AI brings “dreams” to life at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

Interview with Refik Anadol

For 100 years, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been redefining what an orchestra can be. This Fall, artist Refik Anadol, 33, collaborated with the Artists and Machine Intelligence program to design a visual projection for the exterior of the Philharmonic’s home: Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Artist Refik Anadol in his studio in Los Angeles, California. © Jackie Russo

“The original idea was to let a concert hall gain consciousness. The idea came to me the very first day I arrived in Los Angeles from Istanbul. I remember renting a car and driving downtown just to have a look at Walt Disney Concert Hall. I was a photographer then, interested in architecture, and [architect] Frank Gehry was a hero of mine. I received my first parking ticket in LA that night, but I immediately started dreaming. Now, almost six years later, that dream is alive.

A rendering of a scene from Refik Anadol’s “WDCH Dreams.” In this scene, the hall “remembers” photographs from the orchestra’s archives. © Refik Anadol Studio

Back then, I wasn’t aware of machine learning as a field of study. When I met Kenric McDowell in 2016, I began thinking of consciousness as a concept through the lens of machine learning. I believed that there must be a way to bring data visualization and machine intelligence together.

WDCH Dreams is the most ambitious project I’ve ever embarked on from a technological, storytelling, and collaboration point of view. The data consists of two types of universes: one is image-based, the other is sound-based. Together, it makes up nearly 45 terabytes. Looking at it is like looking at the memory of this institution. How would we find meaning in this vast amount of information? It felt impossible. With machine learning, however, we were able to take every single data point — photos, events, sound recordings of music, theater, and opera — and organize them into clusters of recognizable features. Every musician, musical instrument, event, or object is now arranged by its similarities. Once a machine understands and classifies this information, you have a new latent space that you can now ask of it anything, like, an imagination.

In the end, what you are seeing and feeling is a complete abstraction. My favorite part is when the building begins to dream. It starts truly showing the inner structure of the building. It’s the very first time the steel skin disappears, and you can completely see the behind the walls of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Seeing families, of all backgrounds, coming and enjoying [WDCH Dreams] peacefully in downtown Los Angeles, hearing the performance, experiencing it — this is the moment you live for as an artist. You feel it completely.”

– Refik Anadol, as told to Artists and Machine Intelligence (AMI)

WDCH Dreams premiered in September, and illuminated downtown Los Angeles for eight days, every 30 minutes from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Through October 2019, visitors are able to explore the LA Phil’s archives in an immersive and interactive exhibition inside of Walt Disney Concert Hall, in the Ira Gershwin Gallery. For the first time, viewers anywhere can now experience WDCH Dreams in video.

Refik Anadol is a media artist and director, born in Istanbul, Turkey. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California, and is a lecturer and visiting researcher in UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts.

Artists and Machine Intelligence (AMI) is a program at Google Arts & Culture that invites artists to work with engineers and researchers together in the design of intelligent systems.

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Artists + Machine Intelligence

This publication showcases collaborations with artists, engineers and researchers as part of Google’s Artists and Machine Intelligence program.

Artists + Machine Intelligence

Written by

We bring artists and engineers together to realize projects with machine intelligence at Google.

Artists + Machine Intelligence

This publication showcases collaborations with artists, engineers and researchers as part of Google’s Artists and Machine Intelligence program.

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