Lexus’ Precision Instrument

Stop me if you’ve already heard this one: a composer, a mathematician and a stunt car driver walk into an airplane hangar.

I didn’t think so. It’s the back story to “Music Track,” this new Lexus 2011 IS spot from Team One, El Segundo, Calif. The result is more Einsteinian/brainy than your usual bar joke, or car commercial, for that matter.

The job required creating a mathematical formula that would allow the Ultrasonic Blue Lexus 2011 IS sport sedan to speed around some custom curves at exactly the right moments to hit the trip wires hooked to pedals to trigger drum sounds (including base, tom-toms, snares and cymbals), enabling the car to make its own beautiful music. There’s a cool storytelling element, an engaging demonstration (the austere setup with the drums in the old Boeing hangar is modern and elegant) and, on top of that, we get a new music track, to boot.

The “whah/huh?” and “how’d they do that?” aspects offer real replay and viral value: you want to watch it many times, and look it up online. (The spot broke Sept. 4, and a “making of” video will be posted on You Tube.)

The demonstration also fits nicely into the brand’s DNA, a heritage that includes lots of iconic demos, starting with the famous spot from 1989 showing a pyramid of champagne glasses on the car bonnet that didn’t topple with the motor revving (to show smoothness.) It continues right up through this year’s “Pitch,” which demonstrates the sheer power of the motor: A physicist, software writer and driver concocted a way to rev the engine at high enough decibels to indeed shatter a wine glass.

Film nerds will get the link to Eadweard Muybridge, who, in the 1870s, way before the invention of the motion picture camera, showed a horse galloping, proving that all four hooves are in the air at one time, via a series of stop-motion shots based on multiple cameras attached to trip wires.

Of course, using something to make music that’s was never intended to make music isn’t an original trick, but it’s interesting and arty. Nike did this back in the day by recording all the squeaks and pounding sounds that basketball players create on the court, and converting that into a powerful soundtrack. In a less sophisticated way, even Kit-Kat commercials do this. But the combination of the car demo and the new music it makes results in a piece of work that is powerful and even exhilarating.

I also like the “wielded with precision’ part of the new tagline. It’s reinventing the wielded, as well as the idea of putting the pedal to the metal. Some one stop me, but I can’t resist this last one: Lexus gets a rim shot.