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The Sound of Lexus

  • Story Highlights
  • Orchestra comprised of a dozen cars to perform summer festivals
  • Specially-composed pieces designed to show off Lexus's audio capabilities
  • Debut performance of this automotive orchestra on August 18
  • Next Article in World Business »
by James Snodgrass for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- England in summertime: three words that conjure up the smell of freshly-cut grass, the taste of cucumber sandwiches and the sound of leather balls against willow cricket bats. Joining these sensations this year is the sound of an orchestra of Lexuses (or should that be Lexii?).

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The LSO recorded the music for the Lexus Orchestra at Air Studios in north London

To demonstrate the audio capabilities of the Mark Levinson Surround Sound system in its luxury LS 460 model, Lexus is taking a dozen of the cars to two classical music festivals. With open doors, and no external amplification, the twelve LS 460s will 'perform' two specially-commissioned original works to the concert goers -- along with a number of specially recorded arrangements including Ravel's "Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte" and Satie's "Gymnopédie No. 1".

The automotive orchestra will make its debut performance at the Proms Spectacular at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, northern England on the weekend of the 18-19 August. It will then drive south for a performance in London at the Last Night of the Summer Proms in Crystal Palace the following weekend.

This is not the first time that cars have been part of a musical performance. The English composer Hugh Davies, an assistant to the German avantgarde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed his "Music for Car-Horns" -- a piece for 15 or more car horns -- between 1967-9. And in 1999, the now-defunct Rover company, then owned by BMW, found a novel ruse to advertise its 75 model. Seventy-five of the cars, in patriotic red, white and blue colors, lined London's South Bank by Tower Bridge. Each had its horn tuned to a slightly different frequency, and this mechanical ensemble played a specially-composed piece accompanied by violinist Vanessa Mae.

This managed to attract international media attention to a launch that might otherwise have gone ignored, as Rover had suffered from declining sales and an unreliable and ageing product range.

The twelve Lexus LS 460s will be arranged on stage to replicate a typical orchestra formation, with different cars taking the role of the string sections, brass, woodwind, basses and percussion.

The original compositions "Summon the Hero" and "Karma Nirvana" were written by former one-hit-wonder pop idol Chesney Hawkes and soundtrack composer Chris Nicolaides with orchestration by Alastair King. They were performed and recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra and the 20-strong Bach Choir at the renowned Air Studios in Hampstead, north London; the converted church owned by legendary Beatles producer, Sir George Martin.

The finished pieces were then split into their component parts, and these were piped directly into each LS 460's audio systems using a computer-controlled audio rig. The cars were then set up in a vast aircraft hangar in Surrey, southern England, to practice the optimum positioning of each car to replicate an orchestral sound.

"We're going to be performing somewhere that will not reflect sound like an enclosed space would," said Chris Nicolaides, "so we have to create this environment artificially."

The location of each car's position, volume levels and audio settings were painstaking logged until the ideal set up was found. The relative positioning of each car can then be replicated when they make the "live" debut.

Each piece of music will last approximately five minutes; the cars will make their performance in the intervals between performances by real, human orchestras.

The LS640's sound system uses an array of 19 custom-engineered speakers driven by a 15-channel 450-watt amplifier, which the car maker claims matches the quality of sound heard from a professional music studio monitoring desk. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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