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Tape Gallery Summons Spirits for Smirnoff
Advertisement: 05 Jan 1999
By: PeteJohnston

UK radio audiences were treated to a spooky little 90-second bit of radio theater in the form of The Tape Gallery's latest project: an ad for Smirnoff vodka. Highly cinematic in character (one could describe it as the 90 second version of Quentin Tarantino's quirkily sinister New Year's '96 release, Four Rooms), the ad traces the steps of Tom, the hotel bartender, as he carries a bottle of Smirnoff's and some clinking glasses to a party upstairs. In keeping with Smirnoff's television and print ads, everyone and everything he passes along the way is transformed through the prism of the Smirnoff bottle into something entirely different (and not a little sinister): the tinkling of the higher keys on the cocktail piano turns to raindrops while the bass notes turn into ominous thunder; the sweet-voiced hotel desk receptionist morphs into psycho Norman Bates; two women engaged in catty gossip actually turn into real cats; and the party upstairs evolves into a kind of seance in which the party-goers chant to summon the spirit of long-dead Tom Harvey (who turns out to be none other than the wandering bartender himself). It's the kind of thing calculated to leave audiences wondering what was that? (and, not coincidentally, make them eager to hear it again and puzzle it out with their friends).

Discussion (Descriptions, reviews, discussion):

The secret ingredient behind these magical audio transformations is a combination of the tool and the tool-wielder: the tool in this case is Symbolic Sound Corporation's Kyma environment, and it's being wielded in this instance by the brilliant and tenacious Pete Johnston, technical manager and master-of-all-things-morphing at The Tape Gallery. Johnston and TG Managing Director Lloyd Billingdon't use the term morphing, preferring instead to describe these spectral transformations as audio sculpting (but you'd have to imagine a fluid sculpture that evolves over time, not your typical static statue kind of marble thing).

Johnston describes Kyma as the 90s analog to the voltage-controlled synthesizer: "It makes advanced techniques from the research laboratories available and usable to audio engineers in a completely integrated environment—much as the voltage-controlled synthesizer did in the 70s." He doesn't like the term "sound design workstation" either, because workstation implies a kind of utilitarian hard disk multitrack recorder, and Kyma is more of an environment for sound sculpting. "It also implies a heavy work load, and Kyma is more creative and fun—maybe it should be called an infant-activity center" (for some pretty sophisticated infants with lots of audio experience...)

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