With his parental legacy of classical music, a wall full of degrees from prestigious learning institutions and a heightened profile in feature films thanks to his scores for Friends with Money and Lovely & Amazing, composer Craig Richey might be expected to possess rarefied artistic sensibilities. But on this day in Los Angeles, he is completing a process that he describes as “living in a Rubik’s Cube,” as he puts the finishing musical touches on a UK Ford commercial that features playable instruments fashioned from parts of a disassembled Ford Focus.
The commercial was devised by director Noam Murro, who enlisted Richey to write the music and add input to the design of the instruments created by a New Hope, Pennsylvania collective, the Car Music Project, headed by Bill Milbrodt. “I went to this farm that has been created as a sculpture collective. The silos have doors cut into the sides, there are big metal sculptures, and it’s buzzing with activity and young artists. I went at the end-stage of the instruments being made and had the musicians show me each instrument. They look amazing and they have incredible ornamental decorations that don’t affect their playability.”
Richey, whose musical composition is a waltz titled “Ode to a Ford,” says that for this project he worked in reverse of a conventional timeline. “You’re going to create a piece and then tell the instrument maker they have to make instruments to play it. The instrument maker will be saying you’re going to have to write a piece that can be played by the instruments he makes.” Among the instruments invented for the commercial is a window harp, created from the driver’s side door with the window rolled halfway down, and 18 harp strings configured diagonally.
The composer explains what was integral was to have these unorthodox instruments achieve symphonic cohesion. “The concept was to have instruments made out of car parts that could play beautifully, rather than the ‘clangy’ percussion ensemble one might expect car parts could do.” And he recalls his initial reaction when the director explained the concept. “He asked, ‘Do you want to write a piece for car parts?’ What composer would say no to that.”