• Matt-brown-hero
Graphic Design

Prizes for eyes, ears and grey matter courtesy of Matthew Irvine Brown and his Music for Shuffle

Posted by Bryony Quinn,

Working up to his current spot as designer/prototyper in the Human Interface Device Prototyping group at Apple, multi-hyphenate creative Matthew Irvine Brown has left his mark in the design departments of Nokia, Last.fm and BERG. His personal projects site that runs parallel (and then cheerfully off in remarkably creative tangents) is full of interactive, experimental and quite brilliant projects (singing sock puppets anybody?): a three-fold theme pretty well exemplified in an ongoing demo-based initiative called Music for Shuffle.

Entirely composed using the “shuffle mode”, Matt creates engaging and random compositional experiments that play mutually with sound and visuals and tech-know-how. He makes “sketches” of tracks that will play in continuous and harmonious sequence – audibly and visually – the gif-like graphics, which are delightfully simple, fitting effortlessly with the digital aspect of the sound.

Though immediately engaging, it wasn’t something we could quite bend our brains about so we thought it best to speak to the man himself…

Hi Matt, could you firstly give us a layman’s explanation of what Music for Shuffle is…

Normally, shuffle mode is a way of playing songs in a random order but here, I’m trying to use it to make one piece of music. Instead of recording a whole tune that lasts three to four minutes, and saving it as an MP3, I record individual phrases– each only a few seconds long – and save those as individual MP3s. Then, when I play them one after the other (on shuffle, of course), I get a complete piece of music that sounds different every time I play it. And making one song out of several little MP3s means that the ‘sleeve art’ essentially becomes a (very slow) random stop-frame animation.

  • Mfs01

    Matthew Irvine Brown, Sketch #01

And how did it start?

Mainly via a very smart friend by the name of Russell Davies, who wrote this blog post last year. He pretty much sowed the seed of the idea in my head and I responded with the first sketch a week or two later. It all went from there, really.

You mention that you compose a lot on the bus – how exactly do you go about creating a sketch (and can you tell us what a sketch actually is)?

I just mess around on the laptop, really. I’ll start by making little fragments of visuals, colours, shapes, harmonies, textures, beats and so on, pushing things around in a collage-type way. When I’ve made a number of them, I need to make sure they can all fit together in any order – kind of like musical Lego – so I’ll spend a bit of time tweaking the start and end of each phrase. Then, I’ll overlay everything on to one common element that never changes (a drone, or a static colour or something), which acts as a kind of scaffolding to hang all the fragments from.

After that, I save everything out to individual MP3s, chuck them in a playlist, turn on shuffle mode, press play, and see what happens. It’s very quick and messy, to be honest. Making things on the bus is a helpful creative restriction – I usually try and force myself to declare something finished at the end of a journey.

I’d say they’re just little sketches right now as I’d like to go back and work into them in more detail for a longer period of time. I’d also love to work with people who know a lot more about the craft of music and visual art than I do – illustrators, typographers, musicians, producers, engineers, software developers and so on. Right now, for example, I’m looking at how to do this stuff in a live gig setup, so I’m tinkering around with software that will generate a live score, and spit it out onto screen-based music stands.

With the artwork, were you using a visual code for certain types of phrases that might dictate the overall look or are they random?

I try to make the music and artwork simultaneously, so that they feed off one another. I might record a little phrase, leave it on loop, then go and play with some colour proportions or whatever. There’s no direct link between the sound and the visuals, really. I just draw whatever comes to mind. Again, being on the bus forces me to work quickly – I’m not particularly skilled at any one technique in graphics or music production, so there isn’t much time to get too complex.

The most exciting developments over the last fifteen years have mostly centred around breaking the machinery of the 20th-century music industry – maybe it’s time to get on with inventing truly new, 21st-century music.

Matthew Irvine Brown

Was it always your intention to create an aesthetic experience both audible and visual?

I don’t think so, no. I didn’t really set out with a particular vision, and I’ve no real desire to create an experience or anything like that. I just started making things as a way of thinking about them. Many of the most creative people I know would say that a process can often be far more interesting than the outcome itself, and that rings lots of little bells in my head.

I guess shuffle mode itself is the material I’m exploring here – the resulting music, visuals and writing are the current outputs of the project, but I’d like to be free to steer things toward whatever I find interesting, like film, or software, or whatever. I’m just following my nose, really.

  • Mfs03

    Matthew Irvine Brown, Sketch #03

  • Mfs04

    Matthew Irvine Brown, Sketch #04

  • Mfs06

    Matthew Irvine Brown, Sketch #06

  • Mfs07

    Matthew Irvine Brown, Sketch #07

  • Mfs08

    Matthew Irvine Brown, Sketch #08

What’s nice about the Music for Shuffle site is the references you use; they contextualise the idea of experimenting as a mode for thought as well as making. Can you describe briefly a historical example you’ve used (you refer to Mozart’s musical dice at one point)?

There’s a lovely quote in John Cage’s autobiographical statement where he says: “I don’t hear the music I write. I write in order to hear the music I haven’t yet heard.” I think that’s a fantastically liberating idea, and it always sticks in my head when I’m making these sketches. Though, to be honest, I haven’t really needed to pilfer any techniques directly from Cage, because a lot of his ideas are already built into the stuff we now use to make and listen to music. Pretty much every media player has had shuffle mode for ages, and production software like Ableton Live makes it very simple to write in non-linear ways.

I think that points at a wider issue, though. I can’t really think of a good reason why any new music nowadays has to be in the form of a three-minute radio edit, or album, or promo video, or pressed as vinyl, or whatever. The most exciting developments over the last 15 years have mostly centred around breaking the machinery of the 20th-century music industry – maybe it’s time to get on with inventing truly new, 21st-century music.

  • Mfs02

    Matthew Irvine Brown, Sketch #02

Portrait9

Posted by Bryony Quinn

Bryony was It’s Nice That’s first ever intern and worked her way up to assistant online editor before moving on to pursue other interests in the summer of 2012.

Most Recent: Graphic Design View Archive

  1. Gurafiku-itsnicet

    Clicking on to Japanese graphic design website Gurafiku is something like stepping feet first into a black hole of graphic design porn. Started by Chicago-based designer and researcher Ryan Hageman in 2009 as a way to learn more about the history of graphic design in Japan, it has since grown into a archive which spans over 200 years of work, from the 1800s all the way up to the present day.

  2. Foreign_policy_brandguidesingapore_itsnicethat_list

    Foreign Policy Design Group, who we featured on the site last year, has nailed the art of collating diverse and sometimes complex ideas into a beautiful, cohesive publication. The first book in its new series, Brand Guide: Singapore Edition is like a beautifully arranged scrapbook of your dreams, rounding up “iconic homegrown brands that attest to the current golden age of design in Singapore,” the studio explains on their Behance page.

  3. Leslie-david-itsnicethat-list

    Leslie David might be one of the busiest women working in her industry. We last checked in with her six months ago, to swoon over the identity and packaging her studio had created for Glossier, and a typeface which looked to be blowing in the breeze, among other things, but this week she’s back with no fewer than three new projects. Three! She never stops.

  4. Studio_storz_itsnicethat_list

    Berlin-based Studio Storz has a portfolio chock-full of visual identities, editorial design and book design that’s varied in style. What differentiates Studio Storz from other design practices is its collaborative approach to design. As part of Spector Bureau, a collection of designers, artists and publishers, it actively works with other professionals in the field. It sees the role of designers as ever expanding and one that can manifest itself as researcher, engineer, craftsman and communicator; and the studio’s relationship with the Heidelberger Kunstverein has been ongoing since 2012.

  5. List-ashley-stephenson-new-york-times-its-nice-tha

    Designer Ashley Stephenson seems to be a shy chap, perhaps explaining why he prefers to go by his creative pseudonym G/tr, and why it took a friend of his to get in touch singing his praises. We’re not sure why, as Ashley’s certainly talented: this project was created while interning at the New York Times, and looks to show the publication’s prestigious heritage while also celebrating its move into the digital era. For each of the images, Ashley has imagined what the stars of yesteryear might get up to if they were as preoccupied as we are today with the likes of Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, Periscope, Twitter, Facebook, What’s App, Club Penguin, Habbo Hotel…you get the picture.

  6. Alexandre-pietra-for-noise-festival-its-nice-that-list

    A good identity isn’t necessarily one with a mega logo – though it doesn’t hurt – but one that looks great and is instantly recognisable across any touchpoint, be it a coffee cup or huge stretch of hoardings. When we saw this festival identity looking bloody brilliant on a balloon, we knew it passed the test. This simple blue and white look for French festival For Noise was created by Swiss designer Alexandre Pietra, and aims to convey the festival’s new, less rock-orientated approach. “The concept of this 2015 edition is to let the music speak for itself,” says Alexandre.

  7. Byop_int_list

    Earlier this month, the Serpentine Pavilion opened to the public. The beguiling, multicoloured woven structure designed by Spanish architects SegnasCalgo sits in Hyde Park like a more grown-up version of a fort you might have built when you were a child. Over the last decade and a half the annual architecture commission has become a much-anticipated beacon of design, and to celebrate 15 years of the Summer Pavilion, the Serpentine Galleries have teamed up with Kidesign, Marina Willer and the team at Pentagram to launch a digital platform and national campaign to foster the aspiring young architects of tomorrow.

  8. Song-haein-itsnicethat-list

    I’m just going to come right out and admit that there’s an inherent injustice in trying to explain how beautiful a printed book is through digital images. This is especially true in the case of Haein Song, whose painstakingly bound publications go one step beyond plain old riso-printing and saddle-stitching.

  9. Lust_typedynamic_itsnicethat_list

    LUST not only has a great name, but is a studio covering a huge range of disciplines in an extraordinary way. Based in The Hague, Netherlands, it’s this project the studio did last year at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam that demonstrates the studio’s unique and varied approach. An interactive installation for the exhibition Type/Dynamics, the show aimed to comment on the work of experimental graphic designer Jurriaan Schrofer.

  10. List-its-nice-that-mtv_premium_collage_300dpi_iam

    MTV is launching a new “louder, shorter and hyper-visal” look and feel, incorporating user-generated content for the first time. The positioning has been reworded to “I am my MTV” from its former slogan “I want my MTV,” aiming to celebrate its audience and “bring new video art to audiences worldwide,” according to the brand. MTV says that the new design work was created in house, and it seems very much in the vein of the bright, brash and rather brilliant work of its senior vice president of visual storytelling and deputy editorial director (snappy!) Richard Turley.

  11. Penguin_design_awards_2015_list

    Today Penguin has announced the winning covers for its 2015 Penguin Random House Design Awards. The awards are an opportunity for art and design students to get involved with design for publishing. Entrants are given a detailed brief from the publishing house and are invited to submit designs in one of three categories. This year Scott Kooken’s Freakonomics takes the Adult Non-Fiction category, Kate Gamet wins Adult Fiction with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and Lucie Williams’ Carrie’s War wins the Children’s category.

  12. List-eric-hu-talk-magazine-its-nice-that-

    We’re longtime, long-distance admirers of the work of Eric Hu, so the news that he’s recently launched a new magazine, Talk, is pretty damn exciting. And from what we’ve seen of the spreads, young Eric’s not disappointed us. The mag is the product of a collaboration with art director and writer Harry Gassel, former art director at The Fader, and is described as “a style-driven magazine on design focused on emerging culture.” And style-driven it damn well is: we’re digging the cover typeface, which seems to be formed of gloomy balloons, while the spreads show some innovative approaches to layout and image size. The first issue features the likes of David Brandon Geeting, Maxime Harvey, Simon Whybray and Raf Rennie, and we’re keen to see how Talk’s dialogue continues in future issues.

  13. Bond_web_moominfont_a_small_optimized-1

    Tove Jansson was a one-woman phenomenon. Last year Finland celebrated the centenary of the much-loved Moomin creator and children’s uberauthor and illustrator, and you might remember we spoke to C-G Hagström for the Autumn issue of Printed Pages about photographing her throughout her life.