May 17, 2019 | By Anupreet Bhui
These days, concerts can feel pretty sterile and impersonal. You look around the venue and everyone has their phones in their faces, and you can’t even be sure that the crowd is having a good time, or whether they are more concerned with making a festival-style filter for their Snapchat channel. Happily Manifest, is a new music project and interactive space, looking to change the way we experience music and relate to performers.
The newly launched collective works with musicians and artists to create multi-sensory spaces that tap into the creators’ inner conscience. Taking place in Brooklyn earlier this month, the first incarnation, Manifest 1.0, was envisioned by emerging musician Sunni Colón in conjunction with his design agency, Tetsu, founder Jordan Caldwell, and multimedia collective The Family. We sat down with Jordan and Sunni to hear more about the project and talk about the future of music.
What is Manifest 1.0? How did it come about and what inspired the project?
Jordan: The relationship between music and memory has always been really intriguing to me. I’ve learned a lot about how my brain works through trying to understand why hearing a song or album can trigger such specific memories or overall feelings from a period of time like nothing else can. For my honors thesis in digital studies at USC, I built a light and projection-based installation that visually explored songs I have a strong connections with through memory – songs that trigger vivid, visceral flashbacks from when I heard them for the first time. After graduating, I moved to New York with the goal of expanding upon that idea in a more developed installation and hoped to eventually partner with an artist to design an environment for their music to be heard for the first time. Manifest 1.0 sets out to prove that concept and be the first of many music-based, artist-designed installations.
Sunni: Manifest 1.0 is the archetype of TETSU and myself. I’ve always been inspired by the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind, and my background stems from a dense culture of esoteric knowledge and indigenous rituals. So when conceptualizing the space, I wanted to implement a gnostic design that was a vessel for that knowledge. While pondering on the idea of forming a world that could align with my core values, I knew that there was more to tap into than one physical layer. The multi-sensory thread of 1.0 was induced by the various realms that I wanted to apply in the space. The circle is an ancient and universal symbol of unity, wholeness, infinity, and the sun. To geocentric religions throughout history, as well as to various modern pagans, it symbolizes the feminine spirit, the cosmos or a spiritualized Mother Earth, and a sacred space.
How does the exhibition foster a unique relationship between computers and humans?
Sunni: In the age of information, I believe that it is important for us to not disconnect from our natural selves. We’re all so consumed by technology that it is often hard to balance our psyche and be present. The state of bliss and mindfulness are the essence of the exhibition. One of the ethos of TETSU is to bridge the fundamental gap between technology and humans. Apart from integrating tech into the design, we’ve instructed a no phone policy during the performance which enables the sense of freedom we want to nurture.
What kind of features did you employ to give each guest a different kind of experience?
Sunni: At ticket purchase, we asked each guest to describe a story about being alone; a feeling that we often experience but habitually become numb to. To capture the individuality of each audience member, we used the power of IBM’s Watson AI to analyze the emotional tone of each person’s story and create a unique information card that recognizes them in the space. Each guest receives a color and a sound through their card. Our interactive designer, SkylarJessen did an amazing job executing this.
How does the space use multi-sensory details to tap into the inner conscious and explore a deeper level of emotional intelligence?
Sunni: The multi-sensory experience is in harmony with the design of the space. A formless world, consisting of pure consciousness of its ethereal inhabitants, exchanging information more efficiently and in greater quantity than the supercomputers of our world.This is a place of divine inspiration free of earthly desires and conflict.
What are the future plans for this exhibition?
Jordan: 1.0 is just the beginning of many Manifest-curated immersive music experiences, both physical and digital. Every musician creates from a different space and sees their music a different way, so each exhibition will take on a completely different form. In addition to partnering with a diversity of musicians to keep pushing the envelope on live performance, the plan is to continue working with an interdisciplinary group of artists, designers and engineers and let their practice inform what it means to create a “subversive listening experience”. Hopefully, through a lot of trial and error, we eventually find ideal listening experiences for respective types of music.
What do you think is the future of music performance?
Jordan: Music performance has to evolve the same way that its distribution has evolved. We almost solely discover music digitally now, which means two things: we fall in love with an artist before ever hearing their music live and regardless of where they are based geographically. Emerging artists based in the U.S. are now getting their big break from promo tours in Europe or Asia, but it’s not always financially feasible. Plus, they may not have created their music with the primary intent of playing it live when they know most people will listen to it on some kind of computer. The future of performance has to allow an artist to perform for niche fan bases in distant locations, even if they aren’t physically present to perform. Immersive media and virtual worlds will allow artists to feel physically present to those fans and perform for them live on a much wider scale, as well as allow artists to create a more nuanced experience than they could ever afford to transport with them on the road.
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