You fumble for the switch. Light floods the room. You tear the headphones from your head. Your breathing is fast, nearly a pant. Your heart is pounding. You jump off the bed, check all the doors and windows. You are alone. No one is in the house. Just you and your CD player. Wow. This virtual audio is amazing stuff, all right. You can't help but think it's a little creepy. If that's a cyborgasm, you're not sure you want another.
Well, maybe just one.
Lisa Palac -- sex-positive feminist and co-creator of 1993's Cyborgasm: XXX Erotica in 3-D Sound and the recently released The Edge of the Bed: Cyborgasm 2 -- defines the erotic measuring stick as authenticity. "When you get the sense that the sexual tension you're witnessing would be going full blast even without an audience, you've come to the right place," Palac says in the liner notes of her latest virtual-audio CD. By that gauge, both of her recording projects work beautifully; even hardcore voyeurs can get their ya-yas out without leaving the house. None of the erotic stories on the new disk are scripted, and that genuine excitement comes through loud and clear in track after viscous track.
If you think the sexual revolution already happened, and we won, think again. People -- yes, even here in oh-so-liberated San Francisco -- are still prudish as hell when it comes to being explicit about what, exactly, they want in bed.
Watching the self-assured Palac on a recent Jon Stewart Show, for example, even the young hipster host showed a clear need for sexual consciousness raising -- or at least a good spanking. Stewart couldn't have been more uncomfortable with Cyborgasm's subject matter, squirming and clearing his throat repeatedly, while Palac tried to calm him down -- at one point going so far as to tell him not to be so nervous.
Stewart's fidgeting reached hilarious fruition when an audio clip of "Puppy," Palac's contribution to Cyborgasm, was aired. The moment when she crooned over the loudspeaker, "Puppies eat their food out of bowls on the floor," Stewart actually buried his head in his hands and put the CD jewel box in his mouth. Palac tried to console him, saying, "Honey, it's okay!"
"No it's not," muttered an obviously discomfited Stewart.
It's true enough that listening to Cyborgasm can be a bit disconcerting. Palac starts things off with the aforementioned "Puppy," purring, "Puppies have to sit and speak and fetch and beg and I do all those things. I get down on my hands and knees and I crawl to him across the floor 'cause I want it so bad." Joe Gore -- the senior editor at Guitar Player who's also played with Tom Waits, PJ Harvey and Stephen Yerkey -- provides much of the atmospheric music on the disk to excellent effect, pumping up slow, insidious rhythms as a backdrop for the panting delivery of Cyborgasm's tales.
The end result is a damn sight sexier than 98 percent of the adult videos on the market; it turns out that the imagination is quite the erogenous zone after all. Cyborgasm sounds like the sexiest porn film never made, with slinky jazz punctuating a parade of sultry voices. It's smut for smart people, a soundtrack whose minimal musical riffs are made stronger by their spare use behind breathy stories of sin.
The tracks have a sense of immediacy and reality that draws even jaundiced listeners deep inside the fantasies. Actor Dennis Matthews' "Mardi Gras" describes full-on bacchanalia in New Orleans, telling it hot and true. "You can feel my breath, so hot between your legs," he whispers. His growing excitement in telling the story builds to climax, culminating with a whispered, "I kiss you and I kiss you and you're so beautiful."
Subsequent tracks include "Vicious Panties," with Laura Albert -- from local band Daddy Don't Go -- surprising a man wearing her underwear while "The Girl From Ipanema" plays in the background. "Milky" features "sexpert" Susie Bright talking about the sensuality of lactating, concluding with an implausibly romantic tale of fisting: "The only thing like it is having a baby."
Carol Queen draws the listener in with a seven-plus-minute masturbatory rant that begins, "I feel like touching myself tonight." And she sure does, laughing and moaning as every slish and slosh, every sticky drop, is projected and amplified. If you can get past the puritan squeamishness that comes from listening to a stranger bare it all, you can't help but get turned on by the sheer lustiness of the woman, a self-described "writer, sex worker and sex educator."
A welcome bit of comic relief is offered up in "Dueling Hoosiers," where actresses Jana Goerlitz and Rebecca Klingler portray battling blowjob queens, who each insist that their skills are best, fighting it out, one in each ear. Josh Kornbluth's hilarious "Inside Marcie's Bedroom" -- an excerpt from his monologue The Moisture Seekers -- recounts in minute detail an adolescent boy's first time. With the lovely Marcie Wasserman providing one-on-one tutelage, the listener feels his triumph when he finally achieves penetration. (Yes!) Lines like, "Wait! I understand volcanoes now!" and a small yapping dog that barks incessantly outside the bedroom door are funny as hell -- and oddly poignant. When Kornbluth learns to perform cunnilingus, listeners feel as if they too have discovered the secret of life.
Palac, who's working on a book on sex and pop culture for Little, Brown, clearly has her finger on the ... er ... pulse of what's hot and what's not. Her co-creator and virtual-audio engineer Ron Gompertz (head of Heyday Records) deserves equal kudos for making the sounds of sex actually sound sexy.
The Edge of the Bed: Cyborgasm 2's CD-release party happens Wed, March 8, at Slim's in S.F.; call 255-0333.