AI Powers Music Mood at Sister City / by VOCAL

Sister City

Sister City Announces New Generative Music Lobby Score Created by Experimental Musician Julianna Barwick in partnership with Microsoft

Sister City, a new, meticulously designed hotel in NYC that embraces technology to offer guests a modern respite, debuts a first-of-its-kind lobby music score. Inherent to Sister City’s founding ethos was the question of its sonic landscape — Sister City asks what new shapes music can take as a site-specific, living extension of the hotel, and looked to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports and John Cage’s concept for 4’33”” as touch points for these conversations.

Sister City completely rethinks how sound can be specifically designed for public spaces by responding directly to the environment it lives in. Rather than employing a playlist, it expands the possibilities of audiospheres and conceived an idea borne from Sister City’s experiential design, use of technology and love of harmony and balance. They worked with Microsoft to help with the project, and together brought in indie electronic musician Julianna Barwick to collaborate on a generative music score that exists as an extension of the hotel instead of an added layer. The result is an ever-evolving soundscape that uses technology to respond to its environment.


“Ever since we first heard Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, we’ve been obsessed with the idea of creating music for a specific space. Working with Julianna Barwick and Microsoft to bring this creative dream to life has been rad — stuff like this is why we build hotels in the first place.” —Ryan Bukstein, VP of Brand, Atelier Ace.

Julianna worked with Microsoft to create a composition that uses Sister City’s sky camera on the roof to respond to the neighborhood: sounds that loop and shift as a pigeon flies overhead; during sunrise, sunset or rain; as a cloud or airplane traverses across the sky. Ever-evolving and in concert with nature’s moving targets, the piece enlightens guests to their surroundings in exuberant and innovative ways.

“I hope it’s going to inspire people to wonder and to be excited and curious as to what the different sounds mean, but also for it to be a pleasing thing to listen to. I lived in New York City for 16 years, so I almost see this installation as an homage to that vibe, and that neighborhood, and my time in New York. So it's kind of emotional a little bit personal.” – Julianna Barwick, musician

This installation utilizes Microsoft’s Custom Vision API to identify the objects captured by the hotel’s roof cam. The AI has been trained to ID various objects or incidents and match them with specific loops and sounds composed by Julianna. The collab is part of Microsoft’s Music x Technology program, bringing together Microsoft technology and boundary-pushing artists to transform the way we create and experience music. Past partnership have featured Brian Eno, Childish Gambino and Alison Wonderland. Sister City’s score will continue to evolve as they invite new artists to contribute.

Julianna Barwick - Recording process

Sister City is a hotel distilled to its most beautiful parts. Created by the people behind Ace Hotel and inspired by the functional perfection of Finnish saunas, Japanese bento boxes, the rock-cut cliff dwellings of prehistory and John Cage’s 4’33”, Sister City offers 200 intimate, efficient rooms, a ground-floor restaurant Floret and rooftop bar Last Light right on the Bowery, Manhattan’s oldest and most storied thoroughfare.

As a hotel, Sister City is inspired by the philosophy of Less, But Better. The inherent satisfaction of having just enough. They asked what was needed for today’s traveler, and shaved off the excess, considering aesthetic sustenance and human connection modern needs as well. The result: a new prototype for compassionate hospitality where efficiency and beauty find union. Sister City provides you shelter from the elements, but orients you to the wider world, as well.