As Seattle-based indie rocker Will Toledo, who performs as Car Seat Headrest, gyrated around KEXP’s new live studio this afternoon, 1,850 LED bulbs danced along with him, tracing his movements.
The lights were responding to three Microsoft Kinects that equip the studio, thanks to a partnership with the Redmond software giant. KEXP and Microsoft planned the Live Room makeover with video in mind. The Seattle radio station gained a global audience by taking video of live sessions with artists in its old South Lake Union studio and putting them on YouTube. The upgraded Live Room in KEXP’s new home, at Seattle Center, is a high-tech homage to the original studio where artists performed in front of a signature twinkly light background.
“The exciting part of this project for us was working with KEXP to figure out how we could use Microsoft technology, like Kinect and Surface, to bring to life what they wanted to do in this space with the look and the aesthetic, in this space, that linked back to the old studio that they had — twinkly Christmas lights, literally — and bring it into something for the future and something that they had a little more control over,” said Amy Sorokas, Director, Brand Studio at Microsoft.
Car Seat Headrest, which now includes Toledo and three backup musicians, was the first act to perform in the upgraded studio, showing off the technology with a live recording that managed to be both angsty and upbeat. The musicians played tracks off their new album Teens of Denial, a medley of moody guitar-heavy songs with lyrical shout-outs to rockers past, like Patty Smith and The Velvet Underground.
Pink and blue orbs hanging in 360-degrees around them responded to their motion as the performers danced around the room. The lights can also be programmed, via a Surface Pro 4, with different colors, shapes, and logos.
“It’s a fluid simulation using the head and hands to dump ink to into an aquarium, essentially, is the best analogy I could come up with,” said Noah Norman, an artist with the creative firm Listen, which helped design the Live Room.
KEXP also added a series of interactive digital portraits, by artist Carlo Van de Roer, in the station’s gathering space/coffee shop/lobby. Each image is equipped with a Microsoft Kinect. When a viewer moves in front of the portrait, the Kinect senses the motion and changes the lightening and position of the subjects in the image. The portraits, which feature Phantogram, Matthew Dear, and Alan Palomo of Neon Indian, will be on display for about a month.
“He uses a light rig that moves lights around faster than you can even see with your eye and captures motion in such a way where we were able to then put a Kinect controller on the portraits and let the folks standing in front of them…move those portraits and the light that is in that portraiture around,” said Sorokas.
She’s the first to admit, it’s hard to explain without experiencing the portraits in person.
KEXP and Microsoft have a long history working together. The grand opening of the radio station’s new Seattle Center facility included an art installation that allowed visitors to alter and remix music via touch, using Microsoft Kinect sensors and mesh netting.
The Live Room is part of Microsoft’s Music x Technology program, which highlights musicians who use Microsoft products in innovative ways.