Venice, CA—From Pierre Schaeffer’s innovative musique concrète through the work by Bernie Krause, Cabaret Voltaire’s Chris Watson and Roger Waters and Ron Geesin, there is a long, rich history of making music using natural sounds. Lately, the advertising industry has jumped on the biomusic bandwagon, with one recent example mashing up electronics, balls and rackets in a spot for Wilson Tennis featuring Roger Federer and DJ Money Mark.
Filmed over a single day in the Mojave Desert near Palm Springs, CA, during the BNP Paribas Open in nearby Indian Wells earlier this year, “Play Your Heart Out” is more than just a commercial for Wilson’s new Pro Staff RF97 Autograph tennis racket. It’s also a documentary of the making of the spot’s soundtrack.
But wait, there’s more—it’s a promo for Federer’s first single, too. The 45 rpm vinyl release, available only in a limited-edition box set—with an MP3 download card, a behind-the-scenes photo book, faux tennis ball Bluetooth speaker and Swiss star Federer’s signature RF97 racket—features an extended version of the soundtrack backed with a stripped-down remix titled after his trademark exhortation, “Chum Jetze!” (“Come on!” in Swiss German).
The creative company behind the spot is Farm League, a film, commercial and branded content production house headquartered in Venice, CA. Farm League worked with Wilson Tennis a few years ago, reports commercial filmmaker Tim Lynch, executive producer and company co-founder. “They came back and really wanted to do something special with Roger, given all that he’s accomplished,” he says.
Inspiration for the spot came during discussions with Wilson, which has long been Federer’s racket supplier. “They said what gets him really excited is that he still loves to play. He gets excited about the sounds of the game,” such as the bounce of the ball, sliding on clay courts and the grass mower, says Lynch. “Even talking about that can make him want to go and play again.”
More importantly, the tennis ace was prepared to make himself available for a good chunk of a day. Typically, says Lynch, “with an athlete at that level, it’s very difficult. Often you get five minutes; they walk in and you give them the line. We do a lot of that stuff, too.”
With Federer’s interest and commitment nailed down, “We took a more experiential approach, having the desert as a backdrop, and then pitched bringing in Money Mark, someone who works with these really random ways that he makes sound. We thought we’d just get these guys together and let them record and make a song.”
Back in 2001, Jeff Elmassian of Endless Noise won multiple awards for his soundtrack to director Paul Hunter’s “Freestyle” spot for Nike. Groundbreaking at the time, the award-winning campaign reimagined Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” using basketball percussion and the squeak of sneakers on wood courts. Seventeen years later, Money Mark’s track harkens back to Kraftwerk, the inspiration for Bam’s “Planet Rock,” slyly combining electronic beats, the twang of rackets, whooshing balls hitting drums (and a microphone), and a variety of vintage synths and keyboards.
Musician, producer, remixer and keyboard repairman Money Mark is probably best known for his collaborations with the Beastie Boys; he has also worked with Beck, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jack Johnson. Beginning in 2014, he recorded and toured with David Byrne in the Atomic Bomb! Band, a supergroup performing the music of Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor.
On his Instagram feed, Money Mark posted a photo of part of his desert setup with details “for the nerdy music fans.” The list includes a “classic Model D Minimoog, Drumfire 808, Yamaha MR10 snare sound, Blofeld kick drum and hi-hats, and Crumar Orchestrator for the melody (what I used on Atomic Bomb gigs).”
“We started the piece off with [Federer] trying to hit the drum; that was a lot of fun,” says Lynch. “He took that seriously. He took I don’t know how many passes before he hit it. Then he started locking in to hitting it time and time again. That was cool to watch.”
Lynch continues, “We started isolating sounds, then it was more about letting them play. Mark would play some sounds; he had a drum machine and would loop some cool sounds. That made for some good visual performances. Roger was really into the beats. When we asked him to hit 10 ground strokes, Mark would put on a cool beat and Roger would have fun with it.”
The spot has a decidedly ’70s vibe, playing to the look of the vintage P.A., speakers and instruments used. “Mark had a field recording unit and said, ‘I want to be a character, too.’ He sent me photos of a guy who did field recordings … Alan Lomax. He brought all his gear out there and hooked it up. He’s got some amazing stuff,” says Lynch.
Federer, it seems, has a musical ear. “He knew how to hit the ball on the racket to make all the different sounds. Where on the strings he was hitting it, or how hard he was hitting it, or if he was putting spin on it, making a kind of slice-y sound. That gets lost a little bit in the audio bed, but it’s all there. It’s hard to pull it out of there, but there are little nuances,” Lynch says.
All in all, it was a memorable day in the Mojave with the man who was then the No. 1 seed. “We’re very proud of it. We do a lot of commercial work with athletes, but this one just felt special. It’s so hard to get those guys out of their element and do something like this, but he had such fun—and none of those guys do that anymore.”
Farm League • www.farmleague.us