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Turn Any Song Into An Immersive Music Video Environment


Sonos Playground Deconstructed

Sonos Playground Deconstructed
at Museum of the Moving Image is a physical interactive installation that lets visitors select any song and watch it come to life as an immersive music video environment.

The installation is made up of five walls hanging above a black reflective floor each with its own designated projector rigged above. On the walls are 27 one-inch white lines and 26 two-inch black lines. Suspended from the ceiling on four aircraft cables in the center of the room is a Sonos Playbar speaker, the source of the immersive audio as well as an Xbox Kinect for motion-tracking. Once a visitor selects a song from an iPad running Spotify they can see and hear it come to life and control the animation with their movement.

As its creator, I didn’t want people to think about the technical side of it while inside the piece. I wanted all technology to disappear and for people to feel like they are inside a physical materialization of the song they picked. Not only inside the song but also in control of it. While they can’t create new music, the audience is able to create new animation that alters how the visualization comes to life through their movement. It’s not as much about being the star of a music video world, but more being the conductor of a live visualization of any track. Alone inside the installation is a very jarring and hypnotizing experience: intense spacialized audio paired with a rush of immersive projection mapping.

Let me start at the beginning. Just a few weeks before Sonos Playground Deconstructed there was Sonos Playground at SXSW.


Sonos Playground

The initial idea came when Ivan Entchevitch at Sonos, who I had worked with before on The xx Missing installation in LA, told me they had a new speaker coming out that would focus on room-flooding sound for video. He said if I had any ideas to let him know. I latched on to the concept of flooding a room with sound and corresponding visuals. I proposed an idea inspired by the wall drawings of Sol LeWitt where the minimalist lines in his work would come to life as a reactive music visualizer across the walls of a room.

Sonos liked the idea and invited me to meet Hilmar Lenhert, their head acoustical engineer for a demo of the new Sonos Playbar. We met at a hotel in downtown DC where he'd set up the demo for a journalist. I sat down on a couch and Hilmar turned the system on. I can’t tell you how happy I was to realize that the speaker really could flood a room with massive spacialized sound—way more than I could have imagined. I knew if the installation got off the ground we’d have something good.


Sonos Playground Deconstructed

Next thing I knew Sonos gave me the green-light. I had about three weeks to have it ready for SXSW. I asked Zander Brimijoin and Daniel Scheibel at Red Paper Heart to partner with me and handle the animation and software. The next big addition to the team was Blair Neal and his group at Fake Love. They led the charge in technical design to bring the visuals into the physical world. With Fake Love in Manhattan, Red Paper Heart in Brooklyn, and myself in DC we had a great team, but only had three weeks which were spread out across three locations—none of which were anywhere near Austin, Texas.

SXSW went well. The installation opened in a small shed in the backyard of Sonos Studio in Austin. We had all kinds of musicians pop through, from Deadmau5 to Erykah Badu. But it turned out to only be the beginning of Sonos Playground. The next stop was the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY.

We heard it was going to be shown in conjunction with a large exhibit on the greatest music videos ever made. No pressure.

Because we had bought all the hardware for a site-specific installation in a small shed at SXSW and now needed to find a way to use the same gear in a totally different environment we were in a bit of a predicament. The room we were given at the Museum of the Moving Image was more than double the size of the shed and had a much lower ceiling. It was too large for us to project on all the walls and the ceilings were too low for us to build the shed inside the room.

The playground had to be deconstructed.


Sonos Playground Deconstructed

With less than one week to the opening we had contemplated every possible option and weren’t satisfied with anything and didn’t even have a partner on board to fabricate whatever it was we were going to build, because we didn’t know what it was.

In Austin we had mapped three walls and the ceiling. We realized at the museum we were going to have to sacrifice something and in the end what proved most impossible was the ceiling, and one of the key immersive elements. Finally, between Red Paper Heart, Fake Love, and myself we decided on a direction and brought 11th Street Workshop to build the set.

The idea was to deconstruct the shed into five hanging walls and rig the projectors onto the ceilings to create a very seamless floating canvas. Since we were compromising on the ceiling we decided to invest in the floor and put black plexi-glass down to add depth and dimension to the experience. We also decided to paint white lines in between black lines on all the walls and map only the white lines. This way we would be able to achieve a much higher contrast and more surreal environment than the initial experience in SXSW while still using the same animation.


Sonos Playground Deconstructed

With Sonos Playground Deconstructed now running in conjunction with the exhibit Spectacle: The Music Video it really changes the way people experience the piece. It becomes a physical interactive music video for every song. It would be amazing if suddenly music videos had physical installations running in tandem so people could have the experience of entering the world of the song.

Hopefully our friends in New York will have a chance to check it out. Special thanks to the guys at Red Paper Heart and Fake Love as well as Museum of the Moving Image and Sonos for partnering to make this experiment possible.

Sonos Playground Deconstructed will run April 3 - June 16, 2013 at Museum of the Moving Image along with Spectacle: The Music Video

Images courtesy of Sesse Lind

@aramique