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Holly Herndon’s music is even better in 3D

If music were made of light instead of invisible vibrations, it might look like the room full of pulsing hanging bulbs currently shining in SoHo. 

Sonos is celebrating the arrival of Google Assistant to its high-end smart speakers with a visually and sonically alluring pop-up called The Brilliant Sound Experience.

The most compelling of the experience’s three rooms features the music of Holly Herndon, a recently minted Stanford PhD whose new album, Proto, features an AI vocalist named Spawn that she created. 

The Brilliant Sound Experience in SoHo.

The Brilliant Sound Experience in SoHo.

Image: Sonos

At the pop-up, each room is designed to explore a different element of sound: how your brain processes music, the different elements of the song, and the relationship between sound and physical space. The latter is Herndon’s room.

“One of the problems that I have is I have too many ideas for one song, and I have to cram everything in,” Herndon said in conversation with Mashable. “Hearing it spatialized in that way, it maybe even, dare I say, works better than in stereo.”

Herndon’s music is most often described as experimental electronica, but her latest work goes further. It is an ethereal experience of layered sound that has an almost classical feel, thanks to Herndon’s use of a traditional choir — with the addition of lively synth work, industrial bass, and Spawn.

That multi-dimensionality made her work a stunning base for the “sound-in-space” room, in which light represents sound by cascading down and through a room filled with vertically hung strings of lightbulbs. 

Don't just listen to music — walk through it.

Don’t just listen to music — walk through it.

Image: chamal samaranayake / Mashable

Engineers used a version of Herndon’s track “Eternal” with all of the sonic elements isolated. Then, as the different parts of the music played through Sonos speakers positioned throughout the room, light bulbs lit up in time with the broken-out elements. One tech said it caused an attendee to remark that it felt like the “lightbulb was singing” to them.

“Space is another musical parameter just like pitch, just like rhythm, just like timbre, and it’s something that’s often kind of neglected,” Herndon said. “When it’s spread out in that way, I feel like the brain can comprehend it more, because it’s not just flattened down into two outputs.”

The other two rooms similarly combine light and sound to represent music in a new way. One uses a track from the indie band The National to allow visitors to interact with the different elements of a song. The other presents visitors with a brain scanner that displays an artistic visual rendering of your brain’s activity; the thicker the undulating blob on the screen, the more your brain is responding to the music.

The most non-traditional rock band performance you're likely to ever see.

The most non-traditional rock band performance you’re likely to ever see.

Image: Sonos

The Brilliant Sound Experience also features a “Sound Lounge” that showcases Google Assistant on Sonos devices that visitors can see at any time. The three experiential rooms that require a tour. 

Sonos could have created another fluffy “Instagram museum.” But instead of just throwing up a selfie backdrop, they put together an experience capable of informing and inspiring curiosity in visitors.

The experience is worth a a visit and a ‘gram. And, hopefully, at least one phone-free moment to bathe in the sound and the light.

Sonos’ Brilliant Sound Experience is located at 107 Grand St. in New York, NY. It runs from Friday, June 7, at 10 a.m. through Sunday, June 9, until 8 p.m. Pre-reserved tickets are sold out, but walk-ups will be accepted on a limited basis. Anyone can check out the “Sound Lounge” main showroom during open hours. 

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