Audio Erotica | Might We Interest You In A Test Drive?

New Hardback AUDIO EROTICA Celebrates the Definitive Marketing of Bygone Hi-Def Eras, Via Issue 192, Gettin' Around

Written by

Jake Carlisi

Photographed by

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(Audio Erotica, 2024)

Jonny Trunk introduces his new book, Audio Erotica (Fuel, 2024), with a bang. Well, a crash more specifically. A crash that saw the author, DJ, and record label impresario run over by a motorbike— ostensibly an odd choice for a book that collates an awe-inspiring collection of high-fidelity audio equipment advertisements produced around the world.

Decades worth of technological promos line the pages, themselves an all-important historical record for those audiophiles like Trunk who are devoted to the perfect sound. But this opening recollection—of a younger self so lost in his world as to be suddenly thrown under a pair of wheels—affirms something true of the most impassioned: lying just below that layer of human obsession, one often finds a devotion to memory, the desire to not only extend those perfect moments from our heads into the infinite, but to recreate their impact anew. Trunk’s was not a memory of being lost in the product but in what it produced: “In the sound of ‘Jungle Strut’ by The Square...Wired for sound and deaf to the noise of the traffic.” Trunk writes, “I had simply ‘strutted’ right into the road.”

What should be self-evident is increasingly less so in a world consumed with the intricacies of technology, but Audio Erotica is nothing if not a love letter to music. Trunk’s latest venture is an intricate compilation of his very own collection of hi-fi brochures published between the 1950s and 1980s, which accompanies a dynamic collection of audio equipment in his home. It is a history book of sorts, with small pockets of information accompanying each advertising image. But through these images is an evocation of the aesthetic memories that defined music cultures, a remembrance of the era-defining sounds that blasted from those speakers. “How was it experienced back then?” the reader can almost hear him asking. “Where can that sound take me? Where can I take it?”

(Audio Erotica, 2024)

What are your thoughts on the personalization of listening— the transition from speakers to headphones—that has taken place in recent decades?

I think we must be at peak headphone use right now—wherever I go everyone is wearing headphones. If I take the dog for a walk, half the other walkers are listening to something on big phones or earbuds. On the Tube [in London], it’s three-quarters. Personally, it’s not something I do or particularly enjoy—I use headphones for broadcasting and recording, that’s about it. Otherwise, I am strictly a speaker person. While I understand the whole headphones thing—it’s convenient and the sound is great—in my opinion you need to listen to the world around you, too. Headphones are just too isolating. I like hearing people, cars, dogs, birds, nature, wind, atmosphere, and the front door (as well as music of course). They are probably not the best for social interaction, confidence, or long-term hearing. But the people who have really driven this revolution more than anyone—the big tech companies—have never really had well-being at the top of their list.

What is your favorite era of hi-fi equipment? How does this compare to your favorite era of hi-fi marketing?

I do tend to melt when I see classic 1960s and 1970s tech. Generally, it’s functional, simple and difficult to improve on. And it’s what I use at home. Although now, particularly after working on Audio Erotica, a little part of me has a soft spot for 1980s inventive technology and some of the more bizarre designs of that era. As far as my favorite era of hi-fi marketing, I find the way the 1960s and 1970s brochures were ‘out there’ in terms of photography, fonts, colorways and minimalism—hard to beat when it’s done well. Having said that, the book has got me more excited about 1980s photography and graphics more than ever. There is a great Sony Walkman brochure in there which just nails everything about the product through fantastic use of makeup, fashion, and styling.

Do you feel there is something international in the messaging around hi-fi equipment? Do you believe in the advertising adage that ‘sex sells’?

When I started the book, the first brochures I was finding were graphic and technology-oriented, and each country seemed to have its own signature: British brochures were all a bit pipe smoking, wooden and stuffy; the American ones were quite loud and brash; the Japanese were precise but innovative; the German were minimal, clinical, and immaculately stylish—each appealing to their market, and to a certain degree, living up to stereotypes (pun intended).

As the collection got bigger and the book was coming together, I realized there were very few photographs of men and far more photographs of women. Often they were not portrayed in an overtly sexual way, but more of a totally pointless ‘sitting down over there doing nothing,’ way which is quite odd. Without a doubt, some of the brochures use women in a very ‘dynamic’ way, alongside what they probably thought was equally ‘dynamic’ equipment (especially in the 1980s). There was certainly a belief back then that sex will sell product. This approach is more apparent in some of the early 1970s brochures, particularly where women are actually sitting behind the hi-fi—not the prime location for listening pleasure. As the decades moved on, the companies refined the ‘sex sells’ idea, to the extent that some even picture a woman actually using the hi-fi—amazing really. Again, it’s so interesting to see how brochures reflect the cultural sophistication—or lack of it—of the times. 

(Audio Erotica, 2024)

Written by Jake Carlisi

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Flaunt Magazine, Issue 192, Gettin Around, Audio Erotica, Jake Calisi, Jonny Trunk