For something as multi-faceted, immersive, and dramatic as a live orchestra performance, the branding of symphonies can be incredibly static. Stills of the conductor mid-motion, group shots of musicians, logos that convey seriousness and tradition—these tropes are not doing much to give classical music solid footing in a contemporary world.
To refresh the visual identity for the London Symphony Orchestra, the global design firm The Partners forged a new route to visualizing the sounds of the symphony: Through the movement of the Orchestra’s conductor himself. Using motion-capture technology, the firm charted the movement of Sir Simon Rattle, the LSO’s new, world-renowned leader, as he conducted, and then translated the data into a series of animations and images that visually represent the music.
When the LSO approached The Partners in 2015, the orchestra wanted to freshen up the branding to attract a new audience to the classical art form. Creative director Stuart Radford started with the previous branding from 2004–also the work of The Partners–which featured a logo of the Orchestra’s acronym in a script that takes the shape of a conductor holding a baton. Based on that abstract symbol of a conductor lifting his arms, Radford and his team decided to depict the movement of the performance as a way of conveying the sound. And they chose to do so with the most accuracy and precision possible.
With the help of The University of Portsmouth’s School of Creative Technologies, the design team applied sensors to Rattle’s back, arms, and hands, and set up twelve Vicon Vantage motion capture cameras to document his movement at 120 frames per second. They then brought on German artist Tobias Gremmler to take the motion data captured by the cameras and create animated films based on Rattle’s movements and the music he was conducting. Explosive moments full of wood and brass, for example, were transformed into an abstract moving image that is fractal and angular. In a quieter string piece with a gentler build, the animation is light and vaporous, a multi-colored plume of smoke curling in and around itself. Those videos became the basis for printed materials and advertisements for the pieces in the LSO’s new season.
These images will change every season so that they’re always reflecting the pieces being performed. The core concept of a visual language echoing the movement of the conductor—the “heart and soul” of the orchestra, as Radford puts it—will remain the same. There are also a few other constants, like a typographical system that includes two different typefaces reflecting a fluid and angular conducting technique, respectively. The branding also specifies a style of still photography that captures the movement of the musicians in a blur of superimposed images.
Ultimately, the identity will always be changing and evolving, which is exactly the message the LSO wants to bring to classical music, a genre often thought of as stuffy and stuck in the past. “It does break the mold in what’s being done in classical music,” Radford says of the new identity, before adding that the sentiment applies to the London Symphony Orchestra as well. “We wanted it to be as progressive as we could make it.”
[Images: via London Symphony Orchestra]