Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Plugged In Culture

Over the years I've invariably changed the way I analyze projects regarding applicable audio needs. My initial review of any given project has evolved from straight forward story analysis in my early years, to a thorough consideration of brand strategy -even when a client does not explicitly request it.

Depending on the project, there may be a story to be scored. But in tandem to scoring issues, I've realized we must also be concerned with what palette or combination of sounds is not just right for the score, but right for the brand.

At the same time as my ideas on music production changed –along with the culture, I would like to think–, I observed the emergence of the word 'branding' in the public forum, so that by 1999 it appeared to be upon everyone's lips.

Much like the phrase 'World Wide Web', with which it shared a similar linguistic trajectory, it entered the popular conversation with an abrupt entrance. –And though it may not be true, at the time it seemed to me as if the cult of Brand was most obsessively heralded by the principals of the design company, The Attik, with whom I worked off and on during the latter part of the nineties, and from whom I also learned a great deal on the subject (and art).

The result is one hears differently. The ears tune to a new frequency –the transmission of deliberate, inherent symbolic properties layered onto a music or sound design commission, in an attempt to go beyond the mere enhancement of a story and actually communicate a message through sound.

It almost sounds subliminal, but subliminal advertising assumes a naive audience, whereas branded advertising communications generally rely on intelligent consumers who may also happen to be participants of the brand culture. That is why it works, because both brand and consumer speak the same language, and part of that language is identification of a common semiotic alphabet, which is as musical as it is word and graphic based.

From the inner sanctum halls of a master marketers, to the common parlance of teenagers who are hip to the pitch, it was a tectonic paradigm shift, however it was introduced. One now only need take note of the musical offerings released by celebutante Paris Hilton to recognize that branded music isn't just for TV commercials anymore. It's for everybody, with nary an obstacle to distribution except the inherent possibility that there might not be an contemporary audience for a given concept, as it is framed by its author.

The Cult of Product has unleashed Branded Entertainment upon our now particularly plugged-in culture; and it would be simply horrific to witness, if it wasn't also so damn enjoyable to watch.

Sound of the Year: 2005 – Mother Nature's Howl

No doubt, international politics proved as turbulent as ever this year; the war in Iraq rages on; and stories of horror and tragedy continue to emerge from all corners of the globe.

For many American sports fans, the big story of the year was the the Chicago White Sox winning the World Series for first time since 1917. But although the crack of a wooden baseball bat might make for a fine snare sample in an Eco Disco Music (EDM) track, the 2005 Critical Noise Sound of the Year belongs to:


First, the year began with the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, which rolled onto South Asian Shores in late December 2004. The tsunami  took over seventy thousand lives and left tens of thousands injured.

Later, at the close of Summer in the northern hemisphere, Hurricane Katrina capped off a record season of 27 named storms, surpassing the record of 21 set in 1933, and killed more than a thousand in 4 US. states,

But though Katrina blew in with violent vigor, it was more than a mere storm, it became a metaphor for everything gone wrong with US government. And as Washington D.C. goes, so goes the world, which also means that any fauz pas by an American administration makes for a grand statement, indeed. Depending on one's politics, the statement was either 'We don't care' or 'We're not prepared'.

Either way, a big story, a global embarrassment and a shock to the system.

Finally, although much of the disaster posed by Katrina on New Orleans can be directly attributable to an inadequate levy system, the event will nevertheless live on as an indicator to the increasing background hum presented by climate change and global warming.  

So, perhaps 2005 presented a record year for Hurricanes, but it may very well be that very soon in the future, 2005 will also be framed as the year when freaky weather became normal.

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The Critical Noise Sound of the Year goes to that sound source, event, entity, happening or concept which so effectively produces wide response and reaction, whether intentional or not, such that it stirs collective emotion, inspires discussion, incites action, or otherwise lends itself to cultural analysis and resonates across the globe.