Marilu Donovan and Adam Markiewicz, joined by collaborator Eartheater, on the shimmering, seductive sound that caught Brooke Candy's ear.

For most people, “porn movie soundtrack” evokes cheesy ’70s fuzak, with wah wah guitar and a bump-and-grind beat. Porn doesn’t usually feature ambient, classical harp music. That’s the soundtrack for rapper Brooke Candy’s queer 2018 Pornhub film I Love You, though. The music has just been released as part of the new album Flood Dream by LEYA.

LEYA is harpist Marilu Donovan and violinist Adam Markiewicz. The unusual instrumental contrast gives their music a distinctive pure, shimmering, ethereal drone, very different from the usual electronic buzz or crackle of much experimental music. “I had a dream of playing with violin or cello, some sort of sustained string instrument, because that is the opposite of what the harp can do,” Donovan told me. “The harp is very rhythmic and percussive. And the sound is almost immediately gone.” When she started working with Markiewicz they both knew they’d found the sound they wanted, and captured it on their first album, The Fool, in 2018.

Along with the album, the duo released a video for the song “Sister.” Directed by Kathleen Dycaico, it features two nude women dancing and entwining like sensual puppets in an idyllic forest stream. Brooke Candy was looking for a harpist to provide music for her film, and when she saw the video, she thought, “Oh shit, this is what I want for the porn,” Donovan told me.

Candy wanted the musicians to be on set during the filming. “I think she found it very difficult to find a classical harpist that would be willing to be in a pornographic film,” Donovan laughed. But she and Markiewicz were excited to work on the project. I Love You (extremely NSFW link here) is three pornographic scenes, one featuring two cis women (Abella Danger and Kira Noir), one featuring two cis men (Jesse Prather and Remy Cruze) and one featuring two trans women (Venus Lux, and Chanel Santini.) Donovan and Markiewicz are in the movie too; they sit in front of the sex scenes in diaphanous, translucent draping, holding their instruments still as if they’re frozen while they play three of the songs from the album: “Flesh,” “Flow,” and “Mariah”.

“Playing the music live obviously wouldn’t really work in terms of editing,” Markiewicz told me. “And then we were going to pantomime the performance. But a porn set is very miked up so we couldn’t mime either without some noise. So we settled on sitting there like statues in the front.” During the sex scenes, there are occasional film insets of the two musicians actually playing, so that the movement of their fingers is juxtaposed with the movement of the actor’s fingers and bodies. Music making becomes a metaphor for sex, and vice versa.

“It was extremely professional,” Donovan told me. “To the people on set, it was just another day at work and Adam and I just kind of fell into that. It was really fun for us and beautiful. There was a very loving, very positive vibe with the whole thing. We were joking with the actors between takes and sort of giggling with them.”

Part of the fun for the musicians was the fact that their songs were so incongruous. Their playing give the sex scenes in the film a dreamy, disjointed, alien feeling, very different from the usual atmosphere associated with porn. “Usually people watch porn on mute because it’s in their bedroom in the dark. Nobody has it at full volume,” Donovan said. And Markiewicz added, “I don’t think people like the music in the film necessarily. They think it’s a little out of place. But that’s maybe a victory in that context. I think we expected a weird reaction,” he laughed.

LEYA’s music may disturb some Pornhub viewers, but part of its genius is that it’s also soothing, welcoming, and even to some degree catchy. You can hear the duo at their most accessible, for example on their 2019 EP Angel Lust, a collaboration with singer Eartheater, aka Alexandra Drewchin. Both Donovan and Markiewicz have recorded and performed with Drewchin in the past, and the four songs they perform with her seamlessly combine their own fractured ambient soundscape with her psychedelic folk. The song structures tighten up, and there are more recognizable hooks for Drewchin’s ethereal voice to wrap around and play off of.

When I asked the duo if they considered themselves pop music, their response was definitive. “We are pop,” Donovan said. And Markiewicz elaborated, “Pop is the vibe. Whatever combination of ambient/drone/new music classical/experimental texture noise—whatever words you want to put on it, the record is also about enjoyment and connection.”

Porn is about enjoyment and connection too, arguably. It’s a pop genre that people don’t talk about, like a secret song that everyone listens to but won’t share on their playlist. LEYA’s participation in I Love You is part of their project of creating experimental avant-garde queer pop that speaks to and disorients everyone. Flood Dream doesn’t sound much like a porn soundtrack, and it doesn’t sound much like Brooke Candy’s filthy, bottom-heavy hip hop. But then again, it doesn’t sound much like anything else, either.