To show off Google Assistant’s new integration with Sonos, the tech companies have created a three-day pop-up music experience.
Today through Sunday in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, fans of artists like The National and Holly Herndon can experience digital sound-and-light shows created with Sonos speakers. Three rooms—one for Holly Herndon, one for The National and one for artists from the indie label Beggars Group—illustrate the physics, structure and emotion that music often conveys.
According to Simon Wainwright, senior director of brand activation at Sonos, the goal is to “break down some of the barriers between the way that music can be conveyed to the public.” (Presale tickets for time slots are already sold out, but Sonos will accept a limited number of walk-up visitors each day.)
“We’ve known from the get-go that it’s not just important to show up through our digital content,” Wainwright said. “We want to show up physically. We want to give people that out-loud experience with our product because they always cite it as transformative and life-changing, and you really have to hear Sonos sometimes to really understand the beauty of it. So it’s important that we convey that brilliant sound in a physical experience.”
To demonstrate the physics of sound in the first room, Sonos partnered with musician Holly Herndon, who recently released an album created with the help of artificial intelligence. With 18 Sonos Play:5 speakers around the room, the sound moves across a virtual acoustic space, matched in real time with strings of light bulbs dangling from the ceiling.
To move the sound around the room, the studio created algorithms that match the location of speakers to the lights, allowing the lights to follow the sound as it moves from one side to the next. In some cases they’re highly directed, while in other moments they are random trajectories that change in speed and intensity as the song evolves.
At the very beginning, the music starts in the corner before moving around to the other side and fully enveloping the listener. The mirrored walled and dark room apart from the lights create a visceral effect with the vocals—especially as the 236 strands with a total 1,720 lights sync with the song.
“We love the fact that Holly was working with voice AI in her recording process,” Wainwright said. “It made total sense for ‘Eternal,’ which was a pretty fresh track, to be something that would try and translate into the physics of sound.”
For the second room, Sonos and Google wanted to show how a song is structured.
To illustrate it, Sonos took The National’s hit song “Rylan,” a song that, before it was released on the band’s latest album, had been played live on past tours but not recorded. To symbolize this, the team created five pieces of art spaced around the room like a live band. Each piece of art covered a number of hidden Sonos speakers, while also emitting colored light to go along with seven stems from the track that let the lights symbolize the various instruments and vocals. (For example, the drum track was featured on one side of the room while the vocals were in another piece in the center.)
“When we first showed them the build in its raw state, they were so excited about how we used the stems,” Wainwright said. “They were challenging us to push it even further and that’s the exact kind of artistic sort of reference we want as well. We like to push the boundaries of how we show up, and it’s great to work with people that do that in their daily lives and in their artistic pursuit as well.”