By the mid-1990’s, Mike Patton’s career had covered more territory in terms of genre and collaborations than most artists with decades-long forays into music even dream of. In the mind of anyone else, there was probably little that he hadn’t done. But not in his mind. Encouraged by friend and collaborator John Zorn (the experimental composer who had also produced Mr. Bungle records) he set out to record an album with nothing but his voice and a Tascam portable recorder. The result is Patton’s first solo work, Adult Themes for Voice.
In 1992, after his first four years in Faith No More and while promotional touring for Angel Dust began, Mike Patton began carrying the said 4 track Tascam recorder with him. He would record his voice in hotel rooms in every way he would devise and keep doing this for a couple of years.
That being said, he chose not to use any conventional singing or lyrics in the album. The vast majority is a sliced up and heavily edited collection of screaming, shouting, kissing, blowing, clicking noises, clapping, moaning, hissing, whispering, panting, barking and squealing, among other things.
Release and Legacy
Adult Themes for Voice was released as a part of Tzadik Records’ Composer Series in 1996. Patton’s Pranzo Oltranzista would also take a part in this series the following year, as well as countless other works by experimental artists. It was released on CD and vinyl, but it hasn’t been repressed since the 90’s.
Even if the opinions regarding the validity and aesthetic value of Patton’s first solo effort are divided, to put it lightly, the changes it poised on his creator are undeniable. Mike Patton himself has mentioned how this experimentation gave him the tools and knowledge that he would use in much of his later work, both alone and as a collaborator.
One can certainly find parallels between some of the sounds in Adult Themes and Patton’s vocals in Fantômas, his EP with The Dillinger Escape Plan and even much of his video game and film scoring. Interviews also claim that it was the sounds he made in this, his first solo work, that drew the attention of the film producer’s that called upon him to create the screeches of I Am Legend’s nocturnal beasts.
Words can barely describe it as a whole. Some of it sounds as if Aphex Twin found a way to control a bunch of Khoisan speakers via MIDI, then programmed his usual style of abstract IDM to it. Then chose to do the same thing but with bees. Another time with squeaking windows. And then he mixed everything and avoided anything that resembled a beat.
There’s also some really heavy processing going on here. A lot of the sounds are compressed and sustained, then sliced longer or shorter in order to create the variations. There are also occasional uses of feedback and other noises that were leaked apart from voice. Like running water in “Man Alone In Steambath”. Also, it’s all colored somewhat nicely by the hiss and static from the cheap portable recorder.
Listening to the whole thing is really a tour de force, as it’s a rollercoaster of moods. Paying real attention to it might be interesting for a while, then it can grow unsettling, before a dramatic change in speed and intensity (see “Guinea Pig 4”) makes you snap back to reality after a brief ride among the dark corners of your mind. This happens several times.
- Wuxiapian 2:12
- “I Killed Him Like a Dog…And He Still Laughed” 0:56
- Smog 0:45
- The Man In The Lower Left Hand Corner of the Photograph 1:47
- Robot Sex (neon) 0:25
- Screams of the Asteroid 0:55
- Robot Sex (b/w) 0:16
- Porno Holocaust 1:00
- Inconsolable Widows in Search of Distraction 3:09
- “Hurry Up and Kill Me…I’m Cold” 0:06
- Man Alone In Steambath 1:01
- Guinea Pig 1 0:35
- Guinea Pig 2 1:26
- Guinea Pig 3 0:16
- Guinea Pig 4 1:42
- A Woman With The Skin of the Moon 0:37
- A Lizard With the Skin of a Woman 1:38
- Catheter 1:18
- “Fix It So The Bruises Don’t Show” 1:20
- Robot Sex (watercolors) 0:24
- A Ceremony of Senses, An Alibi In The Red Light District 0:40
- Butterfly in a Glass Maze 2:19
- A Leper With The Face of a Baby Girl 2:40
- The One Armed vs. 9 killers 1:17
- Pillow Biter 2:42
- Raped On A Bed of Sand 1:46
- Violence to the 5th 2:17
- Red Mouth, Black Orgasm 0:26
- Wuxiapian Fantastique 0:16
- A Smile, A Slap In The Face, A Fart, A Kiss On The Mouth 0:26
- Private Lessons on Planet Eros 0:36
- “Pneumonia with Complications” 0:13
- Orgy in Reverb (10 Kilometers of Lust) 4:53
Apart from Mike Patton, who did all the recording, mixing and editing, the only other person involved was American experimental composer and saxophonist John Zorn. The latter was instrumental in the conception of Adult Themes For Voice, and a big influence in Patton’s work as well.
John Zorn produced Mr. Bungle’s self-titled debut album. Also in 1991, Mike Patton began appearing as a live collaborator for the Zorn-led avant-garde music group Naked City. The two would keep collaborating frequently over the years. Zorn was listed as an Executive Producer to the album since he suggested the main idea and was also responsible for releasing it on his very own label, Tzadik records. That explains how many of his collaborators ended up working on the post-production of this record as well.
Mastering was done by Allan Tucker, the chief mastering engineer at Foothill Digital studios, who specialized in engineering or remixing jazz records by names such as John Lee Hooker and Buddy Rich.
The album’s sleeve art was also in charge of a frequent Tzadik Records collaborator. Designer Kimsu Theiler had also worked on John Zorn’s Cynical Hysterie Hour as well as most Tzadik releases from the mid-1990’s.
For Adult Themes, Theiler repurposed what seems to be an old photograph of two boys in space-like suites, wearing glass helmets that cover them to their shoulders. The words “ADULT THEMES” are presented in all caps, as in some twisted juxtaposition between these two little space scouts and the bizarre contents inside.
Opinions are divided when it comes to Adult Themes For Voice. Some consider it groundbreaking and inspiring. Others dismiss it as nothing but idle-made noise. Here are a few highlights:
“‘Pneumonia With Complications’ is almost like an anti-tobacco advertisement, with Patton coughing his lungs out, of course everything really distorted.” – Sputnik Music
“To me, Adult Themes was the fork in the road where you either stepped back and admired Patton’s more conventional rock-based stuff, or plunged balls-first into oblivion” – Decibel