'Pure Sounds of Michigan' Album Looks to Lure Tourists With Ambient Music

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Jan Stevenson
Ahya Simone

The state of Michigan is hoping to lure tourism with its indigenous music. And not the music -- Motown, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Eminem, Jack White, techno -- that you might expect.

Travel Michigan will be releasing a first-of-its-kind album -- Pure Sounds of Michigan, premiering exclusively below -- on May 22, as part of a campaign that, according to the agency, "invites listeners to take a virtual, sunrise-to-sunset tour of the state from coast to coast." The 10 tracks, curated by the city's Assemble Sound recording studio and artist development hub, make use of field recordings from 10 state parks that were given to a variety of artists, who in turn built tranquil, ambient pieces from them. The Movement Music Festival and Shinola are among the partners supporting the initiative -- which is also in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' State Park Centennial celebration.

"It's very unusual for a state government arm to curate an album," Assemble's Garret Koehler tells Billboard. "We have a world class ambient album in hand because (Travel Michigan) trusted the talent of the artists to interpret the sounds of our state through the lens of ambient music."

Travel Michigan vice president Dave Lorenz credits the agency's public relations firm, Weber Shandwick, with the Pure Sounds of Michigan concept, building on a successful Pure Michigan tourism campaign. "Pure Michigan is known for our TV ads and print ads and our billboards and all the traditional ways we advertise the value of a visitation experience here in Michigan," Lorenz explains "But even though people who have come to know the voice of Tim Allen and the music of Cider House Rules, the team felt we could do more with sounds."

Koehler says that "it's hard to overstate how surprised I was" by the proposal but felt that Assemble -- whose corps includes Flint Eastwood and Kendal Siena Liggins -- "had to be part of it, not because of our work in advertising and film, which we do a lot of, but because somehow all the artists we work with aren't surprised when we call them and ask if they'll make a two-week camping trip around Michigan in the middle of the cold and rain in October to record literally everything."

Assemble brought in Blair French and Eddie Logix, producers and composers, who took a 12-day trip capturing sounds from parks around the state, including Detroit's Belle Isle, Mackinac Island, Porcupine Mountains, Tahquamenon Falls, Tawas Point and more. They assigned each park's recordings to a cadre of artists, who created evocative pieces such as Dave Graw's "Lighthouse at Sunrise," Todd Modes' "Island Drift," Windy & Carl's "Forest Trails," John Beltran's "Childhood Memories" and Waajeed's "The Rock (Bridge to a New Day)," among others.

"Initially I was very surprised," says Detroit harpist Ahya Simone, who joined forces with French for "The Cedar and the Falls." "I've never been asked to do a project like this before. When they told me more about it I listened to some of the field recordings and was like, 'Omigod, this would sound amazing with harp'...which kind of mimics rain drops. I just thought, 'Oh, this is fab. I need to add my little twang to it'."

Three of the Pure Sounds of Michigan songs came out as singles prior to the album's release with more than 50,000 streams logged through Pure Michigan's website. "There's only a certainly niche of listener who will look for this music, but apparently they really are looking for it," Lorenz says. Shinola is providing limited-edition vinyl copies of the album with its turntable sales, while Movement will host a Pure Sounds ambient lounge during the Memorial Day weekend festival and share the music via its Internet and social media channels.

"This is bringing to life a travel experience in a way that perhaps has never been done before," Lorenz says. "It can help transport people, by ear, to Michigan and hopefully get them to want to experience it in reality as well."