The Busker and the CTO

At the recent Music Hackday developers Matt Biddulph and George J Cook garnered the Echo Nest prize with their iPhone Music Visualiser.  They recently  took a few minutes to answer some of my questions about themselves and the hack – so, without further ado, here are their answers:

1) Tell me a bit about yourselves. Where do you live? What do you do for a living? What do you do for fun?

 Matt: I live in London and I’m the CTO at Dopplr ( I used to work at BBC Radio putting radio on the internet, and I’m a big music fan.

George: I live in London. I’m a musician and a flex contractor.

George as a digital busker

George as a digital busker

I was a busker for many years, and lived in a van, so now for fun I combine all of those aspects – I’m making an iphone app called iBusk: it’s the worlds first iphone busker. I also love being geeky and watching great movies – just saw Moon this weekend it’s really good, I highly recommend it.

2) How did each of you find your way to the Music Hackday. How did you hear about it? What made you want to hole up for 30+ hours with 200 programmers during a summer weekend?

Matt:I heard about the hackday from Dave Haynes, one of the organisers, whose company Soundcloud shares an office with us in East London. As a CTO I don’t always get a chance to spend solid time on coding as I’m busy running a company. The chance to sharpen some coding skills and try out some new APIs in a concentrated burst was very attractive. I heard the hackday was getting a lot of signups and I was looking forward to meeting a big crowd of like-minded geeks. Luckily the weather outside turned out to be pretty awful too.

George: I heard about it from my friend Jamie – he thought it’d be up my street, and he’s right.. the idea of lots of guys getting together for a common cause appeals to me – it has an A-team kind of feel to it, except the api’s are a bit more advanced than what ba hanniba and face would find in an old shed – though a montage of us building software probably isn’t as exciting as the A-team building a tank

 3) Had you met each other before the hack day? How did you decide to hook up and work together?

 Matt: We’d never met. I’d decided I wanted to do some for the iPhone as I’ve been learning Cocoa in my spare time. I was talking about what project to code with Eric from Soundcloud and George overheard us. He’s been working on some games that’ll be in the appstore soon and he was looking for an iPhone project to join.

 It turned out we’d both done some work with the cocos2d game framework and so we had a shared knowledge of basic graphics programming. We’re both programmers so we divided up the tasks – I concentrated mostly on the web API access and George did most of the cocos2d coding.

George: I’ve never met anyone at hack day before. Matt was sat 2 desks away and said the word “iphone app” loud enough for my detectors to kick in, so I asked him what he was up to and asked if I could help. He’s a nice chap, so he let me join him :)

 4) The project you built for hackday looks really cool – tell me about it – how did you build it? What APIs did you use? What’s next?

mhd-imv Matt: Our project uses the Soundcloud API to get a list of available tracks. When you choose a track, it downloads the MP3 and uploads it to Echonest for analysis (the free Objective C wrapper for the Echonest API helped us get started very quickly). When that’s done, it downloads the segment loudness data and uses it as a timeline to animate a visualisation of the music while playing back the track in sync. There’s a video at

 The OpenGL graphics are generated by cocos2d – – which is a really easy-to-use and well-structured framework for games. It gives you primitives such as sprites, particle systems and drawing tools without needing any OpenGL knowledge.

 We used Github to collaborate on the source code while we were coding. We’ve open-sourced the code and so anyone who wants to use it as the basis for another project or improve the visualiser with better graphics is welcome to clone a copy from


Matt presenting his and Georges hack

Matt presenting his and George's hack


George: Matt was the genius behind the API’s – and I see he’s already elaborated on that: We basically took the echonest analysis and used the cocos2d iphone engine to create graphical representaitons. I was excited to be doing something with echonest as I’m certainly going to be using it in the future versions of my new iphone app – it was really nice having the objective c wrappers for it too – THANKS whoever did those.

5) Did the hack day live up to your expectations – would you go again?

Matt:  Yes, it was a superb event. I love the hackday format and it was great to go to a music-specific event. I hear people are planning similar events around the world, including New York. That’d be great to go to. 

George: I thought it was great, but I was hoping more people would’ve bought instruments and jammed in the evening – I had no idea that people would keep working all evening! Those dudes are hardcore! I think I would go again if I could find some slackers who’d be willing to take a chill pill, grab some bongo’s and guitars and jam out for the night, otherwise it’d be too much for me… too many hours in an office and I go slightly nuts ;)

Now time for the lightning round questions –

1) Mac, PC or Linux?

Matt: Mac

George: Mac

2) Programming Language of choice?

Matt: Ruby

George: Objective c

3) vi / emacs or other?

Matt: vi

George: pico ( I know, I suck)

4) Favorite coding music?

Matt: drum’n’bass and dubstep

George: gorillaz

5) Most frequently used web API

Matt: Flickr

George: google maps

6) Favorite music discovery site
Matt: Songkick


7) My most frequently played song that I’m rather embarrassed about is:

Matt: Bohemian Rhapsody

George: interesting drug, off of bona drag, by morrissey

Thanks Matt, Thanks George for taking the time to answer these questions.


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