Think 2020:
design synesthesia

IBM partnered with Grammy-winning recording artist Imogen Heap and world-renowned design studio FIELD to create a visual identity for IBM’s Think 2020 conference

Watch Imogen’s talk at Think 2020
Watch ‘Making of the visual identity’
Watch the video

Imogen Heap and IBM

IBM is always looking for inspiring, inventive partners with whom to collaborate — partners like Imogen Heap. Known for pushing the boundaries as a performer and producer, Imogen blends art and technology to create new ways to make and share music. We asked Imogen to help us create something special for Think 2020.

To start her journey, Imogen visited the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, to record the sounds of systems and science at work. Some can be heard with the naked ear, and others only with the help of specialized recording equipment, but through Imogen’s unique process these simple sounds become extraordinary instruments in a signature musical score.

The sounds of IBM Research

Annealing furnace

This piece of equipment in the semiconductor clean room heats round wafers of silicon to 1,000°C, affecting their electrical properties in various desired ways.

“As I walked around IBM, I began to hear the sounds of flutes, trumpets and strings coming from these machines.”

Data center electric responses

The electronic waves emitted from hundreds of processors within a data center are converted to audio to produce these trumpet-like sounds.

Quantum computer cooling system

Harnessing the power of a quantum computer requires achieving constant temperatures near absolute zero, at 15 millikelvin. The cooling equipment makes a tinkling whoosh sound.

Semiconductor lab power supply

This substation provides uninterruptible power for the Microelectronics Research Laboratory where semiconductor wafers are manufactured and tested. It emits a constant low hum that becomes the bass sound.

FIELD and IBM

London-based design agency FIELD worked with Imogen and IBM to transform the layers of data within Imogen’s composition into a new visual language.

Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense, such as hearing, is simultaneously perceived by another, such as sight. The design team built a visual engine that is driven directly by Imogen’s musical data. The results are unique visual compositions that move and respond to the data within the song, creating a synesthetic visual effect.