fanatic fandom

My other blog is a BMW. But this is a bandanna-pink Volkswagen Beetle - for flirty frivolous fun and fanatic fandom. This is where i get to play the bimbonic-geek and rave, enthuse, bitch and rant about anything and everything under the sun. Feel free to chip in!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

two fords and the truth

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Only in America...
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What an amazing concept. Take two brand-new Ford Focus 5-door hatchbacks, throw in one crazy sound designer, a wacky Hollywood film composer, a workshop of possibly insane instrument-makers, 31 mad musicians, a studio of adventuresome recording engineers, back them up with an undisclosed budget, and what do you get? Why, an orchestra of car-part instruments, of course. Playing music that sounds like it was written by a band of extraordinarily musical travelling gypsies enroute to a circus show.
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In a moment of inspired bravado, (or maybe it was just creative genius sparked off by boredom), someone in Ford Motor, or in the advertising company hired by Ford Motor, decided that it would be a good idea to take apart the new Ford Focus and turn the car parts into musical instruments. Real instruments that would be able to play in tune. With names like 'fender bass', 'clutch guitar', 'rear suspension spike fiddle', 'transmission case cello', 'shockbone' and 'door harp'. And, backed by all the financial support that Ford Motor's long history of capitalist exploitation could muster, they proceeded to produce an advertisement featuring original music written specially for the occasion and played on, literally, a car.
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The result is unbelievably beautiful. And, also, fodder for much self-indulgent intellectualising about the car-industry, music, advertising, art, craftsmanship, trust, and truth.
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Trust? Truth? What do these things have to do with a car advertisement? Plenty, if the hype surrounding the ad is anything to go by. Most people, on first seeing the ad, wonder if the instruments are genuine. The automatic assumption is that the musicians are only miming the playing, that the instruments don't really work. We are so used to synthesized music and digitally-enhanced films that we find it difficult to trust that what seems to be happening in the ad is actually happening. What I found particularly interesting were composer Craig Richey's comments on the ad's credibility problem:
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"After losing sleep wondering how good, or bad, it might sound, I was very happy to hear, looking at the first edit, that maybe it sounded too good. And that now maybe there was gonna be a problem of credibility - 'That sounds too good. That can't possibly be a car playing.' You know, there're a few moments in one of the edits where the sync was out slightly from the picture, and my note back to the editor was, 'Yeah, can you tighten up that shot, cos credibility is everything. Even if it's visually out of sync, it's gonna lead the viewer to believe, 'Ah they're not really playing that thing.' So it's kindof ironic, after worrying what the worst scenario could be, to be at the end of the process wondering if we'd done such a good job... that it sounds so good that maybe it isn't gonna be believable."
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So - damned if you do, and damned if you don't. A particularly horrible situation to be in. The problem, really, is that we can't tell what is real anymore. Even if the recording weren't quite so disturbingly good, one could still suspect its authenticity on the grounds that even imperfections can be simulated for the sake of making a fake performance seem more 'real'. We can't even trust the videos of the production process (which show everything from the actual crafting and manufacturing of the instruments to the studio recording - just click on 'Media' and check out the shots of the musicians jamming, and the comments by the sound engineers and producers), because there is always the nagging suspicion that the whole thing is staged, a big hoax designed to generate controversy, publicity and profits for Ford Motor.
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In an era when much of what we know about the world outside our immediate lived reality is mediated through visual and sound images, we never know how much of that mediated information we can really trust. But this problem isn't new. In fact, it is a platitude that had already made it into mainstream Hollywood movies like Wag the Dog (1997) and The Truman Show (1998) a decade ago. The only difference is that now, technological advances have made it even more difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction than it was a decade ago.
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This constant see-sawing between faith and doubt is tiring business. Perhaps it might explain the rise in fundamentalist faith in the world today. (And by 'faith', I don't just mean belief in traditional religions. 'Faith', in my broader definition, includes the belief in things like atheism, Darwinism, democracy, New Age-ism...) People feel the need for something stable to ground their lives on, and a fixed worldview provides a ready answer. Which, in a sense, may not be a bad thing, even if it does then beg the question of whether there is any truth in the conflicting claims made by different worldviews in the first place. But that is a story for another time.
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By the way, at the risk of complete, utter public humiliation, let me just state for the record that I believe that the ad is 'real'. And that I arrived at this conclusion after checking out the various bits of 'evidence' available online (and which I know could always turn out to have been fabricated in a beautifully-orchestrated commercial hoax). No matter. It's not as if I have much of a reputation to protect, anyway. But here are some more links to the bits of evidence I've been able to find, so that you can go look them up and arrive at your own conclusions.
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