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James Mercer & Danger Mouse launch teaser scavenger hunt to sample Broken Bells
December 14, 2009, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , , ,
Broken Bells

This cryptic ad appeared early today on music sites all over the interwebs

James Mercer of the Shins and Danger Mouse (of Gray Album fame, among other things) have a new collaborative side project called Broken Bells, and a mysterious sleuthy viral teaser trail to promote it.

Earlier today their label sent out a coded message in binary (spelling out “the high road is hard to find”–their first single is “The High Road”) and a link to www.brokenbells.com. At the same time, a strange uncaptioned picture of two silhouetted figures started appearing on a number of music sites. When clicked, these led to www.ebbelkslorn.com, www.oebkenllbsr.com,  and www.berobrknells.com –all anagrams for Broken Bells. Whenever you visit any of those sites, a distinct looped fragment of a song is played; when you refresh, a new looped segment is played. Since each URL contains a different set of song components, when you open all of the URLs in your browser simultaneously, the looped bits layer to give an impression of this hard-to-find High Road–or at least a rough idea of the album’s sound. (Kind of cool how they leveraged the technology and format to create this ad-hoc digital 8-track)

An artful and legitimately relevant underground scavenger hunt of this sort is a bit new (the pervasive-game-lite fits these artists and this highly anticipated project to a tee; better luck next time, Wall of Ice conspiracy theorists!), but the whole discover-layers-and-build-the-song idea isn’t. Arcade Fire did something a bit similar for “Black Mirror” with the release of Neon Bible, creating a microsite (with confusingly-but-cleverly mirrored mouse) where users could layers tracks, all of which when layered yielded the song as recorded. For someone like me without the background to understand just how that distinct sound is created, it was eye-opening and awe-inspiring to hear each stem independently and then with other ones in spare, incongruous arrangements, to manipulate the cumulative sound by mixing them in every permutation myself, to hear the sum total of the song as a piece-by-piece accumulation of textures and tones. Masterful.

In a tangentially-related vein, I feel like I’ve noticed a trend lately in artists (recently among them, Phoenix; Radiohead, who held a remix contest, ironically charged for In Rainbows stems after famously not charging for the same album) making stems or multitracks readily available, encouraging remix and experimentation, making it easier for a broader range or people to play with their work. I think it’s exciting that bands are letting us in the kitchen to see how it’s made (or, they’re giving us the ingredients and telling us to go on ahead?), and are making the process of creating and refashioning music more accessible, allowing us to own and appreciate their work in new ways.

UPDATE: Just a day after this viral campaign went live, Pitchfork reports we now have a release date for Broken Bells: March 9 on Columbia.

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