We’ve seen basses and turntables made from motorcycles, and bicycle parts turned into DJ setups, ensembles, and The Nutcracker. But The Car Music Project has gone further, building two entire ensembles out a single car, first a sound designer’s old Honda Accord and, more recently, deconstructing a brand-new Ford Focus into a full instrumental ensemble in just five weeks.

In other words, before — a five-door 2008 Ford Focus hatchback as built for the UK market looks like this:

fordfocus

… and after the Car Music Project gets to it, 21 parts from that car become 31 individual instruments:

Ford Focus ensemble of car parts

The ad campaign premiered yesterday in England. Above: the extended, three-minute version.

More: More cowbell! Ford turns Focus into musical instruments [Autoblog]

I got to talk to New York-based sound designer Bill Milbrodt, who led a 22-person team to build the instruments, with Ray Faunce III managing fabrication. Composer Craig Richey, who scored The King of Kong, Friends With Money, and Lovely & Amazing (among others), wrote the music for the ensemble.

Bill describes to CDM the daunting task of going from Ford hatchback to chamber ensemble. It’s an incredible insight into instrument design and construction, whether your DIY instrument tastes tend in the acoustic or digital realms.

PS, to the Crave blog and other doubters: the music is real. They actually made some fantastic-sounding instruments out of that Ford Focus. I certainly know when I buy an automobile, I like the peace of mind that comes from buying one I could later deconstruct with 22 skilled metalworkers and play original scores on.

You describe taking delivery of the car with one mile on its odometer, then immediately proceeding to deconstruct it. How much pre-planning was involved to figure out how to construct the instruments? How much was sort of improvised on the spot with the car?

[None of the construction] was really improvised on the spot. The car was dismantled completely, and the parts were sorted into boxes and around the workshop (door parts with door parts, etc.). I had previous experience making the Car Music Project instruments from my old Honda Accord, so that experience was applied. But, the basic process is one of putting together a puzzle.

We had requirements for wind, brass, percussion, and string instruments that could play the music that was presented to us. We were also required — for credibility and authenticity — to make instruments from intact car parts as much as possible (as opposed to making major or defining parts out of sheet metal from the body of the car). And most important, the instruments had to A) be able to play in tune according to traditional western standards, and B) they had to be physically close enough to traditional instruments to enable professional musicians to learn them quickly because they would only have one or two rehearsals before recording the music. Finally, they had to be visually attractive; call it compelling if you like. In other words, television is mainly a visual medium and they needed to look great.

Back to putting together the puzzle … We laid the car parts out, on the floor and on work tables, to see what parts might fit together in functional and interesting ways. We tried this with that, that with this, and both this and that with the other thing, drawing on our previous experience along the way (i.e.: “That won’t work because …”  or  “Ah, that will work nicely because …”). We combined and made notes, along with videos, photographs, and sketches that were sent to the director, Noam Murro. When he liked and approved an idea, we began building.

Now, you must realize, a car has only so many parts. Two cars were shipped to us from Europe. So, in considering the “puzzle,” we had to make sure we did not use a part on a not-so-necessary instrument that would be needed on a necessary instrument. But, that is the kind of issue that gets sorted out along the way and which having done it previously helps.

instruments1

What’s in the actual ensemble – we can see some in the ad, but happy to know more. What are some of the instruments of which you’re most proud?

Some of the instruments in the ensemble include the:

  • Clutch Guitar (ornamented with a backdrop from inside a door),
  • a Spike Fiddle made from a rear suspension mount and a shock absorber,
  • the Ford Fender Bass made from fenders and a pillar/roof support,
  • a Shockbone made primarily from shock absorber parts,
  • a Window Frame Harp,
  • an Opera Window Violin,
  • and a Dijeruba which works both as a dijeridu type of instrument and a primitive sort of tuba.

My personal favorites are the Ford Fender Bass and the Window Harp.

How long did the construction process take?

We had an approximate total of five weeks from the day the car was taken apart to the day the instruments were shipped from Pennsylvania, where we built them, to Los Angeles, where they were being recorded and where the commercial was being shot. The bulk of the construction occurred during a three-and-a-half week period in the middle of that. Then, on the west coast, we added visual enhancements and made additional props for use in the visual commercial.

How much rehearsal was necessary to learn to play these essentially “new” (if traditionally-inspired) instruments?

The musicians had two rehearsals: One evening rehearsal of about 2-1/2 hours and one Saturday rehearsal of about 6 hours.

instruments2

What other sorts of instrument building have you done? I see you’re offering to create more custom instruments for paying customers!

I built all of the instruments for the Car Music Project which also represent all 4 families of the traditional orchestra. They include the Tank Bass, Air Guitar, Strutbone, Exhaustaphone, Convertibles, Tube Flutes, Frame Harp, Doorimba, Wheel Drums, Floor Cymbals, Trunk Drums (55 percussion pieces altogether).

For clarification, I want to point out that I am not a metal fabricator. I pull a team of very talented people together and direct the instrument-making process. The fabrication processes of the Ford Focus instruments were overseen by Ray Faunce III. Ray also fabricated the Car Music Project instruments. Although I oversee the design and construction processes, contributions to the designs and construction come from a lot of people. I don’t do this alone. For the Ford Focus project, I had about 22 great people working for me and contributing their immense talents. My job is not unlike that of a film director: It’s my job to understand the vision and direct the entire process toward the achievement of that vision. In the case of the Car Music Project, the vision was mine. In the case of the Ford Focus project, the vision was director Noam Murro’s.

What was Craig Richey’s involvement; were there special considerations composing for this kind of ensemble?

Craig Richy composed the music for the Ford Focus Orchestra commercial. He was involved from the beginning because it was his music that our instruments needed to be capable of performing. I communicated with Craig through the process as we determined how many of what kinds of instruments we would need. And, once the instruments were built, Craig needed to adapt his music to the instruments.

In other words, they are car part instruments. They are not manufactured, traditional instruments with hundreds of years of engineering and technology behind them. Each is one-of-a-kind. So, although they were intentionally designed to perform in manners similar to their traditional counterparts, he still needed to adapt. If a player could not get an instrument to play a melody quickly enough, he would modify his arrangement a bit, perhaps swapping parts with another instrument or splitting a melody between two instruments. Everyone in the process needs to adjust!

This was, of course, a new car – but can these techniques offer new methods of recycling waste materials?

Well, for the Car Music Project, I recycled an old car. I don’t see why old cars can’t be recycled into other things. To some extent, I believe that is done today. Auto salvage companies/junkyards crush cars, separate the materials, and sell the residual materials off to be made into new things. My guess, though, is that we can always do a better job of it.

Were there parts left over?

Yes, but not much that was useful.

Side note: Synclavier Disk Recording Number 5

By the way, Peter, I noticed your site is largely about digital media. Related to sampling, etc., I had one of the first commercial studios to record directly to disk. In 1987 I installed a New England Digital Synclavier with Direct-to-Disk recorder. The manufacturer told me I was #5. Can’t prove it was true, but that’s what they told me (besides, it really ages me; eh?!?)

Here’s the finished ad spot:

And if this is entirely too much automobile talk for your more environmentally-minded soul, here’s the Nutcracker Suite as realized on (sampled) bicycle parts, from composer Flip Baber:

For more music on car part instruments, check out the ensemble’s full page — there are even DVDs and CDs available:

The Car Music Project

More music and videos and info at the Car Music Project MySpace Page

See also:

Milbrodt Music, Bill’s page

More Details — And Yes, These Are Real

Questions about the authenticity of the ensemble actually wound up leading to a lot more details about how the instruments were played, why this particular ensemble wound up sounding somewhat “classical” or conventional, and what you’re hearing when you watch the ad:

Yes, Virginia, There Really is a Ford Car Part Musical Ensemble

  • http://www.jonbro.tk JonBro

    There was an interesting project that was done a few years ago where a group of people locked themselves in a building (which had no roof) for several weeks with a broken down car, and spent the time creating instruments and coming up with a performance.

    sadly I can't find a link for it. But it was a far less focused on the consumer aspects of cars, and on the possible reuses for junk.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, this was a one-time commission — and as a working artist and composer, I appreciate Ford being forward-thinking about commissioning artists. I think it's nonetheless very suggestive of what's possible with "junk."

    That project sounds interesting, though, definitely — and I imagine this project will inspire those with, uh, actual metalworking skills (definitely not me) to try this sort of thing!

  • http://deep-structure.blogspot.com christopher

    although this is an amazing accomplishment and very cool from a mechanical engineering aspect (an aspect i don't share cdm's interest in), i have a similar reaction to it that i did to seeing the elephant paintings on boing boing last week: how disappointing.

    why go through all that trouble just to make music that sounds exactly like a traditional ensemble? seems like a wonderful opportunity to break new ground in at least timbre was missed.

    (my similar reaction to the elephant paintings was: oh, they look like human paintings)

  • moonbass

    If you have essentially limitless amounts of money then you can buy very talented people to help you advertise the destruction of the planet.

    Another human victory.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    The Ford Focus is destroying the planet?

    Beg your pardon, but *outside* the US the Focus is available with a diesel engine, which at the moment is — despite diesel's past reputation — probably the most green fuel solution available for widespread, practical use. (Hydrogen and electric just aren't there yet, and it can *beat* a lot of the current hybrids.)

    The UK Focus of 2007 could "deliver 45.6 urban / 70.6 extra urban British miles per gallon … that equates to roughly 38 city / 58.8 highway here in the States." I suspect the 2008 model is in the same ballpark. See here:
    http://www.mpgomatic.com/2007/11/12/ford-focus-ga

    A 60 mpg car with low emissions is not destroying the Earth. That's ludicrous. Especially if it's been chopped to tiny bits and is being played by hand by a group of musicians. I'm burning more fossil fuels running Ableton Live.

    For a brief time, I worked as a volunteer organizer on air policy in the US and testified with many other people in front of the EPA. One of the biggest polluters remains industry, not soccer moms in SUVs or something. But ironically, the best way to fix that problem was with sensible legislation that could cut back on emissions. Likewise, if the soccer moms and dads were driving a diesel-powered Ford Focus, odds are they'd be getting better mileage than — ironically enough — a Toyota Prius hybrid.

    I wouldn't make a fuss over this, except I do also happen to like the Earth, and I think addressing the specific facts of the situation is the most productive way to go. The people who have done that — by passing the Clear Air Act, by working for (sorry, Ford!) better CAFE standards, real fuel alternatives and not pie-in-the-sky switchgrass or other nonsense, have made real progress. Our air is better than it was forty years ago, but it could be dramatically better if we, ahem, Focus on actual solutions.

  • RichardN

    I don't want to be rude but are we expected to believe that this "performance" was recorded live? I see instruments miked as if to indicate it. But really has anyone heard a bit of rubber stretched over a wheel rim sound like a timpani?

    Windscreen wiper for cello/violin etc bows?!

    As PK states that "the music is real" I guess I have to accept it. However as this the "Create Digital Music" blog I think Pete's definition of real is a little more broad than what's presented on screen.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, I think the ad director had his own idea, correct. This is a car advertisement, after all, not Live from Lincoln Center. There's a little Hollywood in the ad. But the ensemble itself does play live; that's the point. Crave had wondered if the instruments were just for show. They're not.

    Top on left on the MySpace page: the normal quintet playing live in the video –
    http://www.myspace.com/carmusicproject

    They've also played live at Lincoln Center Out of Doors and various other events.

    The assumption had been that this was footage of these instruments with conventional instruments providing the sound, and that's not true. The instruments you see in the ad are the instruments you hear in the soundtrack.

    Having defended the Ford Focus from charges of destroying the human race and the builders of these instruments from staging some kind of hoax, I'm now absolutely going to refrain from trying to define what "reality" is. I leave that to the readers.

  • http://carmusicprojectcom Milbrodt

    Response to Christopher: Well, the Car Music Project is in the business of noodling with the language of music by building new instruments, looking to create for new sounds, acoustically for the most part, and finding ways to combine them into music (I prefer the term "sonic constructs" but "music" seems to make more sense, more quickly, to most people). That said, Ford's purpose is to sell a newly redesigned European Focus by retooling the model's image and brand. Since they want to reach the largest possible number of prospective buyers and convey their message in the simplest way, they probably made the right choice in the the type of music they chose. If their message was about innovation or lifestyle, a different approach could have worked. But for a message that says "elegance and beauty" to the largest possible number of people in the shortest possible time, I think their musical approach is probably the right one. Whether or not it's the correct message is for someone with a heartier knowledge of automobile marketing to comment on.

    – Milbrodt

  • http://www.johnnyrandom.com/ flip

    Wow, I'm pretty conflicted on this. PK, my doubts? Granted, youtube has horrible audio quality, but my ears hear a Wagner bass drum with a membrane, not a metal car hood. I'm hearing horse hair bow and resin on string, not windshield rubber on string. (which is too mushy and would mute rather than resonate. When the shift handle hits that tiny rubber/leather car wheel instrument it has so much low end for something so small. Plus, a car wheel would be too rigid to sustain a tone like that. Most importantly, the playing is often in/out of sync with the audio.

    My honest opinion? It is a beautiful score that sounds composed with a mixture of Eastern European and orchestral instrumentation layered with light sound design. It looks like they brought in skilled players to mimic the music visually. Unless I see video/audio proof of the instruments playing convincingly, solo, in time…I'm calling fake.

    That said, you really can make instruments out of anything! Those instruments look they they could sound very interesting, but how they look and what I'm hearing aren't adding up.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Hmmm… bike parts ad vs. Ford ad: fight!

    Seriously, as this ensemble is considerably bigger than the previous quintet, I hope we do get to hear the whole thing live. And actually, I think everyone's doubts sort of suggest that the ad would have been more successful if as an ad if they had just shot it live and not produced it so such — a sign of changing tastes in "authenticity" in video in the YouTube age, meeting up with the Madison Ave / Hollywood approach.

    Still, I have no reason based on what Ford, the composer, and the sound designer have said (the latter to me personally) to doubt the authenticity of the *ensemble itself*.

    Live video?

    Ford Focus ensemble, unplugged?

    Sounds like the timing / interest is there!

  • http://www.johnnyrandom.com/ flip

    As critical mass proves, bikes always win!:

    http://www.sfweekly.com/2007-01-03/news/song-cycl

    Just kidding. My composition was never played live…but I've always been super honest about anything I've done. If it were played live, it would have taken ages to construct the instruments and get get it all rehearsed. I had one day to crank that puppy out for Specialized, so it was 2 bikes and Logic Pro.

    Thing is, really want to believe what I'm seeing is what I'm hearing. I've probably turned about 1000+ random objects into instruments for my scores, so I feel like I have a good sense for how materials behave when manipulated or struck. I totally want to see this performance live! Btw, if I am wrong, the artists have my full apology. I trust my ears for now.

  • http://www.johnnyrandom.com/ flip

    Btw, I think the live video of performances on the Car Music Myspace page are totally legit and very impressive.

  • RichardN

    The authenticity factor reminds me of that other "car parts advertisement" which turns out to be legit!

    There seems to be some sort of reality/fiction logic in advertising and if the ratio is off then it can come accros as "insincere".

  • Damon

    I hope it is under warranty. Yuc Yuc…

    And can you imagine the sample disk:

    Hoodanddifferential.wav.

    Wheelandfendersmack.wav.

    Childinbackseatscreaming.wav.

    And what is the Blue Book on a pre owned Ford Cacophony? Some reassembly required.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    For the record:

    Spoke with Bill tonight on the phone and will post a full update tomorrow. But the sound in the ad is the ensemble. They really did record it. Some of the sounds may not be literally what you see there — a couple of the percussion hits may have been substituted, though still within the ensemble (like possibly the drum in place of the car hood). But it was, as it were, "recorded live" with all the musicians.

    And Damon, I was waiting for someone to finally make some car humor!

  • Rozling

    I approve, but why the turtlenecks??! Whyyyyy…

  • Cort3x

    Quoting Peter Kirn:

    "…a sign of changing tastes in “authenticity” in video in the YouTube age…"

    I thought about this when I viewed this video and afterwards witnessed the ongoing discussion. I have a very cynical mind, so when I started noticing, as flip did, the instruments on screen being out of sync with the audio, and when I started wondering where they had hidden the microphones, my enthusiasm towards the video began to fade. It may be that the instruments in the video have produced the sounds in the video, but I think that, as Peter suggests, it would have been more impressive without the additional post-production.

    It reminds me of some comments I've seen on youtube occasionally. When people record themselves playing songs with the intent to put it on youtube, many seem to have little skills in recording technique, and the sound is often low quality and with a lot of noise because the recording was made through an internal laptop microphone, for example. However, when I see recordings where people are, for example, doing something on a computer, and the musical content is a rendering of the ongoing action on the computer rather than a mic pointed at the monitors, commenters are quick to point out that the video is "fake". Pristine aural quality is, apparently, not always desirable when trying to attract an audience. Delicious myspace audio for the win!

    …What will happen when production companies start to simulate (or emulate) low-grade recordings/productions in order to reach the cynical target group… ?

    Is it naive to think that this ìsn't happening already? Do you know of any glaring examples?

  • moonbass

    "One of the biggest polluters remains industry, not soccer moms in SUVs or something."

    … so where do you think they make Ford Focus cars? In a little wood shed by the meadow?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @moonbass: you know, you can continue to focus this irrationally on automobiles, but the facts don't back you up, and singling out the Evil Car is not going to solve the problem. We've got all kinds of activities that generate emissions, in different categories — the stuff that puts toxins in the air, the stuff that puts greenhouse gases. As it happens, car plants are NOT one of the big polluters. That's not to say that production doesn't have an environmental cost; it does. But again, I don't understand why you're singling out the car other than it's convenient. It's a lot tougher to deal with all the many other areas where we get environmental impacts, and to look at how we can reduce that impact… which doesn't necessarily have to involve shutting the industry down completely. (Actually, that's what they'd like you to believe… and past experience shows us it's simply not true.)

  • moonbass

    Cutting car usage is one of the major ways average people can make a difference.

    Any artistic merit of the piece is critically damaged by association. As Bill Hicks succinctly put it "You do an advert, you're off the artistic role-call".

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, you know, moonbass, shop around that perspective and let me know how many artistic friends you have. Personally, I would never want that kind of attitude get in the way of appreciating what other people do. People get gigs. A lot of the people who get gigs, who have to make a sacrifice now and again to keep employed and support their work make wonderful work. If you want to shut yourself off from those folks, that's your choice. But I'm not going to do that.

  • moonbass

    It goes without saying that you don't feel the same was as me. You were more than happy to put up nice high res shiny pictures of the latest Ford car on your blog.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Okay, you've found me out. Sure, I'm a musician who doesn't even OWN a car. But clearly, my evil plan for a site called "Create Digital Music" is to encourage automobile driving as a way of destroying the planet.

    Now, I really need someone to make instruments out of a car that isn't so fuel efficient. Humvee pipe organ, anyone?

  • moonbass

    Well done for helping tick the 'Music blog' box at Ford Marketing. Unfortunately your eagerness to become advertising by proxy does devalue the site, but feel free to keep wisecracking.

  • brian

    For the record, I totally glazed over what type of car was used for this until the whole environmental discussion in the comments.

    Also, I've seen the Car Music Project perform before. I have no doubts this is authentic.

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  • http://www.johnnyrandom.com/ flip

    @moonbass:

    Enough with the CDM criticism! For your information: Regarding this particular style of music creation, this site has gotten a hell of a lot more traffic (no pun intended) for bike based music articles. Green thumb your nose at that.

    Regarding Bill Hicks: He often had some great points, but was also a colossal douche bag. He marketed himself just fine since he was an advertisement for himself. If he was still around he'd be off his own roll-call.

  • Ed

    @moonbase:

    Given that Bill Hicks used to work as a driver to make ends meet, does that make him "critically damaged by association" and hence make your use of that quote collosally ironic?

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  • moonbass

    The Ford ad is merely a marketing gimmick, the musicality and timbrality of the piece is unremarkable and weak. It's fetishistic and artistically worthless.

  • flip

    @moonbase: Let's see you do better. Actually, why don't you post any music you've composed so we can all hear & critique it. Then tell us what you do for a living that is so eco-friendly and non-commercial. While you're at it, please tell us how you acquired your belongings and where/how they were manufactured, where your electricity comes from, what car you drive and what you eat. If you don't, your comments are unremarkable, weak and artistically worthless.

  • flip

    @moonbase:

    P.S.

    "timbrality" is not a word.

  • Cort3x

    Psst, flip: trolls don't care for superior arguments or "facts". If, however, you'd like to keep arguing needlessly, then do keep replying to moonbass. =)

  • flip

    @Cort3x: Haha. You know, after hitting "submit comment" I realized I was feeding the troll and said, "Doh!"

  • Bruce

    There is something suspicious about the bowed 'instruments' — the sound seems not coordinated with the appearance of the players 'bowing' (for example, the long-haried blond 'cellist') — and even more, are they windshield wipers used as bows? Where's the friction?

  • Cort3x

    Flip: I find that the internet tends to have that effect on people. ;)

  • moonbass

    "@moonbase: Let’s see you do better. Actually, why don’t you post any music you’ve composed so we can all hear & critique it."

    What do I have to say to make you say "If you like it so much why don't you go live there?"

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  • Rebecca

    These instruments look remarkably similar, some of them, to the work of the brilliant Ken Butler… I wonder if this idea was influenced by his art?
    http://www.mindspring.com/~kbhybrid/

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  • flip

    @moonbase: Ah, my little troll. That is exactly what I thought. You have proven repeatedly that you do not have anything relevant to add to this discussion and you have shrunk away from my challenge/questions like a slug on salt. Bye!

  • sam

    yeah, but what is the steering shaft supposed to be?

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  • sam

    'It sees the video of the orchestra: Orchestra of Car'?

    but it has its own microphone…..? and a windscreen complete with wiper……

    not happy and we need answers.
    :o (

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  • staceybeck01

    This is so cool, thanks for sharing. I love how everyone looks so professional. It would be cool to hear what they can actually come up with.

    http://www.capefearair.com/services.php