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If you've got some free time on Wednesday, you can watch a 13-hour commercial for Arby's that shows a brisket being smoked from start to finish.

According to an article from the New York Times, reprinted at twincities.com, the commercial actually was shown once on broadcast television, Saturday, May 24 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 25, on My9 in Duluth, Minnesota. No explanation is given why this market was chosen, although an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune says that the team simply looked for a station willing to sell thirteen hours of ad time.

The ad will be shown online at 13hourbrisket.com on Wednesday, May 28 from 8:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. [Central time]

This process/conceptual film is reminiscent of some of Andy Warhol's early 1960s experimental films, like Sleep (1963), which runs 5 hours and 21 minutes, and Empire (1964), which runs 8 hours and 5 minutes. Warhol was a pioneer in this proto-minimalistic genre, in which the sheer monotony and unwatchability of a film allow the audience to focus on images--like a light turning on or off or a fly crawling across a man's face--that under normal conditions might be considered meaningless or unimportant. The Times article describes the production team remarking that

"Drama is in the eye of the beholder, and even the smallest little things to us were the coolest things ever," [creative director Matt] Heath said. "When it got to the point where it started dripping and you could hear the sizzle of the brisket as the juices were dripping out of it, that was very entertaining."
I teach a class on "Music of the Twentieth Century", and Warhol's ideas about process and the appropriation of symbols and styles from visual popular culture were also simultaneously resonating in the world of sound. Composers like LaMonte Young, Morton Feldman, and of course John Cage were kicking minimalism into gear and inspiring the composers Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. One of my favorite pieces is Cage's "ASLSP ["As Slow as Possible"] for organ, which is currently underway in a performance in Halberstadt, Germany, slated to last 639 years.

I'm not sure whether the crowd that would appreciate a Warhol homage is the same crowd that dines at Arby's, or that those who accidentally tuned in to the ad in Duluth thought that they had found the newest offering from the folks who brought us videos of crackling yule logs and virtual aquariums. Amazingly the station [www.northlandnewscenter] lists the airing of the ad as "Local News", right next to "Remembering Fallen Soldiers" and a report on the Duluth Huskies baseball team. When last I checked, the article has had zero comments, so it's hard to gauge the ad's impact.

This reminds me of a political candidate putting together a controversial ad that may or not be aired, but is shown and analyzed to death on the cable news shows. Consider me guilty of helping spread the fame of Senator Smokehouse Brisket...

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