Experiment IV is a song by Kate Bush, released in 1986. The song tells the story of a military organization with the top-secret plan of creating a sound capable of killing someone. The music video is a sci-fi/horror mini-film teeming with originality. It elaborates on the story with a thrill of a plot and an impressive cast of popular English actors including, Dawn French, Peter Vaughn, Richard Vernon, Hugh Laurie and Gary Oldman.
The song by itself is rather disturbing in revealing the whole sinister plot in just the first two verses,
We were working secretly for the military/ Our experiment in sound was nearly ready to begin/ We only know in theory what we are doing/ Music made for pleasure, music made to thrill
It was music we were making here until/ They told us all they wanted/ Was a sound that could kill someone from a distance/ So we go ahead and the meters are over in the red/ It’s a mistake in the making.
The idea that’s expressed here is that music inherently is something for pleasure and then the horror is revealed at the thought of turning something beautiful into something sinister. This is expressed in the music video as well. A video which the U.K found violent enough to ban from Top of the Pops.
The video opens to a man clutching a brief case. He walks into what appears to be a music store, (and there is an Easter egg in here), if you look closely you’ll find the poster for the single of Experiment IV hanging on the wall. You then see him enter a secret room in the back of the music store, suggesting the shop was just a front, into a hospital or laboratory setting where he meets a man and a woman in lab coats (played by Hugh Laurie and Dawn French). As he goes over the material hidden in the brief case with them they appear to be pleased, suggesting they didn’t yet know what they were getting into “We only know in theory what we are doing/ Music made for pleasure, music made to thrill.” That is until they are shown speaking with a military official who explains to them that “…all they wanted/ Was a sound that could kill someone from a distance.”
Next it is revealed how the scientists acquire such a deadly sound,
“From the painful cries of mothers…”
“…to the terrifying scream.”
As you might notice in the first still, the scientists are shown serving tea while misery is going on around them, which is an interesting choice in direction and may show the naivety of the scientists regarding their experiment.
The experiment takes a turn for the worse in the next scene when the test subject, played by Gary Oldman is strapped to a chair with a speaker placed in front of him. Initially, the sound which comes out of the speaker is personified as a beautiful siren-like specter played by Kate Bush herself.
“It could feel like falling in love/ It could feel so bad/ It could feel so good/ It could sing you to sleep.”
But then the specter rips off her beautiful face to reveal a deadly banshee underneath.
“But that dream is your enemy”
The creature then proceeds to murder everyone in the facility as everyone runs about in utter mayhem and the lyrics continue, “We won’t be there to be blamed/ We won’t be there to snitch/ I just pray that someone there can hit the switch.”
Kate Bush appears two more times in the video. She appears serving tea to the military official as the carnage is being revealed. Again, those in authority enjoy their tea while misery surrounds them. This time, however, it may suggest the apathetic attitude the military has toward those they employ. Also in the scene, the camera zooms in on Kate Bush’s face where the face of the banshee flashes over briefly, suggesting that Kate Bush was the creature.
The outside of the facility is revealed at the end of the video where the front of the building reads “Music for Pleasure.” And then the camera zooms out to show a fence around the building with a sign that reads “Prohibited.” The placement of these two signs is almost subliminal as the first sign is shown so quickly. I initially thought that the “Prohibited” sign with the fence meant the building was now prohibited due to all the damage done by the creature. However, with the placement of the two signs it may be that Kate Bush was trying to say, “music for pleasure is now prohibited.”
Kate Bush is shown one more time at the end of the video as the military woman giving the camera a wink with a finger to her lips,
Suggesting once more that this woman was the creature. She’s just revealed her secret to us and she wants it kept quiet as she hops into a van and rides off to cause more mayhem.
This video is genius. Where the song itself leaves an open ending, the video answers many questions while also creating more mystery. Kate Bush is a master in music cinema. I will likely review more videos by her in the future!