that opens the floor to certain death in an abysmal pit below,
and the other which rewards right notes, opening a portal to safe passage out of
the chamber. Despite doubting her own ability to live up to the flamboyant demands of the organ (Im not Liberace, you know!), like Barbarella, Andy successfully conquers the organ, playing enough right notes to widen an aperture
for escape. On the other side of the door, the children are swept into a serpentine
water slide taking them on a wild ride down a kind of fallopian tube emptying
into the womb of the cave where a glorious treasure-laden pirate ship floats on a
tranquil subterranean lagoon.
Like the fictitious and real-life organs of Cameron Carpenter or the
Phantom of the Opera, the organ of The Goonies invites its audience into hidden
chambers. These partitioned places present a initial threat of danger, but ultimately provide refugeindeed, the Goonies use music to catalyze an escape into
the protective inner space of the organ, evading villainous pursuers. Although
the organ presents a faade of phallic penetration (the bones), it ultimately reveals itself to be a vessel, pulling the children into its vaginal canal of water and
14

excessive riches. The organ is thus understood as a space of queer passionin the
liturgical sense of the wordwhere threats of horrific violence and a perplexing
masculine chastity give birth to glorious redemption and holy reward. This hidden space provides safety and sanctuary for those whose virtues render them impervious to its threatening exterior. It is an enclosure that, like Cary Howies hermetic cloister, refuses to be reduced,28 favoring queer timbres and materials, a
motley crew of campy misfits, and One-Eyed Willie.29 The interior of the organ
is a Schrdingers cat box where the inhabitant, behind the protective shutters of
unknowing, is both dead and alivesequestered in a compartment that invites
us to peek inside and find, as in Ropss LOrganiste, both woman and phallus
devil and angel sitting side by side.
Bibliography
Bell, Joby. Happy and Gay? Blog. Joby Bell, Organist. (March 3, 2014). http://
jobybell.org/blog/2014/3/3/happy-and-gay.html.
Boland, Michaela. Anxiously seeking virtual end to organ grind for Cameron
Carpenter. The Australian (October 9, 2009) http://www.theaustralian.
com.au/news/anxiously-seeking-virtual-end-to-organ-grind-for-cameron-carpenter/story-e6frg6n6-1225784621530 (accessed November 22, 2014).
Brown, Julie. Carnival of Souls and the Organs of Horror, in Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear, edited by Neil Lerner, 1-20. London: Routledge,
2010.
Cameron Carpenter: Birth of the International Touring Organ. Vevo (March 3,
2014). Digital video. http://youtu.be/jLzgFkouSmc (accessed November 22,
2014).
Citron, Marcia. Gender and the Musical Canon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
DiGuglielmo, Joey. A night with the mighty Cameron. Washington Blade (September 29, 2011,). http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/09/29/a-nightwith-the-mighty-cameron/ (accessed November 22, 2014).
Farnsworth, Paul R., J. C. Trembley, and C. E. Dutton, Masculinity and Femininity of Musical Phenomena. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 9,
no. 3 (March, 1951): 257-262.

28 Howie, 70.
29 One-Eyed Willie is a character in The Goonies, the dead pirate whose treasure the children seek. Of course, its also a sophomoric euphemism for the male sex organ.

15

Freitas, Roger. The Eroticism of Emasculation: Confronting the Baroque Body


of the Castrato. The Journal of Musicology 20, no. 2 (Spring, 2003): 196-249.
Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman
Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Yale, 2000.
Gravett, Paul. Jean-Claude Forests Barbarella: A Landmark in Adult French
Comics. Paul Gravett (September 25, 2014). Website. http://www.paulgravett.com/articles/article/jean_claude_forests_barbarella (accessed November 23, 2014).
Haggerty, George. E. Anne Rice and the Queering of Culture. NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 32, no. 1 (Autumn, 1998): 5-18.
Head, Matthew. If the Pretty Little Hand Wont Stretch: Music for the Fair Sex
in Eighteenth-Century Germany. Journal of the American Musicological Society 52, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 203-254.
Howie, Cary. Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
The International Touring Organ: Vision. cameroncarpenter.com (accessed November 22, 2014).
Lang, Nico. America still cant accept Lady Gagas bisexualityor anybody
elses. Salon (November 4, 2013). http://www.salon.com/2013/11/04/america_still_cant_accept_lady_gagas_bisexuality_or_anybody_elses/ (accesed
November 22, 2014).
Laqueur, Thomas. Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Harvard, 1992.
McClary, Susan. Getting Down off the Beanstalk: The Presence of a Womans
Voice in Janika Vanderveldes Genesis II. The Minnesota Composers Forum
Newsletter ( January, 1987): 4-7.
Morreale, Michael. Bachs Misunderstood Masterpiece: How Bachs Toccata
and Fugue in D minor came to be associated with Halloween. CBC Music (October 26, 2014). http://music.cbc.ca/#!/blogs/2014/10/How-BachsToccata-and-Fugue-in-D-minor-came-to-be-associated-with-Halloween
(accessed November 23, 2014).
Orgasmatron / Excessive Machine. Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments.
Website. http://imaginaryinstruments.org/orgasmotron-excessive-machine/
(accessed November 23, 2014).
Pederson, Sanna. Beethoven and Masculinity. Beethoven and His World. Edited by Scott Burnham and Michael P. Steinberg, 313-31. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2000.
16

Rosar, William H. Music for the MONSTERS: Universal Pictures Horror Film
Scores of the Thirties, in The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 40,
no. 4 (Fall, 1983): 390-421.
Schweitzer, Vivien. In Concert: Talent, Style and Sequins. New York Times
(November 11, 2009): under Music. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/
arts/music/15schw.html (accessed November 22, 2014).
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Oakland: University of California Press, 1990.
Steblin, Rita. Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries: A Historical Approach. PhD diss. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1981.
Thelsa, Literally Everything is Shaped Like a Penis. College Humor
( June 3, 2014). http://www.collegehumor.com/post/6972887/literally-everything-is-shaped-like-a-penis (accessed November 23, 2014).
Thread: Gay organists. The Organ Forum (March 18, 2008). http://www.organforum.com/forums/showthread.php?6444-Gay-organists (accessed November 22, 2014).
Tommasini, Anthony. Mets Ring Machine Finishes the Spin Cycle. The
New York Times (April 25, 2012): under Music. http://www.nytimes.
com/2012/04/26/arts/music/robert-lepages-first-complete-ring-concludesat-met.html (accessed November 23, 2014).
Uribe, Patrick Wood. A. B. Marxs Sonatenform: Coming to Terms with Beethovens Rhetoric. Journal of Music Theory 55, no 2 (2011): 221-251.
Whitney, Craig R. An Organ Legend in Vivid Memory. New York Times. October 22, 2000.
Zatlin, Linda G. Beardsley Redresses Venus. Victorian Poetry 28, no. 3/4 (Autumn-Winter, 1990): 111-124.

17