A Symphony of Sound (1966): Velvet Underground Improvises, Warhol Films It, Until the Cops Turn Up

“We’re sponsoring a new band,” announced Andy Warhol at the end of the 1966 documentary posted here yesterday. “It’s called the Velvet Underground.” Brian Eno would much later call it the band that inspired every single one of its listeners to start bands of their own, but that same year, Warhol produced The Velvet Underground: A Symphony of Sound. The film shows the group, which features young but now much-discussed rock iconoclasts like John Cale, Lou Reed, and (on tambourine) the German singer Nico, performing a 67-minute instrumental improvisation. Shooting at his New York studio the Factory, Warhol and crew intended this not as a concert film but as a bit of entertainment to be screened before actual live Velvet Underground shows. It and other short films could be screened, so the idea developed, their soundtracks and visuals intermingling according to the decisions of those at the projectors and mixer.

“I thought of recording the Velvets just making up sounds as they went along to have on film so I could turn both soundtracks up at the same time along with the other three silent films being projected,” said director of photography and Factory member Paul Morrissey, best known as the director of Flesh, Trash, and Heat.  “The cacophonous noise added a lot of energy to these boring sections and sounded a lot like the group itself. The show put on for the group was certainly the first mixed media show of its kind, was extremely effective and I have never since seen such an interesting one even in this age of super-colossal rock concerts.” Alas, someone’s noise complaint puts an end to the Symphony of Sound experience: one policeman arrives to turn down the amplifier, and Warhol tries to explain the situation to the others. But the bustle of the Factory continues apace.

Related content:

Warhol’s Screen Tests: Lou Reed, Dennis Hopper, Nico, and More

Andy Warhol Quits Painting, Manages The Velvet Underground (1965)

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.



Make knowledge free & open. Share our posts with friends on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms:

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Choose a comment platform

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  1. Dan says . . . | September 18, 2012 / 7:29 pm

    Such a shame nobody was there who knew how to work a camera or tape recorder.

  2. Paul Tatara says . . . | September 19, 2012 / 1:53 pm

    That’s exactly what I was thinking. The band is utterly contemporary, and some poor bastard is obsessed with the newfangled zoom-in feature. WAY too bad.

  3. John says . . . | January 19, 2013 / 3:05 am

    Dear friends,

    I wanted to let you know about a new petition I created on We the People,
    a new feature on WhiteHouse.gov, and ask for your support. Will you add your
    name to mine? If this petition gets 25,000 signatures by February 09, 2013,
    the White House will review it and respond!

    We the People allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama
    Administration to take action on a range of issues. If a petition gets
    enough support, the Obama Administration will issue an official response.

    You can view and sign the petition here:

    http://wh.gov/Pw20

Add a comment

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Quantcast