Inspirefest snapshot: The Nobel Prize-winning lab changing music

1 Jun 2018

Image: Conor McCabe photography

Domhnaill Hernon, the head of Experiments in Art and Technology at Nokia Bell Labs, will take to the Inspirefest stage again this year to talk about the work he does pushing the boundaries of possibilities within STEAM.

Nokia Bell Labs has a rather fascinating history. The Labs originally were formed after the consolidation of a number of engineering departments within the American Telegraph & Telephone (AT&T) and the Western Electric Company, the latter of which was the manufacturing organisation for the Bell System. The Bell System provided telephone services to much of the US and Canada between 1877 and 1984, at various points even having a monopoly.

The scientists were brought together in what was called Bell Laboratories (now Nokia Bell Labs after a 2016 acquisition) not to merely surmount quotidian engineering challenges, but to dive into the science of sound, speed and sight and see what the future had in store for the industry – and the lab hasn’t stopped looking ahead since. For its efforts, many of its researchers have received Nobel Prizes.

Sligo native Domhnaill Hernon is the head of Experiments in Arts and Technology at Nokia Bell Labs. His engineering background coupled with his musical family roots mean that he is extremely well-suited to the role, which sees him getting to explore not just what new kits and devices can be made to expand musical capabilities, but how the audience relationship with music will transform in years to come.

It may surprise you to learn that the company has, for more than 90 years, been deeply exploring the connection between arts and technology, having previously collaborated with artists such as composer John Cage. Hernon made a point of emphasising this last year at Inspirefest where he took to the stage with Other Voices’ Phillip King to discuss the future of music and to experience ‘sonic empathy’.

“There has to be a deeper connection between technology and the human, and technology really has to enable better things for humans,” Hernon said.

This year, Hernon and Nokia Bell Labs bring something totally different but equally exciting to Inspirefest. Bbeatboxer and Experiments in Arts and Technology artist Reeps One will battle it out with an AI twin on stage.

For inspiration from extraordinary thinkers, catch Domhnaill Hernon and more at Inspirefest in Dublin on 21 and 22 June. Get your tickets now.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic