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Kronos Quartet & Trevor Paglen: Sight Machine

28 June, 2019

Trevor Paglen

Barbican presents the UK premiere of Sight Machine, a project between American visual artist Trevor Paglen and San Francisco based string quartet Kronos Quartet that focuses attention on the growing ubiquity of artificial intelligence technology in our lives by analysing a shared human experience – a concert – with machine-vision systems in real time.

Many companies are currently developing technologies that can analyse emotions in real-time in order to better understand human behaviour. This technology makes use of self-learning deep neural networks, complex mathematical systems which can teach themselves to carry out tasks by analysing large quantities of data.

In his work, Trevor Paglen examines whether it is possible to reduce human creativity and emotional expression to data and calculations. Paglen’s large-scale multimedia performance Sight Machine shows how machines and their algorithms perceive a live concert and urges audiences to consider the social, ethical, economic, and political consequences of such new ways of “seeing”.

On stage, the world-renowned string quartet Kronos Quartet performs works by composers Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich and Trio Da Kali’s Fodé Lassana Diabaté. During the performance, the musicians are being monitored by an array of cameras that feed into a suite of computer vision algorithms used in applications from self-driving cars and guided missiles to facial recognition and biometric surveillance. The software has been modified so that it, in turn, produces images of the information that it “sees”, which are then projected onto a screen behind the performers in real time.

Sight Machine illustrates the discrepancy between what we experience as human beings and what machines “see”.

Debuted for an invited audience in San Francisco in January 2017 as part of Trevor Paglen’s artist residency at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center, Sight Machine received its world premiere at the Holland Festival in June 2018.

Kronos Quartet & Trevor Paglen: Sight Machine is part of the Barbican’s 2019 season, Life Rewired, which explores what it means to be human when technology is changing everything.

Produced by the Barbican

Kronos Quartet & Trevor Paglen: Sight Machine. Thursday 11 Jul 2019, Barbican Hall, 8.30pm Tickets £20 – £35 plus booking fee 

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