Designing sounds for William Kentridge

For musician Adam Howard, the opportunity to collaborate with South Africa's most well-known artist signalled a shift towards "sound-agnostic" composition.

We tend to think of design in visual terms but more creators are using design thinking to create audio, too. Adam Howard is one such designer. An accomplished trumpet player and composer, he often collaborates with artists such as William Kentridge on his avant-garde chamber opera, Refuse the Hour, and his performance-lecture at Design Indaba Conference 2015.

Kentridge asked Howard to join him as Refuse the Hour’s musical director in 2011. “I do a lot work composing music for brands as well as conducting and performing on stage,” he says. “The opportunity to collaborate with William and be a part of his ensemble at this year’s Design Indaba has really allowed me to broaden my creative scope."

Working on such an array of projects has played a huge part in how Howard thinks about his own creative process.

I don’t think in genres anymore. Whether I’m working with Kentridge or composing for a commercial, it still comes down to having a good idea and then crafting it to the best of my ability.

This year he decided to broaden his outlook by growing his company, Howard Music, into a studio more reflective of his “sound-agnostic” philosophy.

“I’d become known as the music guy, but in the same way that I’ve grown in scope since I started Howard Music 10 years ago, I knew that the company had to grow with me. My vision was to create a studio that put craft and ideas first, no matter the project – and that’s how Howard Audio was born.”

Howard Audio’s new three-studio facility in Bryanston, Johannesburg, is a clear reflection of this philosophy. The space is segmented into different recording booths and suites, allowing artists to record together or individually when needed. Clients and performers alike are made to feel welcome in a space where they’re encouraged to share ideas and allow for greater expression.

“Part of the launch of Howard Audio was the design of a new corporate identity,” says Howard. “I briefed Peet [Engelbrecht] and Jo [Morrison] from the Spanish Coalition to create an identity that would capture the essence of how sound and ideas are central to our philosophy.” 

The end result was an identity created with cymatics, a technique used to visualise sound through sand, liquids and other materials.

“The team recorded me playing my trumpet and then played the recording through a rig that distorted and captured the logo photographically, so you could physically see the sound in it. The technique was quite intricate but the end result was amazing.”

With the launch of the new studio Howard doesn’t see things slowing down for him any time soon. 

“There’s so much going on this year. I’ll be working with William again for Refuse the Hour’s stateside tour of New York and Yale University. There’s loads going on with the original music and final mix side, especially now that the new facility is in full swing. Not to mention my work with the Johannesburg Big Band, an ensemble of some of the best session musicians I formed a few years ago. I guess I’m just lucky to be a part of so many projects. Every day is different, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

Listen to the diverse scores, soundtracks and collaborations made by Howard Audio.

Watch the Talk with William Kentridge