Collins Uses Dynamic Letterforms to Modernize the S.F. Symphony

Try visualizing your primal scream

Oh, this is a fun little tool. The San Francisco Symphony got together with strategy and design firm Collins to create the Symphosizer, which lets you visualize sound with responsive text.

The San Francisco Symphony is 108 years old. Its music director, Michael Tilson Thomas, just ended his 25-year tenure, passing the baton to conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen over the course of the pandemic. The goal now is to make the Symphony feel relevant for younger, more diverse audiences.

Collins was introduced to define a new brand identity. It worked with Symphony musicians, audiences and staff to develop unique visual hallmarks, including the responsive font central to the Symphosizer. The new identity juxtaposes simple black and white with a palette inspired by the colors and landscape of the Bay Area.

The Symphosizer itself uses a traditional typography that harks to the art form's heritage, coupled with variable font technology that responds to sound and music. Our only lament is that there is currently no ability to record or save little experiments, which seems like low-hanging fruit for social sharing.

"At its heart, classical music is an interactive experience," says Collins creative director Louis Mikolay. "Because there are no lyrics, every listener is open to interpret the music in their own way. The Symphosizer enhances this idea by inviting you to explore a completely personal emotional journey during a performance. The motion of the letterforms symbolizes the emotional expressions of the piece itself, uplifting layers and details in the music which may have previously gone unnoticed. This brings a new depth to that personal journey."

Behind the scenes, Salonen is also experimenting with a regime redesign. He's currently building an artistic leadership model for the symphony that's composed of eight collaborative partners from different disciplines, including Bryce Dressner of The National, artificial intelligence entrepreneur Carol Reiley, bassist Esperanza Spalding, classical vocalist Julia Bullock, experimental flutist Claire Chase, violinist Pekka Kuusisto, and composer and pianist Nicholas Britell.

"It's true that the origins of classical music are hundreds of years old, if not more, but the general population doesn't tend to realize that it has been in a constant state of flux since its inception," Mikolay adds. 

"It has been defining and redefining itself with each generation—even woven into movie scores, video games and beyond. Classical music has an incredible amount to offer all of us, especially in such a stressful time. We have been honored to work with the multi-talented teams at the San Francisco Symphony to help broaden its relevance in the modern world."

More brand assets appear below.

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Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.

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