MUBI Sonic Ident

A sonic ident for the independent film streaming service.

[Sound on]

Yuri Suzuki and team at Pentagram has created the sound design for global distributor and film streaming service MUBI’s new ident.

Yuri and team came up with a unique approach to creating a sonic identity that represents MUBI, whilst also exploring the history of cinema and its relationship to sound. By using a number of different techniques such as Musique Concrete, tape music, Pen Point Percussion and different uses of synthesis and string recordings, they were able to create something which sounds completely new. 

As the ident needed to be of different lengths, Yuri and team needed to create a sonic DNA that could work equally well across the three, twenty and thirty second durations. The solution was to create a DNA that could be contracted or subtracted from, whilst still retaining one overall feeling or mood. This approach is something Yuri calls ‘modular sound branding’, and through the use of creative arrangements, it's possible to tailor the identity to any length. 

With the arrangements for the idents, Yuri and team used several techniques that pay homage to the heritage and legacy of both cinema and music. By referencing historical moments in the arts, he evokes a strong image in the ears and minds of the very discerning audience who use and love MUBI. 

Using commercial reel-to-eel tape recorders, known for their lo-fi recording quality and which are synonymous with Musique Concrete, Yuri and team were able to exploit the tonal qualities of tape for the ident. Tape typically adds a warmth and grittiness to sound—something that’s increasingly hard to find in the digital era. This kind of fidelity grounds the ident in something both historical and familiar, but also allows for newer textures to be added with ease. 

Cutting up the tape and splicing it allows for a very collaged sound, which was used to create a textured and nuanced background for the ident, and this blends nicely with the melodic string recordings. 

The ident was notated and recording sessions were conducted with some of the finest string players in the UK, including violinist Raven Bush. The highly expressive nature of strings gives the ident a great depth of emotion and character. This sits beautifully above the experimental textures provided by the tape sounds. 

Another avant-garde and widely unheard of sound used was Pen Point Percussion. This sound is created by drawing dots or points on a film machine. These dots are then turned into sound when the machine is turned on and playback is initiated. The technique was created by Norman McLaren and is synonymous with the world of cinema and sound, the tonal quality gives the ident excitement and energy. 

All of these sounds were brought together with a subtle use of synthesisers, which act as the combining sonic force for the ident. The use of synthesisers in film scores has been a signature sound of the last three decades and this was something that we wanted to pay homage to in this ident. One particularly unique synthesiser sound that is used in the ident is the Theremin. Originally created in 1920 as a Soviet experiment into proximity sensors, the Theremin has a haunting quality that sounds similar to a human voice. Played by Yuri Suzuki for the ident, the Theremin texture adds a degree of mystery through its haunting timbre. 

The visual logo for MUBI created by SPIN uses seven dots that represent cinema, which is referred to as the ‘seventh art form’. From these seven dots, the team created a sonic DNA constructed of a three-three-one chordal approach. The result connects directly to the visual identity and also creates a sophisticated harmony for the sonic ident.

Yuri Suzuki
Project team
Maxwell Sterling
Gabriel Vergara II
Jake Richardson
SPIN (visual identity)
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