Gadgets Gizmos Gumdrops Galore: Sex Positive Synth Pop and Female Masturbation
By Madison McKeever
When I first heard of Von's revolutionary music and production process, I was blown away by her ingenuity and what she had learned to do with her own body. A pioneer of sex positive synth pop, Von has been working to bring awareness to female pleasure, bodily exploration, and the ever-persistent orgasm gap. Her music and videos delve into these themes in the most intimate way possibleー by recording her vaginal contractions and orgasm patterns to craft them into the foundation for her music.
Von's mission is to merge sex tech with art to encourage sex positive dialogue in pop culture. For both her newest video, "Voulin Rouge" and her last project, "Alone", Von partnered with Lioness, the company who built the world's first smart vibrator. By recording the contraction patterns of her orgasms and translating them into bass rhythms, Von is able to manipulate a beat with an underlying message; physiological awareness can encourage a more positive sexual experience. Von's poppy sex positive beats are a testament to harnessing the power of your own body.
Despite the fact that her work is steeped in the minutiae of sex technology, the process of creating a sound that exists within her own body seems inherently natural. Much like masturbation, Von does everything herself. Writing, producing and engineering her own music, Von is a veritable one-woman show, utilizing the power of her own biology and her unrestrained creative autonomy to produce accessible art that addresses broader cultural and feminist issues.
Even with the remarkable cultural strides we’ve made toward normalization, female masturbation is often still shrouded in shame. Many women don’t learn to prioritize their pleasure or explore their bodies until they’re well beyond their teenage years, and collective societal stigma doesn’t do much to encourage healthy sexploration. Von is determined to subvert this narrative.
By teaming up with feminist sex tech company Unbound for the “Voulin Rouge” video, Von is aiming for a paradigm shift regarding the way we think of masturbation and female bodily autonomy. The video itself is about an underground future sex community under scrutiny. It follows a female police officer on the hunt for Von and her friends, but takes a twist when she is inevitably recruited to the community after discovering the power of her own pleasure. This assemblage comes together to create an unabashedly powerful message, and if you're looking for your new sex positive summer dance anthem, look no further.
We spoke with Von about high-tech vibrators, the problems with inadequate sex education, and what she hopes people take away from “Voulin Rouge”.
Tell me a little about the story behind "Voulin Rouge" and where it came from.
For the video I really wanted to make Voulin Rouge IRL. I wrote the song with a super specific space in my head where a community of people could freely express together. We didn’t cast any extras for the video, it was all just our friends that came to dance and party with each other. I definitely live in a bubble where I’m only surrounded by people who are super supportive of what I’m doing and engage in these types of conversations really regularly. That’s such a rarity, but you forget that when it’s your day to day. The point of Vondom Labs and my music is to make something that outside of my social sphere is usually incredibly uncomfortable and overwhelming normalized. The video shows that pretty literally with an officer who starts out on the hunt for Von and this underground future sex community ends up being recruited by them in the end.
How did your upbringing and personal experience with sexual education (or lack thereof) influence your work?
I think coming from a place where there really was no sex ed and so much shame surrounding sex made me want to exist in a space where that wasn’t the case. As a person I gravitated towards communities that were able to freely talk about sexuality and sexual health so it was pretty natural that it became a huge part of my work.
When did you first start making music and how has your sound evolved over time?
I first was introduced to music through classical piano. After studying classical for 12 years I started making my own piano pop mashups. I didn’t start producing my own music until a few years ago. I think I always had a pretty left of center approach, what I’m doing now is just a bit more extreme. My sound’s always been crunchy, intricate production with a catchy bubblegum topline. I think it’s definitely become more refined over time but sonically that’s what I’ve always gravitated towards.
I love this idea that your music is quite literally, female-made. When did you first think that utilizing vibrators and masturbation could be turned into music?
Being a producer first I’m kind of a sound nerd. I really just wanted a way to make sounds no one else has heard before. I started out asking companies for the vibration wave patterns from their products and through google stumbled across the Lioness. Once I saw that I could have access to my own orgasm wave patterns it really expanded the whole idea.
What is the experience of hearing your own orgasm like?
To me once I input the wave into my music software it’s just sound design to me. I think about it the same way I think about any instrument to be honest.
Apart from your own body and interest in amplifying sex positive dialogue, where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from a lot of things! My friends, other artists, pop culture. I think what really drives me is seeing strong women in control of their creative product. I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by a lot of that in my own social spheres.
What does your music- making process look like?
Pretty different every time! A lot of fucking around until something sticks. I usually start with a wave pattern from my Lioness and mess around until I get a bass sound I like. From there I try to write over just drums and bass so I don’t feel hindered melodically. Then it’s a lot of trying a bunch of random things until I’m happy with the overall sound.
The narrative around developments in sex technology is so often dominated by this misconception that tools like AI and other technologies will only hinder positive sexual experiences for women. Your work is very much a subversive reaction to that, illustrating the myriad possibilities for sex technology and its impact on women. What do you think people can learn about sex technology from your work?
I think a lot of people have no idea what sex tech is! Even knowing it exists from coming in contact with my music is a step in the right direction of normalizing sex tech in pop culture.
You used The Lioness (a smart vibrator that charts orgasm patterns) for your last project by tracking your vaginal contractions. This time, you partnered with Unbound. How did this impact your process?
We featured Unbound’s products in the video! I own a lot of them myself as do my friends so it only felt natural to use them verses a random assortment of accessories.
For my own curiosity-do your orgasms sound different depending on the method you use to get off?
The way the sound is more based on the parameters I manipulate in Serum, the synth software I use. So to be honest you’d really never know it’s an orgasm wave pattern unless I told you, which I guess is kind of the point.
May is National Masturbation Month so it's perfect timing for people to learn more about their own bodies and pleasure. Do you hope your music will help normalize female pleasure and bring sex positivity to forefront of the cultural zeitgeist?
I hope my music will force people to engage with these topics and show them it’s not scary to talk about. A lot of people from my hometown have had to say words like “orgasm” and “masturbate” out loud for the first time from talking about my music. It’s a baby step, but it’s definitely part of the goal.
Why do you think the orgasm gap is still so pervasive?
A lot of reasons but the biggest one being that there’s such little education on what an orgasm is for female bodied people. Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist, conducted a study in which she monitored women masturbating. Even though every person may get to the end result in a different way, an orgasm is incredibly scientific and actually the same for everyone. Orgasms are defined physically as 8-12 contractions that occur starting .8 seconds apart and increase in latency until they stop. Many women who had reported that they had orgasmed actually hadn’t. The orgasm gap is even larger than we think because we aren’t taught what an actual orgasm is in the first place.
What do you hope your listeners take away from your music?
I think it’s up to the listener, but I hope in some facet that my music makes them more comfortable with their own sexuality or gives them a space to have conversations they might otherwise feel too uncomfortable to engage in.
Congrats on your recent graduation and this incredible new work! What's next for you?
Thank you! A whole lot more music and projects. Gonna keep working my ass off and spreading this message.
Watch “Voulin Rouge” below or listen on Spotify