“What does Pride mean to you?”
It’s a question that fans, artists and queer people everywhere are repeatedly asked all throughout the month of June. Each response comes with its own well of feelings that can be hard to comprehend. But a new installation in New York City wants to turn those feelings into something more beautiful.
Feel the Pride, a new exhibit from The Ally Coalition and Microsoft, takes that question and transforms it into an experience of sound and light for attendees. The exhibit starts with the simple prompt as participants answer the question, either on a desktop at the installation or with the hashtag #FeelThePride.
Attendees then enter a room filled with colored, stalactite-esque lights and a display that reiterates the prompt, and then displays each individual answer. With each answer that comes across the screen, the lights in the room change color and music begins playing, each corresponding with the emotion of the message being displayed.
That music comes courtesy of indie star St. Vincent — each individual “soundscape” was engineered by the producer and singer, with different aspects of each moment encapsulating a different emotion revolving around Pride. Then, as a message enters the system, Microsoft’s Sentiment Analysis artificial intelligence translates the words and phrasing used, and chooses corresponding lights and soundscapes to best fit the emotion of the message.
In a statement released with the opening of the exhibit, St. Vincent said that working on Feel the Pride proved to be a challenging project, with weaving together both music and externalized emotion. “Each ‘soundscape’ piece needed to be somewhat modular — to relate to one another in tempo and key, but be distinct in tone and feeling,” she wrote. “So I approached this like a puzzle, with perfectly polished pieces that fit together but that can also stand alone. I hope to elicit real emotion from visitors, from fear to joy.”
Amy Sorokas, Microsoft’s director of strategic partnerships, further elaborates, saying that the acclaimed singer created different “stems” along an emotional spectrum for Microsoft’s AI to pull from. “She definitely had strong feelings about what she wanted each of those states to be like,” she tells Billboard. “Maybe how something pretty positive still could have a little bit of discord in it.”
Jeb Gutelius, the executive director of the Ally Coalition, says that the installation was created in part to help inspire attendees to take their emotions and translate them into real action.
“One of our focuses is how do we engage fans to take an action? To be aware that discrimination is happening?” he tells Billboard. “And that fits really nicely with what [Microsoft] does with technology to connect, in this case, musicians and their fans to build that relationship.”
That mission is accomplished as participants exit the exhibit: a wall of text offers up different forms of action that participants could take, including volunteering, learning more about important legislation like the Equality Act, and donating. Those actions take physical form in a set of tablets, allowing attendees to sign up as a volunteer for GLAAD, donate to the organization, or read more about important issues within the community.
“What do you do about discrimination? It's so hard to come up with an action plan,” Gutelius says. “Instead of saying ‘This needs to change,' our hope is that people come out of this saying, 'We need to change that, and we can participate.'”
Feel the Pride is open through June 30 at 568 Broadway (at Prince Street) in New York City. For more information, or to look at upcoming special events at the exhibition, click here.