Review: The Smirnoff Mindtunes Project by Nick J. Townsend


Creating music just using the power of the mind may sound like an optimistic soundbite from a forgotten episode of BBC’s Tomorrow’s World but thanks to an Internet TV documentary titled Smirnoff Mindtunes a demonstration of how this can be achieved was posted on YouTube. First of all we see a CGI generated close up shot of presumably a brain for those of us that have no idea what a human brain looks like zoomed in with a macroscopic lens, then some out of focus shots of fuzzy stuff, some buttons, a green Knight Rider style soundwave followed by an establishing shot of a recording studio room being constructed by engineers moving at the speed of Benny Hill.

A neurotechnology expert called Julien is presented with the challenge of creating music by way of transforming emotion into brain waves and then brain waves into sound waves or in layman’s terminology creating a big fat dirty dubstep tune using the minds of three paralyzed DJ’s wired to headsets reminiscent of the ones used in the movie Total Recall. The volunteering musicians Mark, Jo and Andy test the software like human guinea pigs under the watchful eye of able bodied producer DJ Fresh who acts as a go between “The Voice” style mentor for the group. Over a period of seven days we follow the progress of the team as they record a dance track using the power of their thoughts to control certain elements of the composition.

It’s a very heartwarming piece of cinema as all three of the men making music are doing an activity which normally would be quite difficult or impossible for them to complete due to their disability. Looking at what people can do instead of what they can’t do is very important and the obvious advantages of a technology of this kind being made more available possibly paves the way forward for the disability movement as devices of this particular type could help improve so many people’s lives; plus also show what they can do if given the opportunity.

Later the DJ’s wheel themselves out of the purpose-built recording studio and are sent out to witness a successful public test of their tune at a random nearby club chosen by the team which later we discover features a convenient Godzilla-size Smirnoff Vodka logo that towers above the dance floor whilst they spend the rest of the documentary wrapped up in a crowd amongst a montage of rave club shots reminiscent of a scene from the first series of Channel 4’s Skins intertwined with afterthought commentary where one them explains that the experience was like falling off a mountain; which coming from a person paralyzed from the waist down must be pretty painful.

The mood of the documentary turns slightly melancholy towards the end as the three DJ’s each reveal how much they will miss the project. After being elevated to a higher state of euphoria the trio have to come to terms with returning home with only their happy memories of the week to cling to; like a Deal Or No Deal contestant leaving a TV studio carrying a red shoe box containing a 50p coin. Of course, for them the documentary and the recorded piece of music is a permanent reminder of their wonderful achievement but with the project only lasting a week raises the reality for them that they may not have the opportunity to be able to do this ever again during their lifetime unless the technology is made available to them again. A bit like being king for a week.

Sources claim Smirnoff have a long history of pioneering innovation, who could forget the previous DIAGEO North America (Smirnoff’s manufacturer) guerilla marketing tactic entitled Save the Mistletoe? Seems quite ironic that a documentary with a focus on creativity using only the mind as an instrument, is funded by an alcoholic drink company which arguably fuels brain damage; that’s if the new knowledge from medical experts about small amounts of alcohol damaging the developing brain is to be taken seriously. As much as I applaud the inspiring efforts of the DJ’s and everyone involved who dedicated their time to this great project I can’t help but wonder if the subtext is as transparent as the Smirnoff drink itself.

On the surface this is a groundbreaking documentary that shows the professional and social level of disabilities but you can’t forget that this is also a strategic public relations stunt by Smirnoff. Vodka doesn’t always receive positive feedback in the media, only this week I found myself watching an episode of the TV soap opera Emmerdale Farm featuring a teenager known as Belle Dingle who is found unconscious after drinking Debbie’s dodgy vodka and had to be rushed to hospital allowing duller characters to worry or ponder about the possibility of her being at risk of brain damage. I’m sure Smirnoff have higher standards than Debbie but having subliminal product placement in a documentary such as the Mindtunes project just made me question what I was actually watching. There was no real need for the viewer to see a quick flash of a huge Smirnoff logo in the nightclub scene or have continuous on screen text using the all familiar font of the drink, just as it wasn’t necessary for George Lucas to have his name painted on the front of the Death Star in the Star Wars movies.

We could speculate that this documentary sends out a strong positive message to all to encourage further development of this mind software and use it as a platform for the entire disability movement, but you just know that as soon as a large entertainment corporation or the government spot the potential for this technology then it’s bound to be used instead as a way of creating jobs, a new feature for an Xbox or a device for controlling missiles. Game Console users will be able to stream nude pictures of themselves on the Internet just by blinking at their webcam, armed police will finally be able to throw tear gas into a disco just by thinking about it and people will probably lose their disability allowance and be forced to go to work and control machines with their brains for twelve hours a day whilst attached to a complementary vodka drip and mass produce even more mind technology devices with nothing but a DJ Fresh playlist to listen to on their newly implanted chip and pin brain iPod.

The Smirnoff Mindtunes track is available for download from iTunes and Amazon and according to the documentary proceeds from the sale of the track will benefit Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People. Hopefully the track will also generate a source of income for the three DJ’s who worked on the song with DJ Fresh as I assume the royalties are going to be equally distributed.

Nick J.Townsend

Nick J.Townsend (press photo) Photo by Fabrice of Alt & Ego (London)

Nick J.Townsend is the vocalist and guitarist for British band WEAK13. An experienced underground musician, music promoter and zine columnist. He is also a TV supporting Actor and has appeared in shows such as Shameless (ch4), Hustle (bbc) and Young Dracula (bbc).