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.

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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.

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Comments (3)
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  • Dan says:

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

  • Paul Tatara says:

    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.

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