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Howie B: creating music from a car engine

The music producer is touring the world with tunes he’s composed from a Maserati

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Producer Howie B has created music using the sound of a Maserati engine.

To any petrol head, the sound of a motor engine IS the sound of music (We know this is a music page, but bear with us). But what about the rest of us?

To prove that a car engine can really be a musical instrument, British audio experts Bowers & Wilkins have partnered with Italian luxury car maker Maserati to create sweet music off the sound of the car’s engine. Employing the expertise of producer Howie B, who’s worked with the likes of Bjork and U2, the collaboration is now part of a touring exhibition called the Seven Notes World Tour, which is pitching up in Dubai this week. Although an invite-only event (you can still listen to the music online), the exhibition will also promote Maserati’s new car, the Quattroporte, which is its first model to feature a Bowers & Wilkins in-car audio system.

Soundbites caught up with Howie B before his trip to Dubai, to convince us this is not just some tedious marketing gimmick:

You’ve worked with everyone from Bjork to U2. How would you explain to your children you created music out of a car engine?

I think it’s just about experimentation. This whole project for me was about finding music in inanimate objects, mechanical things. To me, it was almost the same thing as working with an artist, except the car didn’t answer back to me. When I was working with Bjork and U2, there would be a discussion about how to do things, but this was just me recording sounds. To me, it’s music and the difference was that I was making music with machines instead of people.

How then would you explain to someone that Seven Notes is not a marketing gimmick?

For me, if there was any gimmick there I wouldn’t be involved in it. I’m pretty serious about what I do, I’m very serious about making music and I’m very serious about the music I made for this motor car. Gimmick is not the word that I would use for me, it’s not a gimmick.

I’m into gimmicks though, I’m into little gimmicks, but this isn’t a gimmick (laughs). I play it to my kids, parents, friends and there is no laughter there, it’s quite a serious thing

How did this association happen?

This came about through me being approached by Daniel Haikin (Bowers & Wilkins brand director). Maserati and Bowers & Wilkins were in the process of starting their collaboration and wanted this to be brought to life.

Do you own a Maserati?


Are you planning on buying one?

I wouldn’t say no to one but I don’t own one. A couple of my friends own them but not me. It’s a great car to drive; I’ve driven a couple of them. But no, I don’t own one, sadly.

Would you consider yourself a petrol head? Or just someone who owns a car? Or not?

I’m into cars, I’m into machines, musical instruments — it’s all part of the same thing. Things that are made by hand, I’m into stuff that is made by hand — a good hand. A Maserati is made with a good hand, a guitar is made with a good hand. I’m into things with style. But in terms of a petrol head… I wouldn’t call myself a petrol head. I like tractors, tractors run with diesel.

The Seven Notes tour has taken you to different parts of the world. What has been some of the most interesting experiences?

I’m really excited about going to places I’ve not been to before. That’s the great thing about being a musician — I get to travel and I get to play music wherever I go. I’m really looking forward to coming to Dubai, I’ve never been there or to that part of the world. I’m really interested and excited to see what’s going on there and to feel a bit of that culture. In terms of China and Tokyo and America I’ve been there before, but I’m excited about going there and doing something different, and this has given me the opportunity to do something a bit different, it’s still music but there’s a little twist there. And, I’m going to meet different people because normally I’m playing at music venues or working in music studios but, this time I’m travelling with a motor car — I’m quite interested about that and the people I meet, the friends I make.

What are you looking forward to doing when you’re here?

I’m there for five days and I haven’t got anything planned apart from the actual gig. It’s an open book for me — I just want to see what’s there, I just want to find out about the place, culture and meet some people.

What’s next for you musically?

I’ve got a new album coming out at the end of June, beginning of July. I’m working on it with a Chinese artist — it’s like a rock symphony with him. I’m also prepping for writing for a Chinese film which is a musical.

In your opinion, how has music evolved over the years?

I don’t think anything has changed in the music, but the application has changed. The performance is the same. For me it’s down to whether it’s good music or bad music. Styles might have changed. Songs still have the same formula. If that changes, it would be very exciting, but it hasn’t yet. The only thing that’s changed is application, the way that people are making music has changed but the music has not changed.

Why doesn’t Bjork make more music?

I really haven’t got a clue about this!

Any artists you’d like to collaborate with before you retire and drive off into the sunset in your Maserati?

It’s the ones I’ve not met. Over the last five to 10 years I made a choice to work with new, up-and-coming artists. These are the ones for me, who really have the hunger to make a difference and to express themselves. For me it’s the leads I get from emails or someone posting something on my Facebook. I then I follow through with it and find something beautiful. That’s the fire for me.

*To find out more Howie B and the Seven Notes World Tour, go to