Music Hack Day Boston 2011

Music Hack Day Boston 2011 is in the can. But what a weekend it was. 250 hackers from all over New England and the world gathered at the Microsoft NERD in Cambridge MA for a weekend of hacking on music.  Over the course of the weekend, fueled by coffee, red bull, pizza and beer, we created  56 extremely creative music hacks that we demoed in a 3 hour music demo extravaganza at the end of the day on Sunday.

Music Hack Day Boston is held at the Microsoft NERD in Cambridge MA.  This is a perfect hacking space – with a large presentation room for talks and demos, along with lots of smaller rooms and nooks and crannies for hackers to camp out .

Hackers started showing up at 9AM on Saturday morning and by 10AM hundreds of hackers were gathered and ready to get started.

After some intelligent and insightful opening remarks by the MC, about 20 companies and organizations gave 5 minute lightening workshops about their technology.

There were  a few new (to Music Hack Day) companies giving workshops:  Discogs announced Version 2 of their API at the Music Hack Day;  Shoudio – the location based audio platform. Peachnote – and API for accessing symbolic music ngram data; EMI who were making a large set of  music and data available for hackers as part of their OpenEMI initiative; the Free Music Archive showed their API to give access to 40,000 creative commons licensed songs and WinAmp – showed  their developer APIs and network.

After lunch, hacking began in earnest.  Some organizations held in-depth workshops giving a deeper dive in to their technologies.  Hacking continued in to the evening after shifting to the over night hacking space at The Echo Nest.

Hackers were ensconced in their nests while one floor below there was a rager DJ’d by Ali Shaheed Muhammad (one third of A Tribe called Quest).

Thanks to the gods of time, we were granted one extra hour over night to use to hack or to sleep.  Nevertheless, there were many bleary eyes on Sunday morning as hackers arrived back at the NERD to finish their hacks.

Finally  at 2:30 PM at 25+ hours of hacking, we were ready to show our hacks.There was an incredibly diverse set of hacks including new musical instruments, new social web sites,  new ways to explore for music.  The hacks spanned from the serious to the whimsical.  Here are some of my favorites.

Free Music Archive Radio this hack uses the Echo Nest and the Creative Commons licensed music of the Free Music Archive to create interesting playlists for use anywhere.

Mustachiness – Can you turn music into a mustache? The answer is yes. This hack uses  sophisticated moustache caching technology to create the largest catalog of musical mustaches in history.

Bohemian Rhapsichord – Turning a popular song into a musical instrument. This is my hack. It lets you play Bohemian Rhapsody like you’ve never played it before.

Spartify – Host a Party and let people choose what songs to play on Spotify. No more huddling in front of one computer or messing up the queue!

Snuggle – I want you to snuggle this. Synchronize animated GIFs to jams of the future. These guys get the prize for most entertaining patter during their demo.

Drinkify – Never listen to music alone again – This app has gone viral. Han, Lindsay and Matt built an app to scratch their own itch.  Drinkify automatically generates the perfect cocktail recipe to accompany any music.

Peachnote Musescore and Noteflight search – searching by melody in the two social music score communities.

bitbin – Create and share short 8-bit tunes

The Videolizer – music visualizer that syncs dancing videos to any song. Tristan’s awesome hack – he built a video time stretcher allowing you to synchronize any video that has a soundtrack to a song. The demos are fantastic.

The Echo Nest Prize Winners

Two hacks received the Echo Nest prizes:

unity-echonest – An echonest + freemusicarchive dynamic soundtrack plugin for Unity3D projects. This was a magical demo. David Nunez created a Unity3D plugin that dynamically generates in game soundtracks using the Echo Nest playlist API and music from the Free Music Archive. Wow!

MidiSyncer – sync midi to echo nest songs. Art Kerns built An iPhone app that lets you choose a song from your iTunes library, retrieves detailed beat analysis information from Echo Nest for the song, and then translates that beat info to MIDI clock as the song plays. This lets you sync up an electronic music instrument such as a drum machine or groovebox to a song that’s playing on your iPhone. So wow! Play a song on your iPod and have a drum machine play in sync with it. Fantastic!

Hardware Hacks

Some really awesome hardware hacks.

Neurofeedback – Electroencephalogram + strobe goggles + Twilio Chat Bot + Max/MSP patches which control Shephard-risset rhythms and binaural beats

Sonic Ninja – Zebra Tube Awesomeness – John Shirley develops PVC helmholtz resonator while hacking a WiiMote and bluetooth audio transmission.

SpeckleSounds – Super-sensitive 3D Sound Control w/ Lasers! Yes, with lasers.

Kinect BeatWheel – Control a quantized looping sample with your arm

Demo Fail

There were a few awesome hacks that were cursed by the demo demi gods. Great ideas, great hacks, frustrating (for the hacker) demos.  Here are some of the best demo fail hacks .

Kinetic – Kinetic Typography driven by user selected music and text. This was a really cool hack that was plagued by a podium display issue leading to a demi-demo-fail. But the Olin team regrouped and posted a video of the app.

BetterTaste – improve your Spotify image – this was an awesome idea – use a man-in-the-middle proxy to intercept those embarassing scrobbles. Unfortunately Arkadiy had  a network disconnect that lead to a demo fail.

Tracker – Connect your turntable to the digital world. Automatically identifies tracks, saves mp3s, and scrobbles plays, while displaying a beautiful UI that’s visible from across the room, or across the web. Perhaps the most elaborate of the demos – with a real Hi Fi setup including a turntable. But something wasn’t clicking, so Abe had to tell us about it instead of showing it.

Carousel – tell the story behind your pictures – it was a display fail – but luckily Johannes had a colleague who had his back and re-gave the demo. That’s what hacker friends are for.

This was a fantastic weekend. Thanks to Thomas Bonte of MuseScore for taking these super images.  Special thanks to the awesome Echo Nest crew lead by Elissa for putting together this event, staffing it and making it run like clockwork. It couldn’t have happened without her.   I was particularly proud of The Echo Nest this week. We created some awesome hacks, threw a killer party, and showed how to build the future of music while having a great time.  What a place to work!


  1. #1 by Janisa on December 18, 2011 - 10:07 am

    Hey, that\’s the greastet! So with ll this brain power AWHFY?

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