Children of the Hack (Angry Birds Edition)

I’m writing this post from Espoo Finland which is home to three disruptive brands: Nokia, who revolutionized the mobile phone market in the 1990s with its GSM technology;  Rovio, who brought casual gaming to the world with Angry Birds; and Children of Bodom perhaps one of the most well known melodic death metal bands. So it is not surprising that Espoo is a place where you will find a mix of high tech, playfulness and hard core music – which is exactly what I found this past weekend at the Helsinki Music Hack Day hosted at the Startup Sauna in Espoo Finland.


At the Helsinki Music Hack Day, dozens of developers gathered to combine their interest in tech and their passion for music in a 24 hour hacking session to build something that was music related. Representatives from tech companies such as SoundCloud, Spotify and The Echo Nest joined the hackers to provide information about their technologies and guidance in how to use their APIs.

After 24 hours, a dozen hacks were demoed in the hour-long demo session. There was a wide range of really interesting hacks. Some of my favorites are highlighted here:

Cacophony – A multi-user remote touch controlled beat data sequencer. This hack used the Echo Nest (via the nifty new SoundCloud/Echo Nest bridge that Erik and I built on the way to Espoo), to analyze music and then allow you to use the beats from the analyzed song to create a 16 step sequencer. The sequencer can be controlled remotely via a web interface that runs on an iPad. This was a really nice hack, the resulting sequences sounded great.  The developer, Pekka Toiminen used music from his own band Different Toiminen which has just released their first album. You can see the band and Pekka in the video:


It was great getting to talk to Pekka, I hope he takes his hack further and makes an interactive album for his band.

Hackface & Hackscan by hugovk –  This is a pretty novel set of hacks. Hackface takes the the top 100 or 1000 artists from your listening history on, finds photos of the artists (via the Echo Nest API), detects faces using a face detection algorithm, intelligently resizes them and composites them into a single image giving you an image of what your average music artist in your listening history looks like.


Hackscan – takes a video and summarizes it intelligently into a single image by extracting single columns of pixels from each frame.  The result is a crazy looking image that captures the essence of the video.

Hugo was a neat guy with really creative ideas. I was happy to get to know him.

Stronger Harder Faster Jester  – Tuomas Ahva and Valtteri Wikstrom built the first juggling music hack that I’ve seen in the many hundreds of hack demos I’ve witnessed over the years. Their hack used three bluetooth-enabled balls that when thrown triggered music samples.

Photo via @tuomasahvra

Photo via @tuomasahvra


The juggler juggles the balls in time with the music and the ball tossing triggers music samples that align with the music. The Echo Nest analysis is used to extract the salient pitch info for the aligment.  It was a really original idea and great fun to watch and listen to. This hack won the Echo Nest prize.


µstify – This is the classic boy meets girl story. Young man at his first hackathon meets a young woman during the opening hours of the hackathon.


They decide to join forces and build a hack (It’s Instagram for Music!) and two days later they are winning the hackathon!  Alexandra and Arian built a nifty hack that builds image filters (in the style of Instagram) based upon what the music sounds like. They use The Echo Nest to extract all sorts of music parameters and use these to select image filters.  Check out their nifty presentation.

Gig Voter – this Spotify app provides a way for fans to get their favorite artists to come to their town. Fans from a town express an interest in an artist. Artists get a tool or helping them plan their tour based on information about where their most active fans actually are as well as helping them sell gigs to location owners by being able to prove that there is demand for them to perform at a certain location. Gig Voter uses Echo Nest data to help with the search and filtering.


Hit factory  – Hit Factory is a generative music system that creates music based upon your SoundCloud tastes and adapts that music based upon your feedback . Unfortunately, no samples of the music are to be found online, but take my word, they were  quite interesting – not your usual slightly structured noise.

Abelton Common Denominator – a minimal, mini-moog style interface to simplify the interaction with Abelton – by Spotify’s Rikard Jonsson.


Swap the Drop – this was my hack. You can read more about it here.


One unusual aspect of this Music Hack Day was that a couple of teams that encountered problems and were unable to finish their hacks still got up and talked about their failures.   It was pretty neat to see hardcore developers get up in front of a room full of their peers and talk about why they couldn’t get Hadoop to work on their terrabyte dataset or get their party playlister based on Meteor to run inside Spotify.


I’ve enjoyed my time in Espoo and Helsinki. The Hack Day was really well run. It was held in a perfect hacking facility called the Startup Sauna.


There was plenty of comfortable hacking spots, great wifi, and a perfect A/V setup.

@sferik in a classic hacking position

@sferik in a classic hacking position

The organizers kept us fed with great food (Salmon for lunch!), great music, including a live performance by Anni.

Anni performs. Photo by @sferik

Anni performs. Photo by @sferik

There was plenty of Angry Birds Soda.


Many interesting folks to talk to …


Thanks to Lulit and the rest of the Aaltoes team for putting together such a great event.



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