I have written previously on this blog about the musical construction of wonder and enchantment in Apple commercials. (You can read the posts here, here, and also over here.) What I like about those ads is how their evocative soundtracks convey the humanity that Apple wants us to feel is either inherent in their products (a laptop, an iPhone, or the sensibilities of Siri, Apple’s voice technology) or elicited in the social experiences the products enable. Apple’s latest commercial, the “Your Verse” iPad Air ad, is similar to the company’s earlier ones. This time around, we are shown numerous scenes of the iPad in action, accompanying creatives in the field–whether they be outdoor photographer, scientist, filmmaker, musician, designer, coach, storm chaser, artist, or writer.
The soundtrack features an audio sample of Robin Williams in the 1989 movie Dead Poets Society speaking some inspirational lines about the power of poetry. “Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for” his character says with vigor at one point in the ad. Supporting Williams’ inspired speech is music that sounds like one long d minor chord played in washes of shifting arpeggios by orchestral strings and woodwinds. The name of the piece is “Awareness” by New Zealand film composer Hanan Townshend. The music was first used in Townshend’s soundtrack to the 2013 Terrence Malick film To The Wonder.
On its own, “Awareness” at first listen wouldn’t seem to be ideally suited for signifying a sense of wonder over the technological sublime. At least compared to the soundtracks in other Apple commercials which are more harmonically involved. But on repeated listens I realized that the music’s static drone quality could be heard as conveying some kind of steady ecstatic sensibility embodied by people deeply into their work with their iPads. Also, all those skittering arpeggios could be heard as an analog to the creative restlessness of the people in the ad.
Well, maybe. But it’s hard to know for sure just how the music is working in this commercial. If I listen like most people though, I can say that my attention is monopolized by Williams’ inspirational words and the dramatic outdoor settings. I have to focus on the music to even think about what it might be doing. This fact in turn perhaps provides a clue about what is going on here. Sometimes music is a subliminal force, an invisible guiding hand. Subtle and tinkering in the background of our attention, music plays a supporting role, shaping how we construct our worlds, and reinforcing the feelings we’re already feeling.