Monday 17 May 2021

A Driving Experience

I wouldn't say I'm a car person, but I probably have more of an interest in them than the average person, it doesn't really come up much on the blog though because on paper there's not much crossover between the two. But the worlds of electronic music and cars collide quite often, just look at the aesthetics of the entire synthwave movement for one, it's full of blocky 80's sports and supercars like the Countach, Testarossa and the DeLorean. It goes beyond that too, there was that period in the early 00's where the World Rally Championship used the Chemical Brothers' Star Guitar as the theme for all their promo and commentary pieces for example. Of course there's also a whole host of Eurobeat out there that is vehicular themed, "Gasoline" being an often used words in the genre and leading to frankly amazing song titles like "Manifold Love". And that's without even mentioning all the Initial D related tracks out there - the continuous mixes of them are full of samples of tire squeals and engine revs.
ジェットブリック - Break Of Dawn on Pixiv

So why do I bring all that up? Well, I guess it's to show that there's not really a definitive genre when it comes to the music of cars, go looking and you can pretty much find any genre set to the theme and it will fit. Which brings me to the subject of this post: Takashi Kokubo. Kokubo is one of the old school ambient / new age composers from Japan, his works range from commercial releases like albums and such, to more eclectic contributions like him composing the alert sound for Japan's mobile earthquake alert system and jingles for all sorts from credit card payment sounds to actual commercials. That kind of thing isn't unheard of, remember that Brian Eno composed the Windows 95 startup sound, but I don't think I've ever seen an artist do so many of them as Kokubo - he has an album called Get At The Wave from 1987 that was made to promote Sanyo Air Conditioners - a really early version of multimedia experiences. It was recently re-issued too! (albeit with a slightly altered tracklist).

Which now brings us to the actual content of today's post, in the early 90's BMW approached Kokubo to make one of these soundtrack experiences for the then-new line of M5s. There's not a lot of info about it on the 'net sadly, I would have loved to hear what the brief was - the one whoever was in charge of getting Eno to do the Windows sound was pretty great, here's Eno's own quote on the matter:

The thing from the agency said, "We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional," this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said "and it must be 3.25 seconds long."

I thought this was so funny and an amazing thought to actually try to make a little piece of music. It's like making a tiny little jewel.

-Brian Eno, from "Q and A With Brian Eno" by Joel Selvin in the San Franscisco Chronicle - June 2 1996

I'd like to imagine there was something similar for Kokubo, most of his ambient work is in the tens of minutes in length, the BMW piece is a bite size 3 minutes by comparison. It's dated in spots now, there are some bassy stabs in the intro that come up every now and then that are supremely early 90's. But that gives way to a pleasant new age tune where the recordings of the engine don't sound amiss at all - but I have always thought that since that Top Gear film about the Aston Martin V12 Vantage set to Brian Eno (Questionable opinions about the 'war on speed' aside). It's an aesthetic I'm surprised I haven't seen more of to be honest, but maybe it's out there and I'm just not seeing it - this record is practically vaporwave already.

Kokubo does a fantastic job of capturing that whole 'experience' that was no doubt outlined in the brief, though perhaps a romanticised one - there is no traffic congestion here, no perpetual road works interrupting the flow - it's just you, the virtual driver, and the car. The gravel sound in the second half denoting arriving 'home' is masterfully done too, if a little spoiled by the incredibly cheesy and presumptive as hell "Hi Daddy!" at the very end, but that's the pitfall of making what is essentially an advertisement for a luxury car brand in the 90's. And you too could have this experience if you buy a 1992 BMW M5! Commercialism aside, it's a lovely little piece - a novelty, maybe but an interesting one nonetheless. Don't discount this and Kokubo's other work just because of that commercial angle, the ambient stuff is very pretty indeed and if you're at all into ambient you will likely find something to enjoy in his vast discography.

And as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.

No comments: