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The stunning sights and sounds of the Sonos art exhibit

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Apart from the obvious tourist attractions, New York City is full of smaller experimental art exhibits, and this week the speaker company Sonos has created one in the form of a short exhibit at the NeueHouse workspace in Manhattan's Flatiron district. The company worked with musicians like Blood Orange's Dev Hynes, Best Coast, and Danny Brown as well as art collectives like The Principals, Big Noble, and Perfect Fools to set up a week-long experience full of interactive installations.

Throughout the residency, which ends on October 5th, Sonos will be hosting bevy of performances and Q&A sessions alongside the installations, and while the RSVP lists for the events are already full, Sonos gave us a look at everything they've set up.

The first installation on the main floor of NeueHouse combines a 15-minute piece of music made by Hynes with two rows of motor-driven reflective mylar (created by The Principals) that hang from the ceiling. The mylar reacts directly to the beats of the music, and one section in the back is hooked up to a microphone that lets visitors interact with the piece themselves by making their own noise.

Downstairs are workstations for building speakers using Sonos components and AutoDesk, along with a microphone and MakerBot printer dedicated to printing a 3D waveform of your voice. Next to that was another impressive multimedia installation, something the Swedish creative agency Perfect Fools and the artists of Big Noble created with Sonos called "Sounds of New York City." Internal LEDs turn a wall of 300 Sonos Play:1 speakers into a display that features animations of people walking or trains moving mapped to corresponding sounds recorded by the collaborators. The most striking mode displays a colorful view of the five boroughs that — via a Microsoft Kinect — lets users wave their hands to select spots on the map that trigger songs from hometown artists (Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," for example). Each speaker is fastened to a motor that drives it toward or away from whoever is interacting with it, adding three-dimensional life to the rig.

"This is what you get when you try something really hard."

Brad Wolf, the Senior Director of Brand Innovation at Sonos, sees events like these as a proving ground for the ideas that his department comes up with. "We might move it to LA and have a ‘Sounds of LA’," he said of the speaker installation. "You might see it in retail, you might see it in an event with an artist, but first we’re trying to see how this 1.0 works out." His caution was prescient, as the complicated setup gave the on-site team trouble, and at one point needed to be completely reset. But the problem was a mundane one that most of us can relate to: one mistakenly disconnected plug. Wolf laughed it off. "This is what you get when you try something really hard." As the crews from Big Noble and Perfect Fools worked on restarting their creation, Wolf smiled in the glow of the red error-message light coming from the speakers as he repeated himself. "It'll come alive. It'll come alive."


The Principals built the installation so that the audio signal from Dev Hynes' music also splits from a Sonos Connect unit into a spectrum analyzer which splits the sound into five different frequencies. Each frequency is mapped to a different motor above a particular section of mylar, creating a pulsing effect that reacts to the different parts of the song.