For as long as I can remember, I’ve been turned on by music. It might be the vibrations, or something; I don’t know, I’m not what you’d call a scientist. They really ought to do a study on me. I have a feeling they’d find out some really weird shit.
Just to be absolutely clear, I do mean the music itself. I don’t mean that I’m turned on by musicians, and I’m quite glad of the fact; you can hardly get more cliched than that, although there was a time when I thought it might be true for me, too. Actually, it’s more likely that I hoped it was true; it would be immeasurably easier, somehow much more intuitive and less downright depraved, if the music was simply a proxy for whatever nice, safe, fleshy human being was producing it. So, when I was a student, I decided to put this to the test, and I walked into a pub open mic night having resolved to snare myself a subject.
It was a weekday evening and I ought to have been studying, not going to the pub on my own, but sometimes self-discovery is a worthier ambition to pursue, at least temporarily. I sat near the bar and ordered a single drink, and had eyes only for what was happening in the corner of the room that passed for a stage, and so naturally people kept assuming I was there to perform. Unless they wanted to hear me sing Shania Twain with a borrowed acoustic guitar jutting into my tits, it wasn’t going to happen; it did occur to me, though, that this might have been exactly what they wanted.
In the event, it didn’t take me very long. I drank three mouthfuls of beer and struck up a chat with the first stringy vocalist who walked past me, telling him that I thought he was really good as he cashed in his promise of a free drink at the bar. It wasn’t a lie, exactly. He had been pretty good, although I can’t for the life of me remember what he sang. It might have been something he composed himself, and I still can’t decide if that would make the whole situation more or less embarrassing.
It was as though he was surprised that singing and playing guitar would get him laid, which made a welcome change from the usual musicians’ approach, which is to imagine that you’re god’s gift to women, and then be genuinely baffled when you’re not utterly slathered in pussy, night after night. I found his whole attitude rather charming.
It wasn’t that it was bad. It was fine, actually. He turned out to be pretty generous, and considerably more adept than he let on. More than likely, his flatmates were pleased with the change of sounds emerging from his bedroom, and instead of politely struggling to sleep through the sounds of him emulating Whitney Houston in a breezy falsetto, they got me partially stuffing the hem of my t-shirt in my mouth while he ate me out with a calloused fingertip in my arsehole.
He didn’t even serenade me when we woke, but he did turn out to have an earnest and lasting desire to see me again. I felt like an utter cunt, and didn’t bother with that whole musicians charade after that.
Sordid as it might all be, the point stands nevertheless. It’s not the musicians I’m into, although I have nothing at all against them either. I’m just not going to bend over backwards—or throw my ankles in the air—for somebody just because they know how to play the trombone. In this instance, that isn’t a euphemism. Indeed, it’s part of the problem, really. A musician might well be perfectly nice, but no matter how attractive they are, it’s not as though they can perform for me at the same time as they, you know, perform for me.
It would be a lot easier if it was that simple, but it’s just not. I know it for sure now. It’s something intangible, and it makes me feel like a slightly different kind of teenage poser. It’s as though the music moves me on a deeper level than it does everybody else, and I’m aware just what a wanker that makes me sound, but I have to tell the truth here.
It’s like a strange kind of reflexology. The harmonies of a perfectly-tuned chord shake the small bones of my inner ear just as they do everyone else’s, but the rest of what happens is a medical marvel, because they send other places into a mess of quivers, too. I have a clit like a tuning fork. Put Elgar’s ‘Lux Aeterna’ on and, I swear, there’ll be a puddle in my knickers by the end. It even works with barbershop; it’s just that I’ll be running for the hills the very second they start removing their straw hats.
I must have been a glutton for punishment, because I did something stupid with this information. I think, even more so than the first time, though, I can be forgiven for this, because when I matched online with a girl called Echo, who turned out to be undertaking a Master’s degree in musicology, it seemed like some divinely-ordained opportunity to learn something new about myself. It didn’t hurt that, with her undercut and her piercings and her sultry, unsmiling face, she looked like she would know how to turn my world upside down even if she couldn’t explain my rampant musicophilia.
All of this meant that, by the time we shuffled into our seats on the upper balcony at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, I was already thrilled with what was going on in my head and between my legs at the same time.
I had warned Echo beforehand. I thought it would be rude not to, and that if I was to come out of this experience feeling good about myself, it would be better to be honest throughout. It took her a little while to warm up to it, perhaps—I might have guessed from the look of her—but in the end and to my good fortune, she turned out to be thrilled with the idea.
‘What would you say,’ I asked her when we first matched, ‘if I told you that music turned me on?’
She said, essentially, big fucking deal. Everyone likes music, Lottie. What on earth makes you think you’re so special?
It was a fair point, but I reasoned that I hadn’t made my case as strongly as I should have done. It wasn’t just that I really liked music. It wasn’t just that I was into listening to music while I masturbate or have sex, although of course that is also true. And, I was careful to emphasise, it wasn’t that I have some boring kink for musicians, and that anyone who can play the harp can have their disgusting way with me without so much as having to ask. It was very much the case, I told her, that harmony itself has a way of making me wet.
‘And you mean this figuratively, right?’ she said.
Clearly I was having trouble making myself clear, and so instead I asked Echo to join me in an experiment. I would sit quietly by her side, through any musical performance she chose for us. I would buy tickets for us both. And there was no pressure, but if we got along in person as famously as we seemed to while we were texting, Echo would come and watch as I tried to achieve an orgasm through musical means alone. Probably it would be better to go home for that one, I said. All along, she would be free simply to offer any professional expertise she cared to. She could, I hoped, tell me if there was scholarly precedent for anything that was happening to me, or indeed if it was a subject of any academic interest in her discipline at all.
‘Remind me what I can expect to hear?’ I said to Echo. The balcony seats were quite sparsely filled, as they tended to be, as I looked from one side to the other. We were somewhere in the rear corner, close to the pipes of the organ. The seats on the floor, apparently, were the more desirable ones.
Pews, I reminded myself. We were in a church, and the seats were called pews. And though I’ve never believed in gods of any persuasion, I did feel slightly awkward, uncomfortable even, with the idea that I was about to deliberately arouse myself in a church. The flashbacks with those occasional school services were lingering, of course, in the back of my mind, but at least those had been compulsory. At least, they were compulsory barring some objection on the grounds of personal religious belief, and I’m not sure my desperate fear that I might flood the crypt would qualify. I was wearing a denim jacket over a relatively flimsy sundress, and I wondered if I ought to have brought something waterproof to sit on.
‘Did you deliberately pick a church for this?’ I asked.
She had just finished explaining the programme—one of those weird century-hopping selections which was supposed to pull in the tourists and, by the looks of things, had been only mildly successful in doing so—and she threw me a sardonic look. The unsmiling disposition which her pictures had suggested, it turned out, was pretty much true to life. She made jokes, and was polite and warm, but so far I hadn’t seen her smile at all.
‘Why,’ she asked, ‘does it make you uncomfortable, or something?’
‘I didn’t say that,’ I told Echo, even if in all honesty I had said it to myself, in my mind, and I wondered if she had been listening in by some telepathic, musicologist’s means. ‘Although it does feel a bit inappropriate to me.’
Echo laughed at this, mirthlessly. I wondered if she was shy. We had kissed on both cheeks, continental-style, when we met outside the National Gallery, and then we had walked directly here without much in the way of further words, let alone any other physical contact. It was an odd thing, to have invited someone to watch you have an orgasm, or try to at least. I hadn’t given much thought to how it must have come across, but now I realised it was the perfect middle distance between aggressively coming onto someone, and being outright stand-offish with them. I was inviting Echo to participate in what was about to happen, and yet not to participate at all.
She was very skinny, and she was wearing a lot of black. Her legs were as narrow as pipe cleaners in straight black jeans, which seemed to show every flex and bulge of her calf muscles, and the ankles cinched tight around a pair of all-black high tops. It was a warm evening in late spring, and she wore a simple black vest with a loose black shirt unbuttoned over it. The only thing that was colourful was her makeup, which drew bright sky-blue sweeps over her eyes, pulling my attention to the shortness of her hair, cropped close to her scalp on the side now closest to me, falling in a mess of curls over the rest of her head. I tried to remember if it had been straight in her picture.
The orchestra began by playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D, which struck me as an almost-unbelievably pedestrian choice. It was hard to imagine what Echo made of it, given that she had likely forgotten more music than I had ever heard, and then I remembered that she had been the one to book the tickets. That, I repeated to myself, was another problem with coming to St-Martin-in-the-Fields, aside from the one wherein I expected to end up with soggy knickers in the house of the Lord. Orchestral music for tourists. Classical music for people who hate classical music. I chided myself inwardly for being a snob, and then I remembered that if I could be confident of one thing this evening, it was likely that Echo was a bigger snob than I would ever be. But it was all well and good, I thought, and at least I could be eased gently into this. And I could see the point in it, too; when I’m at home, I can get away with half listening, half thinking about something else, but now, in the confined space of the chapel, I couldn’t look away or stop my ears. I was fully immersed in a way I seldom encountered. The conditions were perfect.
‘Anything yet?’ Echo asked me, listening over to whisper right in my ear, so boldly close that her lips touched me. She placed her hand on my thigh as she did so.
‘Be careful,’ I said, ‘that might mess with our findings.’
She came as close as she had come to smiling, pursing her lips just enough for me to notice, and she lifted her hand carefully and clearly away from my leg.
‘But no,’ I said, ‘this isn’t really doing it for me.’
‘Hm,’ Echo murmured. ‘Interesting. It might be that there’s too much polyphony. I did wonder if this would happen.’
I had only a vague sense of what she meant, but things began to become clearer. The second third of the concert was choral, with two lines of singers filtering onto the stage from either side, dressed from head to toe in black.
‘They look like you,’ I said to Echo. ‘Maybe you should join them.’
‘I can’t sing a note,’ she whispered. ‘But I think this might be what you’re looking for.’
As soon as the a cappella piece started, I knew that Echo had keyed into something about my own musicophilia that even I hadn’t realised. They sang Bruckner’s ‘Locus iste’, and from the first few chords, I knew something was going to happen which might cause me to make a scene. By the time, a few lines in, when the choir first modulated to G, I felt a warm ripple of pleasure running through me, which turned into a steady trickle as the music continued. And most interestingly of all, Echo seemed to be watching intently as though, despite my not having said a word or, I thought, made any kind of sound, she could tell what was happening to me.
The piece came to an end, and in the silence which fell, I heard my own breathing, rattling on the inhale. I kept my eyes closed, and focused on the heat which had built steadily in my cunt. Already I was sitting in a puddle, and I anticipated having to tie my jacket awkwardly around my waist to hide it when we left. I was taken, too, with a moment of panic, as though the sound of my breathing had drawn the scandalised looks of everyone else in the place.
My eyes sprang open. I saw only Echo, there next to me and looking at me with intrigue in her eyes, and as though sensing my discomfort she reached out to squeeze my knee. Dutifully, she withdrew her hand as soon as the choir moved into ‘Christus factus est’, and the terrible, humiliating and blissful torture continued.
In the end, I was too nervous to come, and after the orchestra had returned to play a choral symphony I didn’t recognise, I sat with my eyes closed, exhausted with the effort of having teetered so close to the edge for all of the second half of the programme. I breathed deeply and slowly until the footfalls around us had died away, blinking my eyes open only as members of the orchestra wandered on and off the stage, packing away their instruments and sheet music and likely paying no attention at all to the two women still sitting on the balcony above them.
I let my head fall against the wood panelling behind me, rolling it to the side and toward Echo, who continued to look intellectually piqued, but slightly mirthless.
‘How was that?’ she said.
‘It was nice.’
‘But you didn’t…?’
I shook my head. Echo leaned back a little, mimicking me, her head now turning toward my own, and without any words or ceremony we kissed, the soft sounds of our lips mingling with the scrapings of paper and chair legs below us.
I sighed and let my body fall against Echo’s, our torsos touching as much as they reasonably could in confined and uncomfortable pews, my hand lying softly on her upper thigh. She mirrored the gesture and then advanced upon it, drawing backward from me and looking into my face as her hand glided up the inside of my leg and under my dress. I widened my eyes slightly, but as Echo rose her eyebrows a hair, I nodded. I gasped as her fingers pressed into the sodden fabric between my legs, and then almost as quickly as she had done so, she had withdrawn them.
‘Well, okay,’ she said. ‘I think I believe you now.’
Echo’s flatmate had gone out for the evening. Privately I was relieved about this, but Echo turned out not to feel the same way.
‘That’s a shame,’ she said. ‘She’d have been into this too.’
She shepherded me, all the same, into her bedroom and closed the door. The room was as dark and moody as she was, almost; not jet black, exactly, but a mix of lighter and darker greys. But there were indications, too, of some of Echo’s softer and quirkier sides, with pillows and blankets on the bed in a surprising mix of fabrics and firmnesses, and a ukulele propped in the corner. It struck me, somehow, as an odd choice of instrument for a musicologist, but I couldn’t say why. Mostly I hoped that Echo wouldn’t decide to serenade me, which might upset the delicate balance of everything we had learned so far.
‘Get comfy, then,’ she said. ‘I’ll get set up.’
Less surprising was the expensive-looking pair of speakers which sat on her desk, on small stands either side of an Apple laptop. The desk sat at the end of the room, parallel with the foot of the bed, and while I couldn’t be sure, it seemed as though Echo was angling the speakers in order that if, say, I were to lie back on the pillows and artfully spread my legs, dead in the centre of the bed, they would be pointing exactly toward my cunt. It seemed excessive, but I appreciated Echo’s attention to detail.
The bed was perfectly made. I hesitated for a moment, wondering absurdly if ‘get comfy’ meant I was allowed to lie down.
‘It’s not alarmed, you know,’ Echo said. I, for one, was alarmed that she seemed to have read—heard, perhaps?—my body language without turning around from her laptop, where she seemed now to be compiling a playlist. She hovered with the mouse over the ‘Title’ box.
‘Let’s see,’ she said. ‘I think we’ll call this…”A Major First”. That ought to do nicely.’
I sat down on the edge of the bed, starting to reposition some of the pillows.
‘I know why that’s funny, you know,’ I said. ‘I’m not a total ignoramus.’
‘Clever girl,’ Echo said, and she turned her swivel chair to face me.
I smoothed my dress self-consciously over my thighs, then started to swing my legs up onto the bed, shuffling down toward the end where the pillows were.
‘Aren’t you going to take your clothes off?’ Echo said.
‘I mean…I wasn’t planning to.’
I had already taken off my jacket at the front door; my sundress didn’t exactly leave much to the imagination, even though it didn’t hug my figure quite as tightly as Echo’s layers of black did hers. I also didn’t think it would make much difference to the process either way, but the thought of making a mess of Echo’s sheets did leave me feeling a little self-aware.
‘Yeah, but…’ Echo began again. ‘I thought maybe you’d want to?’
She threw me a significant and undiverted look, and it became abundantly clear that what she really wanted was to watch me take off my clothes. I held her gaze as best I could, and then that ghost of a smile appeared again—just a vague pursing of the lips which, this time, seemed almost, desperately slightly, to turn upward in one corner—and I realised suddenly that she was right. I did want to take my clothes off. I wanted her to watch me, too, as I felt an arousal building which had nothing do with the impending music and, frankly, was a severe interference in the conditions of the test.
I shuffled down the bed a bit and freed my bum from the lower hem of my dress, then I pulled it over my head. I hesitated for a second, wondering where to put it, and then Echo stood up, took a hanger from the wardrobe, and held out her hand. She arranged my dress carefully on the hanger, took her time putting it in the wardrobe, turned back to me as I sat, now cross-legged and in just my underwear on the bed, and furrowed her brow at me.
Again the way she looked at me was unyielding, not expressing anything like disapproval as such, but more a kind of bafflement at my not having followed her recommendations to the letter.
And so I sighed, unhooked my bra and let it drop defensively into my lap, and then sat up and straightened my legs in front of me. As I pulled my knickers down, Echo extended her hand again. Dutifully, I placed my underwear in her outstretched palm, and she turned and dropped it off to one side of the desk.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Are you ready?’
She was crisp and businesslike, as though trying not to signal too strongly that she was getting something out of this, too. It wasn’t exactly believable; not now that she had so forthrightly asked me to undress in front of her. All the same, though, I felt again that strange flow of arousal at being a test subject, something I had first felt in a dingy university-basement lab a few years ago. I rather enjoyed the way Echo was being so exacting.
Feeling more than a little exposed but, mostly, trying not to focus on the ways in which Echo must now be assessing my body—she was, I told myself absurdly, a professional in these matters, and she must therefore do things like this all the time—I settled myself back on the bed again and took a deep breath. I nodded.
‘You should probably close your eyes,’ Echo said. ‘Let’s try this.’
I closed my eyes, and wiggled my head just a little into the firmish pillow that was now underneath it, and tried to focus less on how my body must look and how it ought to feel. It took a moment, in which I settled for crossing my ankles and clasping my hands over my belly, in a kind of exaggerated posture of rest.
The first piece Echo played was a Mozart piano sonata, and not one I knew particularly well. I took some deep breaths, trying to focus on what, if anything, was happening at the meeting of my thighs. It was becoming difficult, already, to draw any distinction between what the music might be doing, and what might be coming instead from the sensation of being surveilled by a glacially attractive academic; I suspected, though, that the Mozart wasn’t quite the right thing for me. I fidgeted, crossing and uncrossing my legs in the opposite direction, then I opened my eyes.
Echo was sitting on the desk chair again, leaning backward slightly, her legs crossed in front of her just like mine were. She sat off to one corner of the room, looking almost as though she ought to be chewing on the end of a pen.
‘Keep your eyes closed,’ she said.
‘I don’t think this is quite right,’ I said.
She nodded, and turned back to the laptop.
‘The Mozart’s more of a control, really,’ she said. ‘I wasn’t expecting it to work.’
All the same, she picked up a pencil and made some marks I couldn’t see on a pad of paper on the desk.
‘Let’s try…’ she started, then seemed taken with a new idea. ‘Actually, hang on.’
The music continued as she went to a drawer by her bed. She took out a sleep mask, and then beckoned to me to raise my head; with dexterity and surprisingly gently, she settled the mask over my eyes and the strap behind my head, moving strands of my hair aside and brushing my ear, accidentally or otherwise.
I didn’t hear her walk immediately back to the desk, and it was as though she was hesitating just above me, discerning something else about the experiment which didn’t or needn’t concern me.
‘Look,’ she said, after a moment. ‘I know this probably isn’t allowed, strictly, but…’
I felt the proximity of her, the softness of her breath and the scent of her skin, a moment before her lips clasped over mine again. I felt her weight braced across me, her hands placed either side of my head and shoulders on the bed, and the delicate, insistent motion of her lips. I parted my own, compliant in the utmost even though, naked and blindfolded and supine as Echo bent over me, it felt more like I was receiving the kiss than participating fully.
Echo pulled away, and I whined softly.
‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘Couldn’t help it. You’re really pretty.’
There was a moment of silence, and I wanted to say ‘thank you’, or ‘you are too’, or something, but I was caught unaware by how unguarded Echo had suddenly sounded. It was like the blindfold, and my own vulnerable position, had emboldened her to say things that I couldn’t imagine her saying before.
‘Right,’ she said, and I could tell she was going to sit back at the desk. ‘Let’s try something completely the other way.’
It was a four-part choral piece, not unlike the ones we had heard in the church. And yet this one moved much more slowly, contemplatively, felt much less resolved that what we had listened to before. I knew immediately that it was exactly what I needed.
‘What is this?’ I said, the words already tumbling out of me more as breath than as true sound.
‘Arvo Pärt,’ she said. ‘Da pacem domine.’
‘Fuck,’ I breathed.
The effect wasn’t instant, but something in me surged immediately upward. The harmony changed gradually, sinuously, holding in place on each chord for a long and controlled exhale, and it was like a series of tiny miniature orgasms, my body trembling with anticipation as it met each peak and fell into the next valley. Involuntarily, I tensed the muscles in my thighs and pelvis.
‘I can see you doing that,’ Echo said. ‘That’s cheating.’
She sounded as gleeful as I had heard her all evening, and I was in no condition to protest. I uncrossed my legs, keeping my ankles clasped together and all my toes pointing at the ceiling.
‘Fuck,’ I said, panted, whimpered. ‘I’m really close.’
Echo said nothing. Through no choice or act of will, I let out a high and tuneless moan.
The piece landed on a mournful cadence, and I heard Echo scrabbling at her computer with a sudden urgency.
Whatever she was trying, it was too late. At instantly deafening volume, a fast food advert started blaring out of the speakers. I snapped out of whatever I had been in, as though a rope had been pulled taut to yank my limp body from a sea of pleasure, and I howled in protest.
‘Fuck,’ Echo said. ‘Fucking hell. Fuck, I’m really sorry.’
‘You cannot be fucking serious,’ I said, with all the righteous anger of someone who had been jerked back to reality from a blissful dream.
Echo clearly found the volume control, and the room was silent. I lay there mutinously, the sensory deprivation reaching fever pitch, leaving me feeling alone with my anger and my abrupt transition to non-pleasure. Echo was apparently lost for words.
She remained so for a while longer, but then I heard an exhale, and then a giggle, and suddenly she was shrieking with laughter.
‘That is not funny,’ I said, but I couldn’t make it through the word ‘funny’ before I was laughing right along with her. I held my face in my hands, my fingers sitting in my eye-sockets and pressing the soft fabric of the sleep mask against my eyelids.
‘I’m really sorry,’ Echo said, sounding like she was literally weeping with laughter. She took a few deep breaths. ‘I’ll make it up to you.’
‘You can’t.’ I said, petulant but with some sense of the absurdity of the statement and of the situation.
‘I disagree,’ she said.
‘Christus factus est’ came again from the speakers, and at the first ‘obediens’ Echo joined me on the bed, parting my thighs with the gentle touch of her fingers. By the time the soprano part leapt upward, she had fallen to kiss and to bite the inside of my thigh.
‘Jesus Christ, you’re wet,’ she said.
My efforts to come up with some smart-mouthed, no-shit-Sherlock comment failed utterly as Echo’s tongue, soft and fluid and warm, dipped between my lips, and her mouth clasped hungrily over my clit.
I tried valiantly to resist coming in an instant, not wanting to allow Echo that satisfaction. But I had fallen doubly deep into the same abyss of pleasure, brought about now by the twin sensations of the music and, more immediately, Echo’s mouth, which had settled into a steady rhythm, sucking luxuriously on my clit, bringing her tongue into and out of the mix like a conductor. I slipped my hand into the soft curls of her hair, threw back my head and moaned. The sounds of my pleasure, little short of yells, mingled with the fortissimo section barely halfway through the piece. Super omne nomen.
Echo pulled away from me, dragged tickling fingertips along the inside of each thigh, and stood up.
I knew that I could have taken the mask off at any time, but I was enjoying what it did to my ears and my body too much. And I suspected, too, that it helped with the shyness I had long since discerned in Echo. Now, as I lay and listened to her taking off her clothes, I felt confident that this was the case.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said again. ‘I ruined the experiment in so many ways.’
Echo’s skin felt as hot and as damp as my own as she settled her body atop me, her hand firmly cupping my jaw, her nipples grazing my own breasts, her leg falling between mine, the warm and smooth protrusion of her pubic bone settling somewhere close to my hip. She kissed me, and I tasted myself all over her lips and her tongue. Her fingers slid into my hair, underneath the elastic of the mask.
‘You can take this off now,’ she said. ‘If you want.’
It was, I thought, kind of her to hang up my dress. It fell, uncreased, over my body when I put it back on, and I smoothed it again over my thighs. She even handed me a pair of her knickers to replace my own, which sat balled-up and sodden at the corner of her desk, next to her page of notes.
At the door, she held out my jacket for me, and I bent down to put on my shoes.
‘I still need a subject for my dissertation,’ she said, as I was wiggling my heels into my pumps. ‘I mean, if you’re interested…maybe we could…make some further investigations?’
I smiled. I really liked her. I told her I’d let her know.