Projecting sounds into visual components works differently for everyone. Some can hear a snare drum and think of the rhythmic beat in terms of colors.
When Mark Ronson heard the resonances produced by five Olympic athletes, he started viewing them collectively as an orchestra. A drawn-back archery bow, for instance, makes a bass sound. The sound of the arrow smacking the target is almost percussive. A runner’s heart rate can be recorded through a stethoscope to create a song’s pulse.
It’s an orchestra of sport.
An amalgamation of musical talents himself, Ronson was approached by Coca-Cola to produce a track for the 2012 Olympics in London, Ronson’s home. He teamed up with British singer Katy B to create “Anywhere in the World,” a unique anthem featuring samples of sounds made by athletes in training.
The creative process itself was a global endeavor. Ronson ventured across the world, working with athletes in Mexico, Singapore and Russia, among others. Footage from his journey will be made into a feature-length documentary.
“If someone had given me a disc with 1,000 sounds in a folder, I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Ronson said. “But when you see them in their environment, the way Darius Knight [a table tennis player from the UK] squeaks his shoes or grunts to throw off his opponents, there’s something emphatic and rhythmic about it that I wouldn’t have instantly picked up on.”
For Ronson, who produced the late Amy Winehouse and won a Grammy in 2008, “Anywhere in the World” provided a unique challenge. The goal was to piggyback off the worldwide success of K’naan’s “Wavin’ Flag,” which vaulted to international prominence during the 2010 World Cup. Unlike writing an album, in which Ronson would get 11 or 12 songs and then pick the best for singles, this was a one-shot deal.
“Sometimes Olympic songs can be throwaway, then all of a sudden 'Wavin’ Flag' set the bar high,” said Ronson, who’s been getting in shape for his opportunity to run with the torch. “ I was honored to be asked; obviously to represent your hometown, London, is a big deal, but there was this insane amount of pressure.”
By all accounts, Ronson delivers. The video is a dizzying display of Olympic proportions, complete with appearances from all five athletes: Knight, Russian runner Kseniya Vdovina , American hurdler David Oliver and Mexican taekwondo athlete Maria Espinoza, who appears via video screens.
The fifth, Singaporean archer Dayyan Jaffar, receives what Ronson called a “hero moment” reminiscent of “Braveheart.” When Ronson visited Jaffar for a day and a half in Singapore, the producer watched the concentration and steeliness in Jaffar’s eyes, so he added an exaggerated breakdown of steel on steel, captured after Ronson miked up the target.
“The steel mike that you attach to the surface absorbs the vibration, so you get this massive-cash-money sound that you can’t get out of a keyboard,” Ronson said. “It’s pretty special.”