In an August 2007 Advertising Age article titled 'Why Indian creatives bring great ideas to global brands', author and multinational creative director, Prasoon Joshi, suggested that the fresh set of eyes Indians brought with them to Europe and to the United States, was in fact a valuable skill in its own right. The 'edge' afforded by this skill can be described as the inherent objectivity with which immigrants and other global visitors view a culture different from their own.
For you, a foreign culture might be New Delhi or Mumbai. For an East Indian, Cincinnati is exotic. So goes the theory, with the end result being new out-of-the-box ideas, being so fresh because they weren't constrained by someone within the culture looking at the world with a local (and therefore perhaps jaded) eye. But in fact, they were born of insight from someone looking at the world through the lens of an 'Alien Eye'.
"The familiar becomes a blind spot," Joshi notes. "But when viewed from a stranger's eye, this acquires a new hue. The ordinary seen in a different light is incredible and inspiring."
There is a little here to quibble with. Although, no matter where one is on the planet today, McDonald's, KFC, Pepsi (all served with a big side of America) can usually be found with relative ease (for the middle and professional classes).
But aside from that, I'm greatly impressed with Joshi's observations, because it explains my own relationship as a participant in the creation of some Great American advertising.
I also spent a substantial portion of my childhood growing up over seas, primarily in pre-Internet, developing countries near or below the equator. And it's because of this experience that I have often thought I owed whatever success I've enjoyed producing music, sound design and sonic branding originated from feeling like an 'alien' in the country of my citizenship.
The main reason being, that when I at last arrived in the United States, the 'First World' demanded observation before assimilation (and I'm not sure that I ever have, completely), making me from the start –from high school onward– a kind of amateur social anthropologist, of my own culture, no less. Fortunately, that turned out to be a good background for someone who went on to produce branded music solutions for multinational companies.
So, without a doubt, I think it's likely that what Joshi says about the concept Alien Eye also holds true for the alien ear.
But you don't need to be an expat to cultivate this 'extra sensory perception'. All you need is to believe is that travel (beyond local borders) and cultural immersion abroad is as important to one's musicianship as one's keyboard technique (or whatever instrument you play). Then hop in a car, a boat, on an airplane –a rocket ship, if you can– and act on that belief (if only for a few days, even).
I long for vacations not because I'll get to lay on a beach somewhere, but because I know that a dramatic change of scenery will force a recalibration of my perspective, changing the way I see and hear, as though both the world and self have been once again been transformed by intentional and prolonged exposure to alien DNA, not to mention the sun and the surf.
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Image of inner ear sourced from: Perception Space—The Final Frontier, A PLoS Biology Vol. 3, No. 4, e137 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030137 (/), vectorised by Inductiveload, and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic. Collage by Terry O'Gara.