music for emergent and traditional narrative forms

Amazon Spheres

Amazon Understory at The Spheres

The Spheres is the latest addition to Amazon’s downtown Seattle headquarters. The innovative building offers employees a work environment that’s more like a rainforest than an office. To properly explain this groundbreaking new building, Amazon set out to establish a free, public visitor center at The Spheres, called Understory. The name Understory refers to the lush habitat between the rainforest floor and canopy, and provides a fully immersive, 360-degree experience where visitors can get up close and personal with the science, engineering, and plants behind The Spheres. 


In close collaboration with Belle & Wissell, Co, I composed generative music for the installation- we created a system of music that behaves like a cloud forest ecosystem. There's a long, undulating bed of tones created by bowing a marimba- akin to the ambient role of mist and wind on leaves. Layered on top of this bed are short musical phrases that play the role of the conversation that birds, insects and animals have all day and night. These short bursts create a call-and-response effect- the sound sources are as diverse as the international latitudes where cloud forests can be found: Indonesian gamelan bells, Malaysian gopichands, Andean guitars, vocal effects, flutes from around the world, etc. 

To create a soundscape that is both generative (always changing, never repeating) and musical (has emotional narrative and not random feeling), Belle & Wissell and I came up with this system:

Generative Composition Audio Engine

  • long blue wave shows the relative volume of the bowed marimba bed

  • green bars are the short phrases that come in and out to create an ever-changing musical conversation

  • long green wave shows the density of those phrases. 


In addition to the generative soundscape I composed several pieces to accompany a series of short vignettes that show tours through different part of the Spheres building:


To learn more about the Understory installation please visit Belle & Wissell and Seattle Spheres. Here's a short documentary that shows an overview: