Check out Philip King’s wonderful performance that puts the A in STEAM

17 Jul 2017

From left: Domhnaill Hernon, head of innovation incubation, Nokia Bell Labs; and Philip King, creator, Other Voices. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Have you ever experienced sonic empathy? Using technology developed by Nokia Bell Labs, Other Voices creator Philip King showcased it at Inspirefest 2017.

One of the highlights of this year’s Inspirefest was a performance unlike any other and the first of its kind in Ireland.

Taking to the stage on Thursday (6 July) afternoon were Nokia Bell Labs’ head of innovation incubation, Domhnaill Hernon, and Other Voices creator Philip King, who managed to infuse centuries-old ideas with the latest in smart city technology.

This followed one of the key focuses of the event, that being the need to further our endeavours not just in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), but in STEAM, which adds ‘art’ into the equation.

90 years of history

Speaking on stage, Sligo native Hernon told of how Nokia Bell Labs’ president Marcus Weldon asked him to move to New Jersey, bringing his family’s deep, musical connection with him to the US.

This connection between the arts and technology is something the research company has been exploring for the past 90 years, Hernon said, having previously collaborated with the likes of graphic artist Robert Rauschenberg and composer John Cage to create new art forms.

But, for Hernon, merging technology with art requires much more than just creating a new piece of kit, rather, it needs something that resonates in a totally new way with a person or audience.

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

From smart cities to smart music

Hernon and his fellow researchers and engineers at Nokia Bell Labs are trying to break the emotional distance between two people in remote locations using technology, and adding the same responses we feel in close proximity.

This deep transmission of human emotion through live music was described by King as the ‘given note’ – quoting Séamus Heaney – which is something unquantifiable by humans.

The highlight of this was King using some of the latest smart city technology developed at Nokia Bell Labs to turn movement into sounds on stage.

While designed for analysing traffic patterns, Hernon and his colleagues wanted to see how it would react when pointed at fish in a tank.

Despite fearing the creation of some monstrous noise, the results astounded them, allowing them to realise the potential for unlocking new music from nature.

“Magically, the music created based on their movement was … very musical, very creative on the ear, and had pattern and structure to it, which really surprised us,” Hernon said.

You can check out King’s wonderful performance below.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic