The Ann Arbor-based electronic music maestro makes music from the sounds of the new Mach-E.
Normally, one wouldn’t describe the experience of stepping inside of a car as being “surreal…”
But for Ann Arbor’s own Matthew Dear, his first physical encounter with the new Ford Mustang Mach-E electric-crossover came after months of compositional experimentation during which he’d very much felt like he’d gotten inside of this car, but to a much more metaphysical extent.
As you can see, in a new short documentary detailing the making of Dear’s brand new single, “The New Breed,” there eventually is a weighted encounter (set in Dear’s driveway) between the world-famous, critically-acclaimed songwriter/producer and this….this highly buzzed-about new automobile; in a way, leading up to that moment, the two had been bonded through sound(s).
The Mustang Mach-E is arriving in showrooms later this year; it’s a pretty big deal in the car world for a brand like Mustang to be moving into green technology. There won’t be the typical vroom or combustible roar that you’d hear in a classic Mustang, especially when it comes to the three custom drive modes featured on the Mach E. Each of these drive modes adjust the throttle response, the interior lighting, and the sound of the electric engine.
You can hear the SOUNDS of this car in Matthew Dear’s new single. Essentially, Dear has “remixed a car…”
Dear was contacted by Ford at the start of 2020 to discuss an innovative collaboration that could build interest in this new frontier for Mustang. By this point, the engineers and sound designers from Ozone Music (a Royal Oak-based creative sound boutique), had been consulted by Ford to help create the sounds of the three drive modes, and they were able to convey samples to Dear, so that the artist could begin remixing these ambient sounds that any driver will hear while operating it.
“There was so much about this car that allowed for it to be remixed in the first place that it made it really fun to work on (the song),” Dear said. “I’ve worked on somewhat similar things for other companies, but Ford was just so cool about this — they really didn’t want me to do anything other than what I wanted to do; to have so much open-ended freedom, there was so much enthusiasm at the start, for me, as an artist.”
Dear said that with similar arrangements, where a musician might be producing something in league with a big company, there might be considerable constrictions, particularly on the artist’s vision and signature style. Not the case here, Dear said. “What’s cool about the age we live in is that companies are taking these strides to do some odd, out-there kinda things to get attention on a product, but they understand that it has to be genuine.” Case in point: “New Breed” very much sounds like a signature Matthew Dear song — it just happens to involve the remixing of ambient sounds from a machine.
“It has to be a genuine art project,” Dear continued, “it has to feel genuine for the people involved as well as the people watching it, because if it feels contrived at any point, or fake…, or pitchy, then people are gonna’ call bullshit right away. And, in Ford’s case, they said: ‘We can’t tell you what to do. We just wanna provide the space and the sounds to do this. And I gotta give a lot of credit to GTB (Advertising Agency) for the really imaginative way to bring so many different people together, like me and Ozone, to just let us have this canvas to work with.”
It’s nothing like the typical exchange of a company hiring a musician to write a jingle. This is something more expansive, and even more abstract Dear is letting the listener immerse themselves in the sound of a green technology automobile, but those details are threaded into melodic phrases, rhythmic hooks, and blended together into sonic accouterments that supplement Dear’s idiosyncratic baritone croon. It’s no jingle. If anything, it’s almost reminiscent of a visual artist being commissioned to make a mural on a big blank fresco…
“I have tried to wrap my head around which niche I’m fitting into with this stuff I’m doing,” Dear said. “But it worked out. It doesn’t always work out, but luckily, I think the song really did match the car.”
The three drive modes are Whisper, Engage, and Unbridled — each of which are provocative words separately, and each sum up the aural ambiance that a driver will experience depending on the setting. This provides somewhat of a three bowls of porridge suite of sounds, from the floating-on-a-cloud vibe of “whisper” to the more visceral rev and roar of “unbridled” harkening back to a classic Mustang sound.
The drive modes “provided some direction” for the lyrics, Dear said. “Often my lyrics can be directionless — but in a good way; I like to work that way. But the drive modes were like (lyrical) goal posts. I got to work with phrases that I wouldn’t normally have gotten to. There’s a story in the car. I wanted to write a song that felt like a visual representation of driving it throughout a landscape — it was so cool to have this visual soundtrack playing in my head.”
For the creative process, Dear said he started pondering, deeply, the sound that machines like the Mach E make and how the human, the musician or the driver, has an influence upon what those sounds can do. Dear was asking himself “…where’s the voice of the car? What’s the personality of the car? Am I trying to find that…? And give it a voice?”
As an electronic music composer, Dear is very much in his element when he’s surrounded by machines — specifically instruments and various sound gear. “Machines are kind of soulless,” Dear said, beginning to draw a line between his instruments and the car he was soundtracking. “The machines are inanimate, but if you have the right player who interacts with the machine, you get this weird hybrid, a sort of cyborg experience. The machines won’t do anything on their own, but they’re capable of making these crazy sounds—but you need the right person there to guide the architecture.”
Suffice to say, it was surreal when Dear was finally able to enter the car. He’d spent all this time with the sounds of it swimming through his head.
Meanwhile, during his time quarantined at home here in Ann Arbor, Dear said he’s continued to work on new music. He has a new album that he’ll be finishing up soon, along with a new side project called BRAIN — a moniker under which he’ll be premiering an EP with soon via Carl Craig’s Planet E Records.
Lately, his studio space has been doubling as a virtual classroom. For four years, up until the pandemic, Dear has been teaching mini-courses for the University of Michigan School of Music’s EXCEL program. “There’s a beauty to just going into my studio, turning on my laptop, setting up the camera, and leading a class. There’s a familiarity of working that way, for me. I really feel connected to each student; it was like being able to do a one-on-one class to 24 people, simultaneously. I will say, so far, it’s been better than expected.”
To keep up with the latest form Matthew Dear, check out his Bandcamp.