The Sound of Ithra

Sonic Branding
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The Sound of Ithra

    The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, known as Ithra, is an architectural marvel situated in the middle of the desert near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and designed by award-winning architectural studio Snøhetta. It has an idea lab, a library, two museums, a cinema and a knowledge tower – all under one roof.

    According to TIME Magazine, it’s one of the greatest places on earth.

    Now, you can either just let it be OR you can embrace that as a great opportunity for a tailor-made holistic sound world that could engage and delight visitors at every opportunity – which is exactly what Ithra did.

    Challenge

    Given the building’s significance operating at the intersection of knowledge, culture and curiosity, we were responsible for creating something sonically that would mirror the look and feel of Ithra and echo its blend of traditionalism with modernity.

    Not only is the building home and a hub for local performers and artists, it also acts as a melting pot for international creativity – something that had to be reflected in its sound. Yet we also had to create a number of multipurpose adaptations to keep up with the building’s multi-uses.

    Though the structure of Ithra is indeed described as indescribable, we knew we could create something to match its unusual beauty.
    Before locking ourselves up in the studio, it was clear to us that the sonic identity had to be adapted for a vast range of contexts and occasions, whilst always maintaining the brand’s identity. It also had to inspire the youth of the Middle East as well as be accessible to a global and more mature audience.

    Approach

    Taking inspiration from both the organic and pioneering new materials used to build Ithra – Arabic for ‘enrichment’, we recorded the actual sounds and reverbs of the building being tapped, knocked and brushed by human hands and other objects.

    We then made use of traditional Middle Eastern instruments, such as the Oud and Ney flute, and wove them with modern electronic and orchestral production.

    We enlisted a number of musicians to record instrumental touches, which we weaved on top of the sensational experiential tones.

    Solution

    Ithra’s holistic sound world covers everything from music for content, national events, in-building music, games, theatre performances and much more. The core foundations of Ithra’s sound world are:

    • A flexible sonic logo, the sign-off for all branded communications. It’s a 5-note melody inspired by the five pebbles of the Ithra building.
    • An original brand theme, with varying moments of discovery, matching the immersive experience when visiting Ithra. A sense of fluidity and evolution pervades the piece, influenced by the infinite loop of the visual logo.
    • Various adaptations, including a Kids Zone version, an Innovation adaptation, a Cultural adaptation, a version to celebrate Saudi National Day, as well as ringtones, events music and building announcement sounds.

    This is just the beginning of our journey as we work with Ithra to create new adaptations required for special functions, new touchpoints and content types.

    Results

    With a brief to delight visitors at every opportunity upon entry to Ithra, we landed on creating 23 sonic adaptations for the building. These had to be multifunctional, to be used in events, marketing elements and communication strategies – yet retaining a sense of the glory and unusualness that the structure encapsulates was crucial.

    Roscoe Williamson, Global Creative Strategy Director at MassiveMusic London, says: “By translating the marriage between tradition and modernity into sound, we have created a global sonic brand for Ithra that is ownable and flexible enough to live both within the building itself, as well as across all marketing content.”

    Rania Biltagi, Head of Marketing, Ithra, adds: “One of the things that we were hoping for was to find a partner that would really understand us and also understand what we are trying to do here at Ithra. I believe we have found that partner in MassiveMusic: the product is the complete embodiment of the Ithra brand in sound.”