The Perfect Music Hack Day – London 2013

This weekend, Music Hack Day returned to the city where it all began. On Saturday morning, nearly 200 hackers arrived with the hottest hackathon tickets at the Shoreditch Works Village Hall, in Hoxton Square to spend the weekend exercising their passion for music and technology. After 24 hours of hacking, over 50 hacks were built – hacks that let you explore, discover, arrange, create and play with music.

Augdrum - Hacked drum for use in 'expressive' performance

Augdrum – Hacked drum for use in ‘expressive’ performance

I’ve been to many Music Hack Days, and I must say this was a special one. It had all the magical ingredients to make this the perfect event. First, the Shoreditch Works Village Hall was the ideal hacking venue.

Getting ready to hack at the Shoreditch Village Hall

Getting ready to hack at the Shoreditch Works Village Hall

It is located in the heart of London’s exploding tech community, surrounded by pubs and restaurants (in my five minute walk from the hotel to the Village Hall, I walked past a dozen pubs).  The Village Hall had perfect power and ample bandwidth for 200 data-starved hackers. The hackathon was sold out and everyone showed up, so we were all tightly packed into the hall – adding to the crazy energy. There’s a coffee shop connected to the hall where baristas were preparing coffee for the hackers long into the night.

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Food was not your standard hacker pizza – it was “modern British slow cooking” provided by the Bow Street Kitchen.  It really added to the London vibe.

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Finally, Thomas Bonte of MuseScore was in attendance – Thomas is the official photographer of Music Hack Day. He’s been taking pictures of MHD since the very first one. He takes great pictures and makes them all available on Flickr via Creative Commons. Check out his full set of the event on Flickr. He took nearly all the photos in this blog post except for this one:

Thomas Bonte at work

Thomas Bonte at work

Since the event was sure to sell out (everyone wants to go to a London Music Hack day), only the most motivated hackers were able to get tickets. Motivated hackers are the best kind of hackers.

Full house - hacker style

Full house – hacker style

These are the folks that arrive early, stay late, work hard and finish their hacks on time – leading to a very high level of hacks being built.

Full house for hackers at Music Hack Day

Full house for hackers at Music Hack Day

The event kicked off with organizer Martyn Davies providing opening remarks, followed by API presentations by various companies.  By 2PM hacking was in full swing.

Martyn Davies kicking things off

Martyn Davies kicking things off

24 hours later,  51 hacks had been completed and submitted to hacker league.  The epic demo session started at 3PM and by 6PM all the demos  had been completed and prizes were awarded.  Unlike other hack days, all the prizes were pooled and distributed to the top hacks (determined by popular vote).

Andy Bennett's rather complicated demo

Andy Bennett’s rather complicated demo

A new and awesome twist to the demo session was provided by Becky Stewart’s hack. She created #mhdbingo – a set of custom bingo cards filled with common Music Hack Day tropes and memes. Each hacker received a unique bingo card to fill out during the demo session. Bingo wins were recorded by tweets with the #mhdbingo hashtag.  Here’s a sample bingo card:

It's the center square that's the most interesting.

It’s the center square that’s the most interesting.

Becky’s hack not only provided a little humor for the demo session, but was a great tool to keep the attendees focused on the demo during the nearly 3 hour demo session. There was a point near the end of the demo session when seemingly dozens of folks were praying for a hack that showed ‘tracks on a map’ – and yes, their prayers were answered.  Becky’s hack is on Github and she accepts pull requests so if you have suggestions for more MHD memes and tropes go ahead and add them and submit the pull requests. I’m sure #mhdbingo will become a fixture at future Music Hack days.

Watching the demos at Music Hack Day

Watching the demos at Music Hack Day

Some of my favorite hacks of the weekend are:

Hipster Robot - A hipster robotic arm that stops you listening to any music it deems “too mainstream”

Didgidoo - An electronically augmented didgeridoo.

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#mhdbingo – the aforementioned Bingo game celebrating all our favourite Music Hack Day tropes.

Becky combines Latex and Bingo to reshape Music Hack Day forever

Becky combines Latex and Bingo to reshape Music Hack Day forever. Sitting behind her is someone else who, 10 years ago, reshaped music forever

notepad - Draw a piano on a paper pad, and start playing it!

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These are your Burns - takes your favourite bit of audio at the moment (Your ‘jam’ if you will) and creates a beautiful collage of memes, informed by the lyrics of the song, and presents them in a familiar documentary style.

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MidiModulator - This Python script will take a song and modulate the pitch with the melody of a chosen score (basically, another song). Think of it as FM, except instead of a frequency we take an entire Christmas carol.

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playsongsto.me -  a collaborative playlist tool with a difference – you have to convince your friends to keep adding tracks faster than you can listen to them or face the consequences!  This hack was created by Ross Penman – the youngest hacker to demo a project. I really liked his  unique double twist on the party playlister.

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album pairs - a nearly ready for the iOs App Store is the Album Pairs app by Iain Mullan – its an album cover matching game – when you make the match the corresponding song is added to the playlist.

Block Surfer - Rhythms created from waves using a bit of 2D physics.

Chiptar - hacked a guitar to control an 8-bit C64-inspired synth engine. Using an accelerometer it’s also possible to control arpeggiation.

best new sounds at the hack

best new sounds at the hack

Attention Deficit Radio – This is my hack – Attention Deficit Radio creates a Pandora-like radio experience for music listeners with short attention spans.

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The top popular crowd favorite was Lifesong. This hack was written by Ben Nunney entirely on an Amstrad 1512 – a mid-80s PC with 512k RAM and a 4Mhz processor. It’s based in Pascal with a BASIC wrapper around it.

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Since this computer has no network, audio out, or video out, Ben had to resort to some unusual methods to demo his hack.

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It was a really fun demo session. There were lots of unique hacks. See the full list on hacker league. Many APIs were used including Spotify, Deezer, Songkick, Last.fm, Twilio, SoundCloud, Discogs, MuseScore, MusicMetric and more. I was especially pleased to see that several dozen hacks use our Echo Nest API to make cool hacks.

Martyn doing his thing at Music Hack Day

Martyn doing his thing at Music Hack Day

Thanks to @martynd and everyone involved in organizing the Music Hack Day London. It really was the perfect Music Hack Day.

Thanks to Thomas Bonte for all the photos used in this post. Be sure to see the full set.

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