A collaboration between Los Angeles-based Sonos Studio and Stockholm creative agency Perfect Fools has developed a giant, interactive Lite Brite-like display that plays music. The moving map of the New York metropolitan area, aptly dubbed “Sounds of NYC,” was recently on display during a weeklong event at NeueHouse near Madison Square Park.
The gigantic exhibit was comprised of 300 Sonos Play:1 speaker shells and four Sonos Sub woofers, while the morphing map of sound used 180 Play:1 speakers equipped with LEDs to create the display’s colored lighting effects. Triggered by motors, the shells could move toward or away from whoever is interacting with it, while the colors of each could change to create images.
Writing for Wired, Tim Moynihan notes that those light-up speakers act purely as “pixels,” as they do not actually produce sound. To handle the audio, there are 120 black Play:1 units on either side of the display.
While the hardware was assembled by VolvoxLabs, the location-based music playlist was curated by Wolf+Lamb. A second playlist of ambient noises recorded at the actual locations featured in the map was created by Big Noble.
When a viewer stood before the wall, the interactive display greeted them with a “YO!” The wall would then morph into a map of the five New York City boroughs. Using a Microsoft Kinect camera as an input device, viewers could select different “areas” on the map via hand gestures, which would elicit music or ambient sounds characteristic to that particular neighborhood.
As the visitor navigated the map, white pixels would display the selectable locations; once selected, the location would pop out of the wall thanks to [Atmel based] Arduino boards, which served as the brains of the project. A woman’s voice announced the chosen location and artist, and the system would continue on to play a song inherent to the area — ranging from soundbites of Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera House to Brooklyn-born hip-hop artists Jay-Z and Nas.
“All the songs are streamed from Google Play,” Brad Wolf, Senior Director of Brand Innovation at Sonos, tells Wired. “The back-end program is built using Flash, which controls the movement and the light of the units while also grabbing the songs from Google Play.”
Each of the playlists, which are rotated regularly to keep it fresh, were initially planned out using Google Maps, with one or multiple song suggestions for each location. Though Sonos Studio NYC has come to an end, its creators say that the “Sounds of NYC” hardware will continue on with new light shows and sounds adapted to its next location.
“The beauty of the installation is that it is a flexible canvas,” Wolf concludes. “It can musically bring any city or region to life — whether that’s LA, London, New Orleans, or Beijing.”