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DROP SOME HERBAL ECSTASY WHILE IT'S STILL LEGAL, 'cause it's time for Marc Black of New York's Black Market Productions to explain to us what makes his music house special. It's the music-duh. More specifically, it's the performance. The company has been around since 1990, they've done the usual big-agency sound-designy stuff, but lately they're into something entirely different: A new approach to making the music.

"We call it ambient/experimental," says Black. "Creativity takes place in a 'low-focus' state. It's what John Cage called 'nonspecific consciousness.' It's related to the Zen idea that aiming can take your eyes off the target. If you sit down to compose something, that's considered 'high focus.' We create in a more relaxed state, in which you're thinking about something other than your goal. It's not goal oriented."

It's more goal disoriented. "Every week we go into the studio for three to five hours, whether we're doing a commercial or not," explains Black. "A group of us, anywhere from three to six musicians"-the core group is Black on guitars and vocals, partner Ed Bialek on keyboards and Will Ryan on reeds and vocals, and each plays all manner of percussion, ethnic instruments and toys-"go into the studio with an engineer, we go on a trip live to DAT. Some of it will be traditional music, some of it won't, and we deal with all those sounds as an artist would his paints. So when we get work, we look at the film and see if we have anything that vibrationally seems appropriate. If we do, we begin to compose from what we have. If we don't, we'll watch the commercial, then go into the studio for a few hours. Sometimes we'll run the picture, more often we won't. We'll just play, we'll think about the commercial, we'll forget about the commercial. The next day we'll see if we have anything. If we don't, we go back in the studio. We usually get something the first time, and even if we don't, when we go to compose"-and by that he means assemble the bits and pieces they like-"we can do that in our own suite, it's limitless."

As a prime example, Black offers a 1993 German Audi spot from Saatchi & Saatchi/Frankfurt, directed by Bob Giraldi, that marked the true ambi/ex breakthrough. The film is muted, peaceful footage of a guy fly fishing at twilight. The resulting music is muted, new-agey plucking and tinkling that was assembled from a "blind" jam session. The studio time "is completely spontaneous improvisation," Black stresses. "Somebody leads with an idea and it takes off. If there's a particular requirement for the spot, we'll include that style, but that high-focus segment becomes one element of the total sound picture.

"When we started experimenting like this three years ago, we had no idea that people were even interested," Black continues. "When we got on the Internet, we realized there are people all over the world who are doing these things." Now it's a big selling point for the company (check their Web site, up later this month,, though most agencies have to be coaxed along. "We believe it all relates to interactivity; the approach is very modular. Nothing is necessarily in the 'wrong' place."

Pure low-focus composition has backed spots for Dockers, AST computers, Teletunes and safe sex and anti-illiteracy PSAs, which all, as one might imagine, share a free jazz/world beat anarchy with industrial tinges, but they're way cool. "I don't care how soulful you are," Black insists, "if you count off to four and play for 30 seconds, it's really hard to get into space.

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