Woman in headphones playing a keyboard.

Infusing hotel stays with custom soundscapes

Musician Julianna Barwick collaborated with Sister City on a custom generative soundscape for the new hotel using artificial intelligence.

Julianna Barwick is one of the most acclaimed and innovative American electronic musicians today. By looping her own voice with other spare sounds from piano, guitar, and beyond, she builds lush, ethereal soundscapes that belie the one-woman-band behind them. Her recordings and collaborations speak to just how imaginative she is, from an entirely improvised album with Ikue Mori and live performances with Yoko Ono and The Flaming Lips, to a collaboration with Dogfish Head Brewery that features field recordings from the floor of the brewery itself. Her latest project is just as innovative: Sister City, a new hotel by Atelier Ace (the team behind Ace Hotel), was looking to collaborate on a sound-art installation to use as a lobby score.

I lived in New York City for 16 years, so I almost see this installation as an homage to that vibe, and that neighborhood, and my time in New York. So it's kind of emotional, a little bit personal.

Julianna Barwick, musician and composer

Sister City is inspired by an ethos of simplicity, purposefulness and mindful design—inspired by Finnish saunas, Japanese bento boxes and John Cage’s 4’33”—making Julianna’s folkloric ambient compositions a perfect fit. But to compose a truly bespoke piece, Barwick wanted the ambience and environment of Sister City to inform her work. That’s where Microsoft came in. Julianna’s installation is powered by Microsoft’s Custom Vision Service, which tracks and analyzes various elements of the Sister City environment from a camera on the roof. These inputs, in turn, determine which of her sounds to play. Microsoft technologists trained the artificial intelligence to recognize things like clouds and birds; if clouds are detected, that triggers a specific sound from the installation. Rain, sunlight, or even planes trigger different looped sounds in her piece entitled “Circumstance Synthesis.” The music becomes a way to place Sister City in the context of its neighborhood, while bringing that environment into the space in an entirely new way.

The various sounds within the Sister City lobby score

When Computer Vision recognizes a birds, the AI triggers a light synth to play in "Circumstance Synthesis."

The size, shape, and density of clouds alters the soundscape as well.

When the Computer Vision identifies the moon in roof cam footage, the AI triggers vocal elements to play.

A woman is seated in front of a mood board for the new Sister City hotel
3 women and 1 man in hard hats tour a construction site
a woman in headphones sits in front of a keyboard, in profile
View of the lobby of the Sister City hotel, featuring a terrazzo tile floor, wooden archway, a modern gray sofa, and a low side chair.
Recording a generative soundscape

First, Julianna met with the Atelier Ace team to research the aesthetic and inspiration for their new Sister City property.

She then toured the Sister City construction site to see where her soundscape would be installed, and how it would interact with its surroundings.

Julianna created the generative piece by recording loops and layers of her own voice, as well as spare tones produced by a keyboard.

The completed Lobby of Sister City, where guests can hear Julianna's score.

The result is a generative music installation that’s constantly refreshed and remade by the environment itself. It’s ambient music that is informed, quite literally, by its ambiance. As someone who spent years living in the neighborhood the hotel now inhabits, Julianna found the project to be particularly personal. Learn more about her journey by reading Julianna’s interview with the Microsoft Stories team.

a view of a hotel lobby featuring lots of blond natural wood

The sounds of Sister City

Hear Julianna's sound installation now by visiting Sister City at 225 Bowery in New York City.