Akshai Sarin transforms Royal Carribean Cruise ship into a musical instrument

 Akshai Sarin transforms Royal Carribean Cruise ship into a musical instrument

Rajkumari Sharma Tankha

Artist-Technologist Akshai Sarin has achieved an unprecedented feat in the world of technology, music and art. He technologically transformed one of the world’s largest passenger cruise ships, Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Spectrum of The Seas, into a playable music installation. This is the first time the world that a cruise ship of this magnitude has been transformed into a playable music instrument. And then took his creation, Sonokinesis, to over 20 countries, including Singapore, Brazil, India, Maldives, and the UAE, for performance, winning wide acclaim.
Born in Bangalore, Akshai Sarin was raised in Philippines, Madurai, Mumbai, Delhi, Muscat, Cairo, London. “I did my university in the USA. I wanted to study Artificial Intelligence and Holography but ended up doing Liberal Arts at Lawrence University – majoring in Economics, along with Philosophy and International Studies. Since Lawrence was a great music school, I studied Physics of Music, Psychology of Music, was part of the Improvisational Music Orchestra and also had the most talented musician-friends. When I moved to London after that, I studied a bit of Music Theory and Composition,” he says.
Over the years, he bagged quite a few awards and honours for his innovations, entrepreneurship and music like Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year (Runner-Up) award by Rolling Stone Magazine & British Council.
In an email interview, Sarin talks to us about his life & more. Excerpts:

How does it feel to complete a dual World Record – the ‘First and largest cruise ship played as a musical instrument.’
It feels amazing to manifest something from the realm of imagination, into the real world. I’m grateful for the belief and support from Royal Caribbean Cruises’ CEO in Singapore and Tirun’s office in India.

What is Sonokinesis?
Sonokinesis is a performance or installation at the intersection point of music, art and technology – the transformation of everyday surfaces and objects into dynamic, playable musical instruments. Sonokinesis is a word I came up with by combining ‘sono’ (sound) and ‘kinesis’ – something implied to be ‘kinesthetic’, related to movement of the parts of the body. To put in simple words, making sound through movement (by tapping the fingers, body etc).

How did you go about technologically transforming the large passenger cruise ships, Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Spectrum of The Seas, into a playable music installation. When did the idea of doing so hit you.
Well the original plan was with a five star hotel, to convert their building into a music instrument – for their 10 year anniversary. Then I got tempted by the sheer human imagination and engineering feat behind a cruise ship. A floating city, 18 stories high, 1100 feet long, with 5000 human beings on it? That’s bigger than 10 hotels on land!!

How much time did it take? What kind of challenges did you face and how did you overcome those?
We started work on it in April 2023 and went on board three times, did two sailings to understand the dynamics. The biggest challenge in doing something new as a creative person is always getting people to stretch their imagination, to see what’s possible. Unfortunately, only when people see it, can they potentially believe it.
But seeing isn’t enough, because people wonder if the entire thing is pre-recorded. So doing is always better than seeing – getting the audience to come up and engage, play and test the surface themselves helps.
Since I had only done this in simulations, there were a lot of variables we had to deal with – strength of the wind out at open sea, vibration of the ship’s engine, even things like the availability of a sound system to transmit the sound. I remember having a lot of issues while testing the equipment at the ship’s poolside, because of the scorching heat, my laptop and equipment started over heating and hanging.

What after it now. Are you satisfied and done, or is your sight now fixed on some higher laurel?
I have my sights set on Sonokinesis performances converting iconic monuments like Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower… Where the monument itself can be the lead instrument in an orchestra! It’d be cool to jam with an orchestra led by AR Rahman or Hans Zimmer.
I’d also like to continue to apply Sonokinesis to brand activations. I think event companies and brands in the automobiles, consumer electronics, retail, real estate and FMCG would benefit immensely. Wowing consumers and audiences by creating engagement, viral content,  experiential and corporate events – converting brands’ products into playable instruments.
We’ve previously converted Armani Exchange’s retail store intro a music instrument, also an area outside Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, a surf board for the Ministry of Tourism etc.  

What/ Who inspired to enter the world of music. How did your parents support your decision? And how did you go about it.
Ihe got beats in my blood byabby! (sounds like a rap verse lol). My grandmother(s) sang and played instruments like harmonium and sitar. My dad plays guitar and sings really well. So the genes must’ve come from somewhere. Interestingly, it was technology that inspired me to make music – I used to take apart my Walkman, tape up wires together to make rudimentary samplers, connect them to a toy Casio keyboard (yes, like the one Ross played in Friends) and a computer!
My parents have always been supportive, giving me free rein in my life experiments. They did have a hard time in the beginning – considering the unpredictability of a creative and entrepreneurial career. But once they saw my passion and persistence, they gave all the support humanly possible. I’m really grateful to them and my brother for always saying positive things. Especially because when I started out, releasing my first album as a teenager, it was unheard of as a career option. But yeah, my story is unfortunately one of the stereotypical Indian creative – living in a country with little support for a career outside left brain activities like accounts, computers, 9 to 5 jobs.

Having lived in a number of countries now, which country do you think is most suited to an artist like you?
Great question. I’ve loved everywhere I’ve been. Everywhere has its pros and cons – London was probably creatively the most accelerating, because it was in my early twenties. Bringing experiences from that culture, amalgamating it with ours when I came back to India was equally exciting. See, when you travel, you see the things that are common in us, that unite us and you seek and connect with that everywhere you go. But all said and done, I love India and right now being here feels right.

Who do you consider as your ideal?
“If I do not try to be what I am not, I give myself permission to be who I am.” So. Whatever ‘Akshai Sarin’ could be at his fullest potential is the ideal. If I can live to even a fraction of that potential, I’m content.

What are your other interests/hobbies
I enjoy adding value to brands and corporations via strategy workshops, consulting and disruptive marketing campaigns. For CXOs, individuals/startups and educational institutions – workshops, coaching and mentoring. When I’m not doing that, my personal time is spent reading, mostly books on spiritual practices, meditation and self development. Spending time in nature, swimming, mountains at the beach. Also as much time with family as possible.

What are your ongoing/ future projects?
Everything is taking baby steps towards growth.
I’m currently focused on my social enterprise, ‘BlessdBuy’ and our foundation. We are one of South Asia’s largest makers of eco-friendly products. In 2023, over 1 million people used our eco-friendly products and majority of our sales proceeds went to makers, who are underserved communities and sustainable producers in rural India.
Also, this year ‘The TiLT Festival & Conference’ will be celebrating 14 years of bringing together philanthropists, creatives and CXOs to address some of the world’s urgent problems. The TiLT has previously helped raise funds for socially-committed organisations like UNICEF India.
Aside from the social impact initiatives, in 2024, we will be celebrating 10 years of TTOGETHER.co – one of India’s earliest disruptive + culture marketing agencies, which carried forward my learnings from working at energy drink Red Bull. We’ve done exciting projects with brands like Armani Exchange, Heineken, Superdry, W Hotels, Mother Dairy, Abu Dhabi Tourism, Incredible India, to name a few.

Where do you see yourself, 10 years from now.
I don’t. I’m focused on the present moment, at the moment!


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