Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

That New Hit Single Might Hide a Jingle ; Is It an Ad, or Art? the Crossbreeding of Popular Music with Commercials Reaches New Levels as One Artist Turns Tunes He Composed for Volkswagen into a New Album

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

That New Hit Single Might Hide a Jingle ; Is It an Ad, or Art? the Crossbreeding of Popular Music with Commercials Reaches New Levels as One Artist Turns Tunes He Composed for Volkswagen into a New Album

Article excerpt

Ben Neill is best known as the inventor of the "mutant trumpet," an electric horn with extra bells and valves that, wired to a computer, produces sounds and images. Now the New York "dance electronica" composer has invented the mutant album.

In a music-industry first, all 10 tracks on Mr. Neill's latest CD are expanded versions of 45-second tunes he originally composed for Volkswagen commercials.

Musicians have long reaped rich rewards licensing original work for advertising, but Neill is the first artist to release an "original" album of songs written first as advertisements.

"There is no difference between something that is considered art and something that is a commercial," he says. "My album is a statement of that."

It is also a statement of how the line between art and commerce - never an easy one to define - is growing ever blurrier. We've come a long way since the uproar over Nike Inc.'s use of the Beatles song "Revolution" in a 1986 shoe commercial. Retailers from Pottery Barn to Victoria's Secret have for years released compilation CDs of original music used as "background noise" in stores or ads. Electronica artist Moby licensed every track on his 1999 album, "Play," to one company or another - the track "Find My Baby," for example, was used by American Express - to drum up interest before it even hit the stores.

The artist-merchant relationship has evolved beyond simple licensing to cross-promotion. Recording artist Sting, for example, boosted sales of a 2000 single by placing it in a Jaguar television commercial. The ad even ran a caption with the title of Sting's song, "Desert Rose," over images of the singer riding in a Jaguar.

And now we have Neill's new record, tellingly titled "Automotive." It's more than a cross-promotion; it's the advertisement as art, or art as advertisement.

That tactic will likely prove to be controversial with some consumers, who may bridle at being marketed to even as they try to escape the barrage of commercial pitches in their daily lives.

Still, proud and unabashed, Neill and his patrons at Volkswagen's Boston-based ad agency, Arnold Worldwide, say the power and reach of today's global brands offer up-and-coming artists an ideal platform for their work. Never mind that the creative process becomes fused with commercial demands; the fusion is still a "valid" art form, Neill insists.

"Brands are developing all kinds of different emotional and cultural expressions," says Neill. "It's a construct and an identity that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with a product being sold."

Although both Volkswagen and Neill say selling more cars is not the intended purpose of "Automotive," the association alone is branding, nonetheless. But for whom exactly isn't clear.

Although the album was produced by the San Francisco label Six Degrees Records, the cover art and liner notes were created by executives of Arnold Worldwide. …

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