Technologically Sound

By Kelly Cho | Sónar has long been respected for its pioneering electronic music program and cutting-edge format, and connecting music to creativity and technology is precisely what makes it unique. This summer in Barcelona, Sónar marks its 25th anniversary. The second Hong Kong edition took place in March, and part of the festival in both places includes groundbreaking technological innovations presented in the Sónar+D series.

Sónar plays a vital role in promoting digital culture and visual arts through the Sónar+D series, and SónarHK offered an inspiring and insightful journey with the latest music and technology intertwined.

The Languages Of Robots In Hong Kong, my Sónar+D journey starts with an intriguing talk, “Can robots create their own language?” by Michael Spranger, a researcher from Sony Computer Science Laboratories. In their recent research, robots were allowed to develop meaning and communication systems that shared similar features with human language systems.

The way robots learn and create their expressions is almost the same as infants and children. They learn from each other, compete and choose the appropriate word. The linguistic systems they developed even have different patterns in various nations. Robots are therefore able to undergo mental development and build a cultural identity.

To better facilitate our understanding, one of their advanced projects – Das Fremde – was brought to SónarHK. Designed by Hong Kong artist Pauline Yau, the intricate scenography creates a striking artificial forest full of laser-cut paper flowers and plants accompanied by beautiful forest sounds.

Inside this stunning and dreamy environment, the robotic agents are talking, inventing language and culture in real time in response to us… the human invaders. It raises the question of how we should respond to machines and artificial intelligence. Art and technology, humans and robots are made to communicate, and we are encouraged to reflect on their interesting relationships.

Controlling Music In The Air

On the same floor is Market Lab with an array of mind-blowing products. The Immersive Sound Stage designed by 3DSND takes it one step further by allowing the audience to experience 3D surround sound, and interact with it. With mere hand movements, the audience controls the volume and spatialization of different instruments.

No prior knowledge is required, and it helps us to understand the complexity of music composition in an intuitive and engaging way.

Automatic Music Machines

Nowadays it’s common to compose music with MIDI instruments and computers, but The Automat by dadamachines brings back the real instruments and turn them into machines to play music automatically with a controller. There are mallet and percussion accessories made tiny, along with innovative sounds created by hitting a cup, shaking a box of pins, and more. Together they form a unique sound-producing system that gives us an amazing and experimental live experience.

Other Highlights

Ableton and Novation showcase their new innovative tools like Push 2 and Launchpad, which are amazing workstations for music makers to produce and perform.

MTRL HK by Loftwork Ltd brings some 3D-printed craftwork to promote its digital design technology and invite open collaboration.

Some other interesting activities are going on simultaneously, like the conference featuring the humanoid Sophia robot, the virtual reality (VR) gallery, workshops to build synthesisers, talks, and more.

About The Author

Kelly Cho is an intern with Jumpstart. She is a Year 2 student at the University of Hong Kong who is passionate about music and the related technologies.

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