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AMSTERDAM - Think about your favourite brand. What sound comes to mind? The 'Ta Dum' of Netflix? Perhaps Spike Lee's 'Do You Know??' for Nike or the distinctive jingle of a certain fast-food giant? These sounds, as varied as they may be, underscore the power of strategic sound design in creating a deeper connection between brands and consumers than many of even us realise.
And, Amsterdam, known for its ultra-blooming creative scene, serves as the ideal sandbox for the inventive work of Brent van den Elshout. In exploring Brent's philosophy on sonic branding, it becomes evident that it's not merely about brands getting heard—it's about being felt. Brent emphasises the importance of crafting soundscapes that resonate on an emotional level, tailored to both the audience's preferences and the brand's core identity.
Brent van den Elshout is not just any designer; he is an inventor who blends talent from various disciplines to produce new media that appeals to a diverse audience. Through Minimal Collective, an independent cultural platform, Brent and his team curate stories that explore the confluence of music, art, and technology. "While we collaborate with numerous partners and clients, the essence of our work is artistically motivated and carefully selected by our curators," Brent shares. The goal? All founders and members encourage an in-depth approach to music to break down, distort and reintroduce sound to resurface dormant, deep emotion. For custom audiovisual projects, they operate under OZON Studio, offering bespoke solutions crafted by artists.
Technology and AI are transforming our interaction with sound, and individuals like Brent are leading the charge in steering through the waters of auditory identity. And, this conversation not only sheds light on his personal journey as a creative but also provides a glimpse into the future of art and sound’s intersection as we know it. Join me as I delve into how Brent’s work is pioneering sound artistry, the next steps of sonic branding, affirming that sound is just as - if not more - integral to a brand's identity as its visual elements.
Since my days as a toddler, I’ve been naturally sensitive to different forms of stimuli, especially sound. I’ve always been quite hyperactive and as a kid, I was not the best sleeper. I could find peace in different forms of noise like a humming air conditioning or the rain falling on my window. It was at this moment I already learned what soothing power lies in ‘sound’.
On the other hand, theme songs of cartoons, games, or movies could get me that excited that my parents had to ‘protect’ me from them at moments I needed to chill out. I was all pumped up and could not pay attention at school early in the morning because of it.
Growing up in the digital age while being deeply involved in the electronic music scene automatically exposed me to different forms of creation at this intersection. However, a crucial moment where everything fell into its place was during the Ryoji Ikeda exhibition at Eye Filmmuseum in 2018. The research, sound design, and visual output of the concept in the setting of Eye was immersive yet so gentle that I laid down in the exhibition space for hours fading away in introspection. The intersection truly came to life and it just ‘clicked’ for me here. It might sound strange, but the next week I decided to go and read a book over there while writing down my thoughts.
We can tell that sound is increasingly intertwined more and more within multiple brand touchpoints. With technology developing rapidly, the amount of screens around us is increasing by the day. And where there are screens, there is most often sound. The landscape we’re navigating through with Minimal Collective and Ozon Studio is multidisciplinary - we bring sound, (moving) images, and text together to create a storyline that speaks to people's emotions. That being said, sound is a vital element for any label or brand.
You can imagine that for a brand within the music or art industry sound is the core product and the leading factor for the organisation. However, when we broaden our scope and look at the entertainment or tech industry as a whole for instance, you clearly see that sonic branding plays a crucial role within the overall experience. Think about the iconic Apple, Alexa, or Google sounds. When designed right, sound can truly become a ‘sonic logo’ that evokes emotion and recognition on an unrivalled level. It’s like a unique language you create for your brand and your customers to communicate with. A language that makes them feel at home.
A common pitfall is that sound is often overlooked and not integrated into the DNA of a branding strategy. It’s estimated that an average person sees about 6000 to 10000 ads a day in 2023 - You better make sure that your brand message resonates with all different senses. It is proven that some people tend to be more prone to sound than sight.
Also, from the sound designer’s perspective, make sure to have your paperwork in order. You might have never heard about Jim Reekes, but he is the sound engineer behind the famous camera-click sound of your iPhone. He could’ve been a millionaire but well, he missed out on it as he didn’t sort out royalty rights on the sound which now is known worldwide.
Artificial intelligence. With intelligent technologies developing rapidly and already taking over parts in our working lives and public spaces, there is a fourth industrial revolution upon us within the next few years. The future of creativity, artistic values, and their merit, will totally alter within the coming time. This also is the case for sound engineering.
AI within sound engineering can help with the automation of various tasks that were once considered labour-intensive and time-consuming, saving chunks of time which can be spent on more creative and conceptual tasks. In addition, sound synthesis and design progressively can be done more easily without the use of expensive hardware or a deep understanding of the technique as AI-driven software synthesisers can help create new textures and sounds by learning from existing ones. Also, AI is providing more user-friendly platforms for collaboration and exploration. For instance, Mubert allows you to create customised soundscapes without the need of any technical knowledge, making professional music production more accessible.
It’s an exciting and daring time ahead of us. When fully mastered and used in the right way, AI can become the right hand of any sound engineer.
By sticking to a framework of fundamentals and communicating clear intentions a harmony between individual contribution and collective output is obtained somewhat organically. Minimal Collective can be seen as an ever-evolving organism led by a series of rational ideas coming from a ‘collective consciousness’.
But how does a group of +30 interdisciplinary creatives across 5 different time zones work in sync on one project? I guess it could help to look at the definition of ‘a collective’: A collective is a group of entities that share or are motivated by at least one common issue or interest, or work together to achieve a common objective. Collectives are not necessarily focused on an economic benefit or saving.
In other words: our collective consists of a diverse team of creatives: music professionals, cinematographers, designers, writers, photographers, you name it. Although these people sometimes come from totally different backgrounds and are in different age groups, there is always a certain level of interest, philosophy, or aesthetic preference which functions as the binding factor for collaboration.
We believe in the core principle that every idea or concept can be looked at from multiple perspectives and that this helps to elevate the overall output at all times. As everyone is naturally working from these same core beliefs, the output of projects and growth of the platform somehow orchestrates itself into the right lanes.
On the overarching end, we balance our movement evenly within the music, art, and technology realms. We have a core team of curators who shape short and long-term goals based on parameters such as relevancy, artistic value, and diversity. Together, we constantly evaluate what we should do, how we are going to do it, and who should be involved. The intersection is fluid, some projects have music as a starting point, and others lean more towards the technological or arts side for instance. However - in the overall curation of the collective we keep in mind to have every creative discipline represented on the same level. It isn’t an easy game to play but makes it exciting and challenges you to think out of the box as you set up the next project.
To become more immersive and multi-dimensional. Firstly, brands and artists are embracing immersive experiences more than ever. Immersive art is on the rise, and so is the overall immersive era. The physical and digital world will be increasingly merged over time and so does the sound experience that comes with it. For instance, spatial sound techniques like Dolby Atmos recreate real-life experiences through your headphones, while the Apple Vision Pro brings real-life environments to our home. Within all these immersive experiences, there lay new and more impactful ways to integrate sound.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a countermovement to the sensory-overloading immersive trend. ‘Screen-fatigue’ is a thing, and humans are craving for peace within the hectic times we are living in. Podcasts have made their reentrance during the pandemic and are here to stay. With things as a podcast or voice assistant, every brand can now have a human voice and opinion shaped by nothing but sound. AI-driven personal assistants will get more advanced and will play vital roles in our lives.
Within five years, I envision sound becoming part of a true brand personality and the overall product instead of just being a brand element.
Yes, I’m happy you are bringing this up! Silent moments are the most precious of them all and nature is indeed where one can fully unwind from the day-to-day rush. Throughout the year, I have a few fixed moments where I retreat into nature and go for long hikes on my own. Two of these fixed moments are during my birthday and New Year’s eve. No phone. No internet. No music. These moments when you are expected to participate in socially hectic activities, going out into nature all by myself is the best way to reflect and recharge.
But also, to get inspired. And these are the nuances of sound you’re talking about.
Even after just 24 hours of solitude within nature, the elegance and logic of earth make a deep impact on your thinking and emotional state. With the lack of any human presence, nature slowly starts to pick up conversation with you. Or, you would rather say that we humans start to pick up conversations with nature again because nature is always there. Breathing, living, evolving. Water from rain and rivers feels refreshing and shows you the regenerating power of our planet with its hydrologic cycle. Leaves cracking as you walk through them and a breezing wind through the branches reminds you of the relentless force of the great elements. Not to start with the sounds animals can produce. Nature is highly intelligent and sophisticated, yet raw and uncut. It’s the purest form of emotional expression out there - it just ‘is’.
"With the lack of any human presence, nature slowly starts to pick up conversation with you." - Brent Van Den Elshout
Rick Rubin, world-renowned record producer and (co-)founder of labels such as Def Jam Recordings and American Recordings, gently deconstructs the essence of tuning into nature within his book ‘The Creative Act: A Way of Being’:
Trees blossom. Cells replicate. Rivers forge new tributaries. The world pulses with productive energy, and everything that exists on this planet is driven by that energy. Just as the trees grow flowers and fruits, humanity creates works of art.
I always carry a Zoom H8 (field recorder) with me and capture sounds to process within musical pieces I record for use as inspiration. Nothing beats the sound of nature.
Our lives are devoted to exploring different creative fields and expressing ourselves artistically. We constantly seek to push boundaries in techniques, explore new aesthetics, and broaden our philosophical view on what the function of art is and will be in society. Relentless curiosity lies at the heart of all contributors and we’re open-minded towards integrating new forms of cooperation and working. Everything can be improved and looked at from multiple perspectives.
It’s an ongoing process of creating and learning on topics you are moved by, shaped by, and inspired by. With childlike enthusiasm, we go from idea to concept and it truly feels like we are enriching ourselves on both a personal and professional level. As you are so moved by a theme on a day-to-day basis, you naturally hover at the forefront of it all, staying ahead of the herd.
This hasn’t been one star really, it’s rather the multitude of inspiring makers and thinkers worldwide and the community around me that drive my inspiration and shape my vision.
Although I could say my whole day has several moments of introspection, even when I’m working on something, there are a few basic habits I turn back to to truly turn inwards like physical exercise, alone time in nature, and reading.
I feel most comfortable in black, loose, functional clothing. Somehow it allows me to be more at ease. Plus, it’s also less time and brain-consuming in the morning. A few years ago, I was discussing the matter with two friends who work in fashion and photography and they told me about fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto. He gives the perfect explanation of the comfortable paradox black clothing provides: “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy - but mysterious. But above all black says this: "I don’t bother you - don’t bother me".
The question about sneakers is a really funny one at the moment, as my Keen Newport H2 Triple Black Sandals are so comfortable that I’m still walking on them during the cold and rainy autumn days here in Amsterdam. It feels like I am floating on these sandals all day and I honestly can't get back to wearing normal sneakers.
Hmm, there are definitely more than 3 questions but let me pick 3 of the most important ones that came to mind immediately:
As I delved into Brent's creative ethos through Minimal Collective and OZON Studio, I discovered a commitment to not just auditory innovation but to an artistry that speaks to the human side of all. Leveraging technology and AI to navigate the evolving landscape of auditory identity.
This conversation illuminated the path Brent carves at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, marking him as a pioneer in a field where sound is paramount to a brand's essence. And, these are my top four takeaways for any brand looking to embrace sound in 2024 and beyond.
Auditory Experience Consistency
Ensure consistency in the auditory experience across all brand touchpoints. A unified sound identity helps reinforce brand recognition and fosters a seamless user experience, whether it's through an app, website, commercial, or in-store environment.
Embrace the Emotional Spectrum
Leverage the full spectrum of emotions that sound can evoke. Unlike visual elements, sound can directly influence feelings and mood, offering a unique opportunity to connect with audiences on a deeper, more instinctive level.
Foster a culture of collaboration and openness, allowing for a fusion of ideas from different creative disciplines. This can lead to innovative auditory experiences that break new ground in sonic branding and resonate with a diverse audience.
Authenticity and Originality
Strive for authenticity and originality in sound design. In a world where consumers are bombarded with information and advertisements, a unique and genuine sound can help your brand stand out, making it memorable and relatable.
These lessons, drawn from Brent's philosophy and practice, underscore a nuanced approach to sonic branding. They highlight the indispensable role of emotional engagement, consistency, creativity, and authenticity in crafting a sound identity that not only resonates with audiences but becomes an intrinsic part of the brand's very soul.