Behind the Work: Tribal DDB and Philips Get Obsessed with Sound

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What does the sound of music look like? Pol Hoenderboom probably knows. While working on the "Obsessed with Sound" campaign for Philips, the Tribal DDB copywriter went through over 10,000 music notes, trying to figure out who was playing how many notes in the track for the 52-piece Dutch Metropole Orchestra. "We wanted to show every detail, because that's the promise of the product," said Hoenderboom, who is a self-confessed music aficionado and took saxophone in his youth.

What it is
Philips' "Obsessed with Sound" is an interactive campaign from Tribal DDB Amsterdam, created with Stinkdigital, that shows off the brand's audio range by allowing visitors to "hear every detail" of a track played by the Dutch Metropole Orchestra. The site lets you single out individual musicians, tracks and notes, and even discover more about each musician's background. The site is meant to illustrate the in-depth sound Philips promises of its products.

"We wanted to explore every detail in music by making it visual for people," said Bart Mol, art director. "Which was why we picked an orchestra, so it was more complex than a band."

Picking the music itself was a battle. Tribal DDB wanted to give a creative character to the soundtrack itself. "We wanted a piece of music that gets naturally associated with the campaign," said Mol. "We listened to so many different tracks." There also had to be a certain buildup so users wouldn't get overwhelmed. To begin with, the track is slow, so people can play around and familiarize themselves with the interface. Halfway, there is an explosion of sound. "The bigger the sound, the more complex, the more layers the better." Of course, the bigger sound also meant more work, since glitches are heard quickly and syncing has to be pitch-perfect.

Once the track was picked, the 52-person orchestra had to be broken up. Each of the orchestra performers played his or her track individually, then together with the others as an orchestra. Then, all 53 tracks were synced. This way, when Violin One, for example, is singled out, you really hear the nuance of that particular instrument's sound. "Even if violins play as a group and play the same notes, we realized that there's a difference in how each musician master's his or her instrument," said Mol.

Data Overload
But current technical limitations mean that all 53 tracks together would create so much data overload that it would take a user forever to load individual musicians, especially if they wanted to start listening to them at a specific point during the track. To make the experience smooth, each individual track was then chopped up into 10 "pieces." When a violinist is clicked on, for example, the specific "piece" you were at would get loaded in, making buffering smooth and quick.

The visualizer's interface itself was also a challenge for the agency. "We didn't want people to think 'What am I supposed to do?'" said Mol. "We had quite a few rounds of design. Stinkdigital came up with great solutions for our issues."

The challenge really, was to retain the massive amounts of information while keeping everything sitting pretty. "We were trying to create a design that you can understand without being a musician yourself," said Mol. "We didn't choose to visualize music, it's just intuitive."

The concept, which started about a year ago, is pretty close at delivery to what was envisioned, said Hoenderboom. "It's all about working with a client that's really easy to work with."

Legacy of Ambitious Campaigns
Historically, Tribal and Philips have aimed high with their digital campaigns. In 2009, they created, also with Stinkdigital, the Cannes Grand Prix-awarded "Carousel" for the brand's 21:9 LCD television.

They went on to another ambitious online effort, with RSA, called "Parallel Lines," featuring five running film strips side by side, set to the same dialogue but interpreted by five different directors. The tagline: There are a million ways to tell a story; there's only one way to watch one. The one, presumably, being on a Philips product.

If They Had More Time
The only changes Tribal DDB creative Mol would like to make to the current project is to have more hours in his day. He wants to add more nuanced, layered video, where when you listen to every track, you also see a close-up of the instrument you have chosen. "It's just something that would need more time, zooming in on notes, adding jump cuts and overlays," he said.

The reception to the project has been fantastic, said Mol. Accompanying the central campaign is a contest where entrants are challenged to create their own compositions. The winning entry will be arranged and played by the Metropole Orchestra and recorded in a studio, and there will be a cash prize for the winner. "It's a bit of a chance to add some activation in, instead of just content," said Mol.

"We've been overwhelmed with the reaction, not only from users but from friends in the ad community," said Hoenderboom. And when the campaign was presented to their partners in the orchestra, it was the final finish to a perfect performance. "When you get applause from an orchestra, that's when you know you've done something right."

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