• 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. Rubenfischer-main-int

    Aha, some “digitale malerei und grafiken von Ruben Fischer,” a new protégé of Eike Konig over at Hort in Berlin. It’s no secret that Eike has spectacular taste in who he hangs around with in terms of design talent, and Ruben is a prime example. His digital collages in fun, primary colours are all untitled, which suggests that he’s not yet doing work for clients and the like. But to see someone crack out posters, record sleeves, identities and illustrations just for the hell of it is fantastic and refreshing. Something tells us Ruben has a unique way of looking at the world, and some computer skills up his sleeve – some very important strengths in this day and age. You can see some of his more recent work on his very, very colourful Instagram feed.

  2. The-plant-art-central-4-int-list

    The white marquee walls and immaculate dressers within them at big art fairs feel at odds with anything “frenetic,” but it’s movement and dynamism that have driven the design concept for Art Central’s identity, and boy does it work. London agency The Plant is behind the energy-inspired identity, having worked on similar projects including creating the branding for Art Hong Kong and London Fair Art 15. Art Central is a new fair for Hong Kong launching this month, and cleverly takes the Chinese character for “Central” ( 中 ) as its, well, centre.

  3. Jenniferdaniel-portfolio-6-int_copy

    San Francisco-based designer, editor and illustrator Jennifer Daniel manages to combine the difficult beasts of quality and variety, making infographics for Bloomberg, children’s books about space and drawing hot dogs jumping into swimming pools.

  4. Colline-new-list-int

    Tonight sees the launch of a new book by photographer Annie Collinge at Ti Pi Tin bookstore up on Stoke Newington High Street in London. Some of you should get down there, but we appreciate that others of you are perhaps thousands of miles away. So here for your delectation are some spreads from the book and some close-ups of the images within.

  5. Zoo-art-and-music-int-list

    “Each project is an adventure,” says French design agency Zoo. And their enthusiasm shows – the work on their site is fresh, dynamic and brilliantly executed. The visual identity for Musique en Ville, a multi-venue event run by Rosny-sous-bois city council, manages to be hip without losing all-ages appeal, and is adaptable across any season or touchpoint. “We aimed to express ideas of a party and a travelling stage while leaving room for imagination,” says Zoo. “The images show one area with several spots of light; each word is the central point.”

  6. Grilli-type-int-list

    It wasn’t long ago that we were singing the praises of Grilli Type, a foundry looking into new and innovative ways to show off the new typefaces that their designers produce, and coming up with fun and playful mini-sites in the process. Now we’re back to let you know that it has done it again for GT Cinetype, a font designed by Mauro Paolozzi and Rafael Koch, which was inspired by cinematic subtitles.

  7. Currency-post-4-int_copy

    The Royal Mint has unveiled a new coinage portrait of the Queen, only the fifth during her 63-year reign. The new coins, which will go into circulation later this year, feature a portrait designed by engraver Jody Clark selected in a competition hosted by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee. In light of this, we thought we’d have a look at some proposed and actual redesigns of currencies around the world, from age old gold standards to Bitcoins, and abstract pixels to odes to scientific discovery.

  8. Paul-schoemaker-eventburo-int-list

    If nominative determinism had been a stronger force in German designer Paul Schoemaker’s life, perhaps we’d have a cordwainer on our hands. Or feet. Instead, Paul chose a graphic design route, and we’re glad he did.

  9. Paulinelepape-int-main

    Exciting new student alert! Meet Pauline, currently working on her advanced degree in type design at École Estienne in Paris – how glamorous does that sound? It’s rare to find a student with as much consistently fantastic work on their site, and for a while I didn’t actually twig that Pauline was still studying. She’s designed typefaces, had a bash at letter pressing for her business cards, and made some publications that I’d actually buy. The way she represented a bunch of Stéphane Monnot short stories is well-designed without overshadowing the writing, and that publication about the concept of an ornament just looks fantastic. Remember this name: Pauline Le Pape, she’s got big things ahead of her.

  10. Gabriela-maskrey-lapulperia-int-list

    In the two years since we first featured nomadic designer Gabriela Maskrey she’s taken on a lot of new projects and pushed her skills in all sorts of new directions. Originally she was all about editorial design – which it has to be said, she was great at – but she’s recently branched out into branding for Peruvian luxury food company La Pulperia. Her bold serif rendering of the company name coupled with historic imagery referencing Peru’s gastronomic culture combines to satisfying effect, and the addition of hand-drawn icons is a great touch too. All in all a great first foray away from the world of books and magazines.

  11. Freytaganderson-fraher-int-list

    Often the most interesting branding work hinges on a simple twist, and such is the case in this work by Freytag Anderson for Fraher architects. The Scottish studio’s concept revolves around the neat idea of the “F” in the logo doubling up as an architectural floorpan.

    “The intersecting compartments or rooms create a simple graphic device for containing text, images and texture,” the designers say. “A vibrant red accent colour supports the minimal yet functional aesthetic.” Rolled out across stationery, a soon-to-be-launched website and internal presentation documents, it’s a really impressive idea executed to perfection.

  12. Karl-anders-vitra-int-list

    Designing for a design fair must be as much of a dream brief as a terrifying one. But one agency more than up to the task is Hamburg-based Karl Anders, which is behind this brilliant campaign for Vitra’s presence at the Maison et Objet fair in Paris. We can’t get enough of the bright colours, playful art direction and unusual way of presenting the Swiss furniture brand’s products. The concept behind the campaign, Home Complements, is based around the idea of “unexpected outcomes,” hence the gloriously haphazard feel to the display of the products in the photographs, which are shot by Nicolas Haeni and Thomas Rousset. It looks brilliant, and marks a nice departure from the more serious look interiors brands often go for.

  13. Bdb-portfolio-7-int

    Amsterdam-based designer Bart de Baets has been making great work for ages, and 2014 was no exception. There are conference posters for the Goethe Institute, brochures for architecture pavilions and a really nice record sleeve for Melbourne-based band Total Control. Bart manages to combine minimal line work and graphic humour with a vast frame of reference and really great colour-ways. There are also slugs kissing.