Sister City’s AI-Generated Lobby Score

Recorded by Julianna Barwick, an ambient wave of music is determined by the mood of the city

Sister City, a new outpost from the people behind the Ace Hotel properties, feels like a secret, futuristic escape. Guests check themselves in at kiosks just inside the lobby doors, which exist beyond a stone patio and a doorman-equipped gate (with an even more private back entrance on Freeman Alley). If visitors wished to duck away from the chaos of the city for a minute, Sister City—with its modern and minimal design—is a welcome reprieve. But thanks to electronic musician Julianna Barwick, the hotel is an unexpected megaphone—with a constant stream of street-influenced sounds played in the lobby.

Generated by Microsoft‘s Artificial Intelligence, and done with assistance from NYU professor and music technologist Luisa Pereira, Barwick collected a vast library of sounds for the AI to compose into scores, which will play 24/7 in the lobby and never repeat. Using a camera mounted to the property’s roof, the AI reads the weather (cloud patterns, rain or snowfall) as well as the sunrise, sunset and various passersby, such as pigeons or jet planes. Then it’s all converted into symphonic ambiance.

On one of our visits, the sun shone brightly onto the hotel’s rooftop bar, Last Light, and the lobby’s soundtrack matched that—ambient in a way that matched the lobby’s aesthetic. As to not diverge too far from typical tunes, the music breaks to imitate a track changing.

These acoustics reverberate throughout the common spaces and delight without disrupting. When guests are listening on the rooftop, the soundtrack combines with the bustle of the Bowery below and forms a lulling, euphoric duet. It imitates, perhaps, what a city should sound like. “I think of it as a filter for the city more than anything,” Barwick tells us. “I like that I can supply a massive bank of sounds and go back to LA and the AI keeps working to make it fresh and new all the time.”

The score is a charming example of the harmony between technology and art. Altogether, it adds to the future-forward presence of automated luxury—from the attendant-free front desk to the self-service sundries on each floor.

Images by Evan Malachosky