Never one to do the expected, Björk has created a high-tech alternative to the smooth jazz that usually whistles through hotel lobbies. Commissioned by the New York hotel Sister City, the artist has written a generative score that uses Microsoft AI to respond to the changing activity in the sky above the hotel. Using a rooftop camera, it creates a unique musical composition for the lobby and is played 24 hours a day.
The piece is titled Kórsafn, which means choral archives in Icelandic. As such, the score uses choral arrangements Björk selected from her sonic archive, a resource that the 54-year-old musician has apparently compiled over four decades, which includes recordings by the Icelandic Hamrahlid Choir.
The AI responds to environmental changes in the sky above the hotel and learns the nuances of the changing seasons, such as weather events, different flocks of birds that pass through at various times of the year, sunsets and sunrises, and even barometric pressure. These events then influence the kind of choral arrangement that the AI pulls from the archive, adapting the score to reflect the sky. Over time, the AI gets smarter and is able to identity events more accurately, allowing the voices to evolve with it.
Björk describes the project in typically eccentric fashion, explaining "an architectural structure in Downtown Manhattan offered me the hand in an AI tango and I accepted the call." The choral snippets, she explains, will "float through the pinball of artificial intelligence by the grid of bird migrations, clouds, aeroplanes and that voluptuous thing called a barometer! Hudson Valley happens to be one of the most bird-trafficked deltas on the planet, I know this of my own experience."
"I am alert with curiosity waiting the results," she adds. The score is now available to hear at Sister City, New York City, and the hotel's website. It's part of an ongoing series of generative lobby soundscapes in a partnership between Sister City and Microsoft, which saw its inaugural score, Circumstance Synthesis, launch in April 2019 featuring experimental electronic musician Julianna Barwick.