NEW YORK - Enter the lobby of Sister City Hotel and you may hear a familiar sound.
It’s the voice of Bjork, the famous Icelandic singer.
“If they [hotel guests] didn’t look confused I’d be worried. Absolutely they look confused, but they are intrigued, the music is dramatic but not so intensive that you can’t figure out where you’re at or what you’re listening to. It definitely does reflect the spirit of our hotel," said Andrew Jay, Sister City's General Manager.
The Lower East Side hotel partnered with Bjork and Microsoft A.I. to create music for the hotel’s lobby. A rooftop camera records what’s going on outside in the city and translates that activity to the music you’ll hear in that same moment.
"Our team of developers use Microsoft A.I. tools to recognize things like the sun, the moon, birds, planes overhead and that directly influences the generative soundscape," said Michael Romeo. He's the senior creative technologist for Listen, an audio agency that worked with Microsoft on the project.
We visited the hotel on a clear sunny day, but the music we heard was short and sporadic. Romeo's answer: "I know that from working with Bjork it has very Icelandic musicality to it that is very sporadic in nature, that is her choral arrangements. But what we did is the roof cameras looking at the sky right now, it says basically a clear sky and maybe a cloud or two and the sun and maybe just a passing plane, it brings in all those inputs and then starts generating the choral arrangements in that way, so you’ll hear more sporadic, melodic, lighter choral pieces."
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Artificial intelligence here basically means computer scientists and developers are using new forms of algorithms to create advanced technology. This music has been playing in the lobby 24/7 and the hotel expects to hear Bjork’s voice through the speakers for the next year or so. After that, maybe a new artist will collaborate.
“This piece in the coming months, we will be re-training the AI as it sees new weather events such as different types of clouds, when it starts snowing in New York City, when it’s raining, maybe even flocks of birds,” said Romeo.
Sister City has a serene, peaceful vibe… it’s almost hidden and tucked away between brick buildings on Bowery.
"I hear angels singing, but I also hear voices that are found from the neighborhood making their way into the hotel so it’s this combination of ethereal and grounded that I hear when I listen to Bjork,” said Jay.
The creators of this project predict we’ll see an uptick in musical A.I. technology in the years to come. They see it as a way to connect people inside a building to outside elements, It also gives musicians a unique way to express themselves to different audiences.