Taking on the art direction of a musical installation touring about British woodlands sounds like a somewhat complex task. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what a musical installation set amongst trees would even involve. I assumed it wasn’t anything to do with singing pixies.
If anyone could do it though, it’d be Patrick Fry: an art director and designer who has worked for the likes of Paul Smith, Nike and the BBC. A while back, we wrote about the striking identity he designed for an event at the Globe, and we caught up today to talk trees and technology.
What is Living Symphonies?
Living Symphonies is a sound installation that is touring across English forests this summer, created by artists James Bulley and Daniel Jones. The piece is composed using generative music created through data collected from the forest’s ecosystem. Speakers are hidden across a forest environment, each playing a different musical motif relating to specific fauna and flora present in that specific ecosystem.
Where do you start with a project like this?
I spent quite some time with the artists trying to understand the technical aspects to the project. We also listened to prototypes of the sound art itself, to best understand how to visually represent the experience.
We began the project before all the partners and supporters were involved. So it started off as a simpler typographic identity. The idea was that the type would flow, shuffle and readjust to its surroundings in a manner that referenced the nature of the generative music.
After all the funding came through and Living Symphonies grew to the size it is now the identity needed to work harder. So it grew alongside the project; we commissioned Katie Scott to illustrate the key data groups that would form musical motifs within the piece. Diagrams, interactive iPad visuals, signage, way-finding and various pieces of print followed. We also created a website that would document the development of the piece and host the artist’s research.
Is it tricky to create an identity which spans posters, signs, paper publications and iPad interface?
That presented a challenge in itself but we also had to think about the different audiences involved and how they would interact with the graphic design work. As it is a high concept, sophisticated piece of artwork there is an immediate expected audience who are naturally well-informed and keen to learn about the piece in detail. But as the project is based in forests, there are far more families and nature enthusiasts that really do not expect to be running into strange art installations while off bird watching or going ape. We had to think about how to distil the essence of the project in a more approachable and easy to digest fashion.
How much time did you spend it the great outdoors seeking inspiration/researching?
Not as much as I would have liked! Visiting a prototype of the installation in Thetford Forest was the main highlight of my research, as this gave an invaluable insight into how it felt to experience Living Symphonies.
Tell me more about the booklet. Our magazine editor James thinks it looks so natural that it could be planted and grow a whole new life!
We used heavily recycled stock with a tactile quality that we hoped would inspire people to get away from their city life and into the great outdoors.
Returning to the iPad, is it not doubly difficult to design a technological interface for an installation which takes place in the most natural and low-tech surrounding?
The piece itself is extremely high-tech; it is run using all sorts of algorithms and amazing hardware. So although the identity itself has an earthy feeling we really wanted the guests to experience the hidden side of the work. The interface features a collection of 22 repeatable tiles that represent the different environmental elements such as bracken, dead wood or moss. These had to visually represent their elements, but also hold enough differentiation to make the interface understandable.
Lastly, how do you see the relationship between music and design?
I think that it is the designer’s role to do their best to reflect the feeling of listening to the music. As this is an extremely objective experience it’s hard to say if you have fully succeeded, so it’s best to leave a little to each listener’s imagination.