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The Tufts Hackathon

Last weekend, Barbara Duckworth and Jennie Lamere teamed up at the Tufts Hackathon to build a music hack. Here’s Barbara’s report from the hackathon:


Jen Lamere and Barbara Duckworth presenting:

Cinemusic – created at Tufts Hackathon

For our second hack day, Jen Lamere and I were wildly successful. Going into the Tufts hackathon, we knew that we wanted to create a hack involving music, but we didn’t want the hassle of having to make hardware to go along with it, like in our last hack, HighFive Hero.

CineMusicSmallAs we were walking to the building in which the hackathon was held, we decided on making a program that would suggest a movie based on its soundtrack. The user would tell us their favorite artists, and we would find a movie soundtrack that contained similar music, the idea being that if you like the soundtrack, the movie would also be of your tastes. So, lets say you have an unnatural love for Miley Cyrus. Type that in, and our music-to-movie program would tell you to watch Another Cinderella Story, with Selena Gomez on the soundtrack. With Selena also being a Disney Channel star and of similar singing caliber, the suggestion makes sense.

Barbie and Jen hacking away (photo by  Ming Chow)

Barbie and Jen hacking away (photo by Ming Chow)

We used The Echo Nest API to search for similar artists, and with the help of Paul Lamere, utilized Spotify’s fantastic tagging system to compile a huge data file of artists and soundtracks, which we then sorted through. We also added a cool last-minute feature using the Spotify API, which would start playing the soundtrack right as the movie suggestion was given. Jen and I hope to iron out any bugs that are currently in our program, and turn it into a web app.



Our (if I do say so myself) pretty awesome hack, combined with our amateur status, won us the rookie award at Tufts Hackathon! Jen and I will both be proudly wearing our new “GitHub swag” and we will hopefully find a way to put the AWS credits to good use. Thank you to everyone at Tufts, for organizing such a fantastic event!


Barbara and Jennie reviewing their swag options


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MIDEM Hack Day recap


What better way to spend a weekend on the French Riviera then in a conference room filled with food, soda, coffee and fellow coders and designers hacking on music!  That’s what I and 26 other hackers did at the MIDEM Music Hack Day. Hackers came from all over the world to attend and participate in this 3rd annual hacking event to show what kind of of creative output can flow from those that are passionate about music and technology.


Unlike a typical Music Hack Day, this hack day has very limited space so only those with hardcore hacking cred were invited to attend.  Hackers were from a wide range of companies and organizations including SoundCloud, Songkick, Gracenote, Musecore, We Make Awesome Sh.t, 7Digital, Reactify, Seevl, Webdoc, MuseCore, REEA, MTG-UPF, and Mint Digital and The Echo Nest.  Several of the hackers were independent.  The event was organized by Martyn Davies of  Hacks & Bants along with help from the MIDEM organizers.

The hacker space provided for us is at the top of the Palais – which is the heart of MIDEM and Cannes. The hacking space has a terrace that overlooks the city, giving an excellent place to unwind and meditate while trying to figure out how to make something work.

Hacker-eye view of Cannes

Hacker-eye view of Cannes

The hack day started off with a presentation by Martyn explaining what a Music Hack Day is for the general MIDEM crowd. After which,  members of the audience (the Emilys and Amelies) offered some hacking ideas in case any of the hyper-creative hackers attending the Hack Day were not able to come up with their own ideas.


After that, hacking started in force. Coders and designers paired up, hacking designs were sketched and github repositories were pulled and pushed.

The MIDEM Hack Day is longer than your usual Music Hack Day. Instead of the usual 24 hours, hackers have 45 hour to create their stuff.  The extra time really makes a difference (especially if you hack like you only have 24 hours).

Late afternoon hacking

Late afternoon hacking

We had a few visitors during the course of the weekend. Perhaps the most notable was Robert Scoble.  We gave him a few demos. My impression (based upon 3 minutes of interaction, so it is quite solid), is that Robert doesn’t care too much about music.  (While I was giving him a demo of a very early version of Girl Talk in a Box, Robert reached out and hit the volume down key a few times on my computer. The effrontery of it all!). A number of developers gave Robert demos of their in-progress hacks, including Ben Fields, who at the time, didn’t know he was talking to someone who was Internet-famous.

Ben gives a demo to some random guy who later turns out to be Robert Scoble

Ben gives a demo to some random guy who later turns out to be Robert Scoble

As day turned to evening, the view from our terrace got more exciting. The NRJ Awards show takes place in the Palais and we had an awesome view of the red carpet. For 5 hours, the sounds of screaming teenagers lining the red carpet added to our hacking soundtrack.  Carly Rae, Taylor Swift, One Direction and the great one (Psy) all came down the red carpet below us, adding excitement (and quite a bit of distraction) to the hack.


Yes, Psy did the horsey dance for us.  Life is complete.

Finally, after 45 hours of hacking, we were ready to give our demos to the MIDEM audience.


Adam Howard (aka @skattyadz) gives good demo.

There were 18 hacks created during the weekend.  Check out the full list of hacks.  Some of my favorites were:

  • VidSwapper  by Ben Fields. – swaps the audio from one video into another, syncronizing with video hit points along the way.
  • RockStar by Pierre-loic Doulcet – RockStar let you direct a rockstar Band using Gesture.
  • Miri by Aaron Randal – Miri is a personal assistant, controlled by voice, that specialises in answering music-related questions
  • Ephemeral Playback by Alastair Porter – Ephemeral Playback takes the idea of slow music and slows it down even further. Only one song is active at a time. After you have listened to it you must share it to another user via twitter. Once you have shared it you can no longer listen to it.
  • Music Collective  by  the Reactify team – A collaborative music game focussing on the phenomenon of how many people, when working together, form a collective ‘hive mind’.
  • Leap Mix by Adam Howard – Control audio tracks with your hands.

It was fun demoing my own hack: Girl Talk in a Box – it is not everyday that a 50 something guy gets to pretend he’s Skrillex in front of a room full of music industry insiders.

All in all, it was a great event. Thanks to Martyn and MIDEM for making us hackers feel welcome at this event.  MIDEM is an interesting place, where lots of music business happens. It is rather interesting for us hacker-types to see how this other world lives. No doubt, thanks to MIDEM Music Hack Day synergies were leveraged,  silos were toppled,  and ARPUs were maximized.  Looking forward to next year!

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Girl Talk in a Box

Here’s my music hack from Midem Music Hack Day: Girl Talk in a Box.  It continues the theme of apps like Bohemian Rhapsichord and Bangarang Boomerang. It’s an app that lets you play with a song in your browser. You can speed it up and slow it down, you can skip beats, you can play it backwards, beat by beat. You can make it swing.  You can make breaks and drops. It’s a lot of fun. With Girl Talk in a Box, you can play with any song you upload, or you can select songs from the Gallery.





My favorite song to play with today is AWOLNATION’s Sail.  Have a go. There’s a whole bunch of keyboard controls (that I dedicate to @eelstretching).   When you are done with that you can play with the code.


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The Stockholm Python User Group

In a lucky coincidence I happened to be in Stockholm yesterday which allowed me to give a short talk at the Stockholm Python user Group.  About 80 or so Pythonistas gathered at Campanja to hear talks about Machine Learning and Python.  The first two talks were deep dives into particular aspects of machine learning and Python. My talk was quite a bit lighter. I described the Million Song Data Set and suggested that it would be a good source of data for anyone looking for a machine learning research. I then went on to show a half a dozen or so demos that were (or could be) built on top of the Million Song Data Set. A few folks at the event asked for links, so here you go:

Million Song Data Set

Core Data: Echo Nest analysis for a million songs

Complimentary Data

  • Second Hand Songs – 20K cover songs
  • MusixMatch – 237K bucket-of-words lyric sets
  • tags – song level tags for 500K tracks. plus 57 million sim. track pairs
  • Echo Nest Taste profile subset – 1M users, 48M user/song/play count triples

Data Mining Listening Data: The Passion Index


Fun with Artist Similarity Graphs: Boil the Frog

Screenshot 1:2:13 5:54 AM-3

Post about In Search of the Click Track and a web app for exploring click tracks

click plot for so lonely by the police

Turning music into silly putty – Echo Nest Remix


The Swinger

Interactive Music

Bangarang Boomerang

Beat Driver-1

Infinite Jukebox

The Infinite Jukebox


I really enjoyed giving the talk. The audience was really into the topic and remained engaged through out. Afterwards I had lots of stimulating discussions about the music tech world. The Stockholm Pythonistas were a very welcoming bunch. Thanks for letting me talk.  Here’s a picture I took at the very end of the talk:

swedish pythonistas

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Going Undercover

My Music Hack Day Stockholm hack is ‘Going Undercover‘.  This hack uses the extensive cover song data from SecondHandSongs to construct paths between artists by following chains of cover songs.  Type in the name of  a couple of your favorite artists and Going Undercover will try to find a chain of cover songs that connects the two artists.  The resulting playlist will likely contain familiar songs played by artists that you never heard of before.   Here’s a Going Undercover playlist from Carly Rae Jepsen to Johnny Cash:



For this hack I stole a lot of code from my recent Boil the Frog hack, and good thing I could do that otherwise I would never have finished the hack in time. I spent many hours working to reconcile the Second Hand Songs data with The Echo Nest and Rdio data (Second Hand Songs is not part of Rosetta stone, so I had to write lots of code to align all the IDs up).   Even with leveraging the Boil the Frog code, I had a very late night trying to get all the pieces working (and of course, the bug that I spent 2 hours banging my head on at 3AM was 5 minutes of work after a bit of sleep).

I am pretty pleased with the results of the hack.  It is fun to build a path between a couple of artists and listen to a really interesting mix of music.  Cover songs are great for music discovery, they give you something familiar to hold on to while listening to a new artist.

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TimesOpen 2012 Hack Day Wrap-Up

I spent Saturday at the New York Times attending the TimesOpen Hack Day.  It was great fun, with lots of really smart folks creating neat (and not always musical stuff).   Some great shots here:

Check out the wrap up at the Times:  TimesOpen 2012 Hack Day Wrap-Up

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High Five Hero


A guest post by Jennie Lamere.  This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending MIT’s Music Hack Day with my friend Barbie. We, along with about 250 others, worked all weekend to develop a music hack. In the twenty four hours we had, Barbie and I collectively slept a mere 6 hours. After endless cups of coffee and soda, we finally emerged with our hack, “High Five Hero.”

Our hack was a remixing tool driven by MaKey MaKey. MaKey Makey, created by Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum, is a device that plugs into computers, allowing virtually anything to be used in place of a keyboard. For our hack, we took four beats from various songs and made it so that each completed circuit yielded a different beat – the song could be remixed by completing the circuit in different orders. While neither Barbie nor I knew Javascript or html at the beginning of the weekend, we were well-versed in it by the end. A few hours in, we had the basic code written, so we decided to add more to the hack. We added a game mode, in which the two users must complete the circuit in specific patterns to play the song. We also added an “Expert’s Only” mode, in which combo moves must be done in order to play a beat.

While writing the code itself wasn’t exactly easy, we left the hack day around 8:00 on Saturday feeling very confident – all we had left to do was add the hardware component. Our idea was to have the MaKey Makey hooked up so that when we high fived, a circuit would be completed. However, we couldn’t get the MaKey MaKey set up in such a manner that the beats would all play at the same time. After gloves, tape, wire, more tape, aluminum and even more tape, we finally got the MaKey MaKey set up. This time, we were the problem – we could not get our timing to align in a way that would make the music sound good. We decided to abandon our original idea, and try to hook the MaKey MaKey up to something else besides our hands. After hours of brainstorming, we decided to go back to our original idea, but place the points for the MaKey MaKey in different places – one on each hand, and one on each knee. This seemed to work better, and the sound produced began to sound like music.

Barbie and I were extremely proud of our first music hack- High Five Hero. Despite being extremely nervous for our demo, showing off our hack seemed to go over well! We loved being able to talk to the other hackers, and seeing what they did. We are excited to attend our next Hack Day together!


Editor: I took a video of the demo presentation of High Five Hero. Apologies for the unsteady hand:


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Music, Tech, Art and Interactivity in one great party

This friday, my daughter Jennie and I will be heading down to Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood to take part in DUMBO Summer Friday.  We’ll be showing off some nifty music hacks that have been built recently, including our OMA winning Bohemian Rhapsichord. We are especially excited to show off a brand new hack called Bangarang Boomerang. This hack can turn you into Skrillex with about 5 minutes of practice.  I’ll be sure to post a link after the event on Friday. Here’s the link:   Bangarang Boomerang

If you are in NYC on Friday, head on over to the DUMBO Arch for day of music, tech, art and interactivity.

Update: We had a great day at the dumbo arch showing off all sorts of music hacks.  It was great to see some of the local music tech celebs (Eliot, Jason, Peter).  Demoing music in the arch was quite a challenge. Strange acoustics, trains driving by every 5 minutes overhead.  Special thanks to Cy Cary for going the extra mile to make sure that our sound was top notch.   Here’s a picture while we were setting up:

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Rethink Music Hackers’ Weekend

This weekend was Rethink Music Hacker’s Weekend where 100 or so music hackers gathered at the Microsoft NERD to not just rethink music, but to rebuild it.  There were  about two dozen hacks built, showing a wide range of creativity. Some of my favorites are:

Kinect Bomba  -As in the latin style of music called “Bomba”, the dancer is in control of the band and music.  The virtual band is the kinect — the dancer(s) can create sweet, live beat-locked music over any mp3 (using echonest-remix), remixes, and even control a virtual looper pedal.

Hiptapes – HipTapes is a music marketing APP enables artists to create custom QR codes and push dynamic content to fans via posters, flyers, CDs, etc. HipTapes mobile app scans the QR code & enables users to instantly stream, bookmark or buy music tracks, purchase concerts tickets, discounted merchandise or leave a message on artist’s Facebook page.

Hipsterer – Figures out how hipster you are? (I knew about this site before it was cool).

Jam Page – Hi-resolution listener analytics for artists.


Texture Learning – A simple genetic algorithm learns the short-time fourier transform of a target static texture. The approximation gradually acquires information about the target sound via repeated semi-random modifications to the spectrogram. Phase and magnitude are learned separately. The learning process is sonified and visualized such that the gradual evolution of the sound from silence to target can be seen and heard. Experimentation with several control parameters results in varied output.

Byrds and the Bee Gees – finds the playlist that your parents could of have used on the night you were conceived.  Totally fun app. Toughest part is trying to decide if my dad was ‘smooth back then’.

Lyrical Sonnet Awesome –  My favorite hack. Totally origina. Uses’s API to make a sonnet generator! In Iambic pentameter! The sonnets are in the rhyme scheme of Shakespeare. ABABCDCDEFEFGG, and you can choose key words to populate the themes. Here’s an example:

  • Too long values we let them blend and fade
  • And with the awesome power they struck
  • You’re like a long, cool glass of lemonade
  • It’s Knoc-turn’al with a capital K
  • Something cool, set one up for me
  • If you turn away, oh, honey, please stay
  • The center of attention, cool Moe Dee
  • I want to take you cool places tonight
  • Are you still mad I kicked you out of bed?
  • What befalls us in the heat of the night?
  • I keep a cool head, I keep a cool head
  • That I was mad if they were sane, you see
  • The blues my naughty sweetie gives to me.
     Totally crude website for the sonnet generator here

Map of Music styles –  this is my hack – an interactive map of 1000s of music styles, allowing you to explore through the world of music.

See the full list of hacks on hacker league.  It was a really fun weekend, with lots of very creative hacking!


Map of Music Styles

I spent this weekend at Rethink Music Hackers’ Weekend building a music hack called Map of Music Styles (aka MOMS).  This hack presents a visualization of over 1000 music styles. You can pan and zoom through the music space just like you can with Google maps.  When you see an interesting style of music you can click on it to hear some samples of music of that style.

It is fun to explore all the different neighborhoods of music styles. Here’s the Asian corner:

Here’s the Hip-Hop neighborhood:

And a mega-cluster of ambient/chill-out music:

To build the app, I collected the top 2,000 or so terms via The Echo Nest API. For each term I calculated the most similar terms based upon artist overlap (for instance, the term ‘metal’ and ‘heavy metal’ are often applied to the same artists and so can be considered similar, where as ‘metal’ and ‘new age’ are rarely applied to the same artist and are, therefore, not similar).  To layout the graph I used  Gephi (Its like Photoshop for graphs)  and exported the graph to SVG.  After that it was just a bit of Javascript, HTML, and CSS to create the web page that will let you pan and zoom. When you click on a term, I fetch audio  that matches the style via the Echo Nest and 7Digital APIs.

There are a few non-styles that snuck through – the occasional band name, or mood, but they don’t hurt anything so I let them hang out with the real styles.   The app works best in Chrome. There’s a bug in the Firefox version that I need to work out.

Give it a try and let me know how you like it:    Map of Music Styles

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