Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For fusing the physical and digital worlds to transform the way people experience art

Beatie Wolfe is a multimedia shapeshifter—flagrantly bucking the trend of cookie-cutter pop stars and readily embracing the title of "musical weirdo and visionary." One glance at her project portfolio and it won’t be too surprising to learn she was chosen as a U.N. Women role model for innovation. 

It started with her debut album, 8ight, the world’s first to be released as a 3D hologram, with an iPhone and mirrored accessory giving digital shape to Wolfe’s songs. And she hasn’t stopped pushing.

At a time when most musicians are struggling to find their place—and a reliable revenue stream—Wolfe is taking on the big question: What can (and should) a song or album be in the digital age? Her projects present multiple answers that often cleverly integrate familiar sounds such as vocals and guitar with bleeding-edge tech. Augmented reality (AR), wearables and near-field communication (NFC) technologies have all made guest appearances in her work, and she has collaborated with everyone from astronomers and engineers to technologists and textile artists.

"All of the projects are completely different and first of their kind," Wolfe says. "For me, the technology aspect is really about facilitating the vision and bringing that to life." 

That means technology is not the project’s creative core. 

"Technology has fast-tracked a lot of what it means to be human on the planet today," she says. "But it shortchanges us in a lot of ways. I’m interested in the bridges between the physical and digital, between different fields and disciplines that are usually siloed." 

Here’s a closer look at four of Beatie’s game-changing projects. 

The Raw Space "Anti-Stream"

Wolfe calls it a Fantasia experience for the streaming age. Released as the world’s first 360-degree AR livestream, this project aimed to create "the antithesis of our streaming culture," she says. Produced in collaboration with Bell Labs and Design I/O, the video stream offered viewers a window into "the quietest room on earth," an anechoic chamber designed to stop all sound wave reflections. A vinyl copy of Wolfe’s album The Raw Space played on a turntable continuously for a week, overlaid with real-time AR animations and Wolfe herself performing songs.

The project’s schedule was as ambitious as its scope: Just six months after Bell Labs gave the green light to Wolfe, the livestream was out in the world. One particular point of pride for Wolfe was that no special gear—like those clunky virtual reality headsets—was required to enjoy a highly visual experience celebrating the immersive possibilities of an album. "I wanted people to feel like I did as a 7-year-old opening up Abbey Road," says Wolfe.

Beatie Wolfe Future 50 2022 "From Green to Red: An Environmental Protest"

From Green to Red

Named for a protest song Wolfe wrote after watching the climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, From Green to Red was built using 800,000 years of NASA data detailing the Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration levels. The project is about presenting data in a way that engages people to see the climate crisis differently, Wolfe says, so it’s clear "where we are right now." 

Produced in collaboration with design studio The Mill, it has taken three different forms thus far. First, Wolfe unveiled a streaming version at the Nobel Prize Summit (where she shared the stage with iconic U.K. naturalist filmmaker David Attenborough and former U.S. vice president and climate change activist Al Gore). The second incarnation was an interactive version at the London Design Biennale, which allowed people to activate the carbon data by moving their hands over the woven timeline to explore the onset of climate change. And then there was the latest iteration at last year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference, where Wolfe projected the artwork onto Norman Foster’s Armadillo building that was hosting part of the conference.

Victoria and Albert Museum Solo Exhibition

For The Art of Music in the Digital Age at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Wolfe had to carefully think through how to recreate the impact of certain pieces in a museum setting. For example, instead of having people wear headsets to see and hear The Raw Space "Anti-Stream," Wolfe worked with the V&A to create a portable version of the original anechoic room. The AR visuals bringing album artwork and lyrics to life could be seen through a classic coin-operated binoculars viewport. "For me, this approach was superior to doing it on a headset, as it was intuitive to operate and people could share the experience," Wolfe says.

Other projects featured in the career-spanning exhibit included the Palm Top Theatre, which offered visuals cued to Wolfe’s debut album and "the intelligent album deck" built around her second album, Montagu Square. Each card in the deck corresponds to a song from the album, offering artwork, lyrics and embedded NFC that lets people tap their phone for instant listening. 

Montagu Square Album Jacket 

Now this is a wearable. A collaboration with legendary tailor Michael Fish and textiles artist BeatWoven, the project revisits an artform that once reigned supreme in popular music: the record jacket

To create the piece, Wolfe’s record Montagu Square was translated into woven fabric, which Fish—who has made clothing for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie—designed and tailored into a jacket. The finishing touch involved a bit of technology: Wolfe tricked out the jacket with NFC so people can hear songs from Montagu Square by simply tapping a phone on the fabric. "The beauty of this project for me is that it’s a new way of thinking about an artform that we’ve lost," Wolfe says.