Music

At this hotel, sound matters more than you think

NYC’s Sister City hotel welcomes guests via custom soundscapes, powered by artificial intelligence.

When you arrive to check into a hotel, the sound in the space may not be the first thing you notice. But Sister City hotel in NYC—a new property from the same team that brought the world the stylish Ace Hotel boutique chain—is proving that it’s more important than you think.

Sister City’s ethos revolves around a minimalist aesthetic, drawing inspiration from the exacting designs of Japanese bento boxes and Finnish saunas. Architectural details maximize space, efficiency, and light, without a lot of the weightier elements that can contribute to a sense of maximalist clutter.

View of the lobby of the Sister City hotel, featuring a terrazzo tile floor, four low side chairs and two end tables, a map of the ground floor, and a man standing at a computer to check himself in.

Ever since we first heard Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, we’ve been obsessed with the idea of creating music for a specific space. Working with Microsoft and artists of this caliber to bring our creative dream to life has been rad—stuff like this is why we build hotels in the first place.

Ryan Bukstein, VP of Brand, Atelier Ace

And the hotel wanted their soundtrack to mimic this intentionality—this respite from the cacophony of the surrounding downtown streets. But importantly, the creative team at Atelier Ace (which has a long history with musical collaborations) wanted the space to still reference and reflect its iconic location. How could they achieve that balance, while creating a noteworthy and welcoming score for their lobby?

Following a series of creative brainstorms between the Ace team and Microsoft technologists before construction even began on the Bowery, the group collectively landed on a solution featuring the perfect piece of tech to create a seamless introduction to the hotel: Microsoft AI.

A rooftop camera captures the NYC skyline 24/7, and the AI was taught to analyze different events happening along the skyline: things like birds, planes, clouds, and rain. When the AI detects these various events, it triggers various adjustments within a composition—modifying pitch or tone, or playing different sections of a piece—in the Sister City lobby. In this way, the technology creates a sonic window to its NYC surroundings, and draws directly from more serene elements in the sky, as opposed to the bustling streets and sidewalks in the Lower East Side.

Then it was a matter of finding the right artist to bring the concept to life, and Julianna Barwick proved the perfect fit: she was willing to experiment, had a personal connection to the area (she lived on the Lower East Side for years before decamping to Los Angeles), and embodied many of Sister City’s own design principles in her work. She was able to see the ebb and flow of a day on the Bowery and bring it to life in a beautiful piece, “Circumstance Synthesis.”

Björk brings her choral arrangements to Sister City hotel in a generative soundscape powered by Microsoft AI.
Hear an excerpt of Julianna Barwick's AI-powered composition for Sister City, "Circumstance Synthesis."

It opened along with the hotel and inspired curiosity from guests from the moment they entered.

A year into the project, the Microsoft team wondered how to push the AI further, and what that might unlock sonically for guests. Technologists provided Sister City with a more advanced AI model that is continuously trained to recognize new weather events as seasons change, like sleet or snow; more detailed cloud formations (e.g. cumulus, nimbus); and entire flocks of birds, as opposed to the occasional lone pigeon.

3 women and 1 man in hard hats tour a construction site
Julianna Barwick and Amy Sorokas toured the Sister City construction site to see how Julianna's soundscape would interact with its surroundings.

"Working with Sister City and the Ace Atelier team is a fantastic collaboration. With a passion for music at their core and their desire to make Sister City a technology-driven experience that pushes the expectations of their guests, we're able to create and evolve an AI-driven soundtrack for their lobby to match their ethos and aesthetic. It's truly exciting to pair Sister City with amazing musicians that bring the sound of the hotel to life in such unique ways."

- Amy Sorokas, Director, Brand Partnerships Microsoft

Photo of the NYC skyline featuring the Empire State Building, with an animation of a flock of birds flying across the image, from left to right. Boxes appear over the birds as they fly.

Explore Kórsafn by Björk

The Icelandic artist's choral arrangements come to life in an ever-changing installation that uses AI technology to interpret real-time images from a live camera feed of the sky.

The new piece, “Kórsafn,” will continue to evolve over time, as the AI learns to recognize new patterns and becomes more confident in its identification.

The sound art installation at Sister City is a testament to the level of detail and consideration that goes into every aspect of a visit there. The joint team considered everything from the acoustics within the lobby space, to New York weather patterns, to how often certain musical excerpts might be repeated—they wanted to avoid any sense of “audio fatigue” for employees or guests who linger in the lobby. Next time you check in to a hotel, have a listen. Is there a soundtrack? What does it inspire or evoke? Are you relaxed? Welcome? Intrigued? At Sister City, you are.