Posts Tagged boston

You have 24 hours to build the future of music


A Music Hack Day is unlike most other hackathons. There are no mega-prizes for the best hacks. There are no VCs wandering the hacker hallways trolling for the next startup. There are no briefs that describe the types of apps that you should build. Hackers don’t go to a Music Hack Day to win big prizes, or to launch their startup. Hackers go to Music Hack Days because they love music and they love to build stuff. At a Music Hack Day these passionate builders get to apply their talents to music, surrounded by like-minded peers and build their version of the future of music. The currency at a Music Hack Day is not money or VC attention, the currency is creativity.  The Music Hack Day prize is knowing that you’ve built something cool enough to delight other music hackers.

So what happens at a Music Hack Day? How does it all work? What kind of hacks do people build? Read on to see exactly what happened at the Boston Music Hack Day 2013, held this last weekend.

Boston Music Hack Day

This weekend, hundreds of folks who are passionate about music and technology got together in Cambridge MA for Boston Music Hack Day 2013.  The event was hosted at the Microsoft NERD – a wonderful facility that Microsoft makes available for all sorts of programmer events.  Registration started at 9AM and by 10AM hackers were breakfasted and ready to go.

The event started off with some opening remarks by your truly, describing how a Music Hack Day works and how to have a successful event (meet other people, learn new stuff, build something, make sure you finish it, demo it and have fun).

Build Something! - key advice for a Music Hack Day

Build Something! – key advice for a Music Hack Day

Hackers riveted by Paul Lamere's opening remarks

Hackers riveted by Paul Lamere’s opening remarks

Short technology presentations
Next up, organizations that had some sort of music technology such as an API or new gizmo that might be interesting to music hackers spent a few minutes talking about their technology. For many hackers, this was their first exposure to the music ecosystem – they don’t know what APIs are available for building apps so learning about music streaming APIs from companies like SoundCloud, Rdio and Spotify, and learning about all the music data available from APIs like The Echo Nest and the Free Music Archive is really important. 

Matt talks about the API

Matt talks about the API

There were a few interesting devices available for hackers at the event. Techogym brought a high tech treadmill with its own API hoping that music hackers would build music-related exercise apps.  Muzik brought a set of headphones that are instrumented with accelerometers and other sensors allowing for apps to adapt to the actions of the listener.

Hackers trying out the Techno Gym

Hackers trying out the Technogym

Project Pitches
Sometimes hackers come to a Music Hack Day with ideas ready to go. Sometimes hackers come with their skills but no ideas. At the Project Pitch session, hackers had a minute to pitch their idea or to offer their skills. About 20 hackers braved the front of the room describing their idea or their skill set. One hacker described his project as help me with my homework (and yes, this hacker did find a teammate and they ultimately built a nifty hardware hack that satisfied the homework requirement too).

The homework as hack demo

The homework as hack demo

Tech Deep Dives
Next up on the schedule were the Tech Deep dives. Organizations had a half-hour to give a deeper view of what their technology is capable of. Some hackers want to know more about how to do particular things with an API or technology. This is their opportunity to find out all about the nuts and bolts, to ask questions from the experts. The Tech Deep Dives are strictly optional – many hackers skip them and instead start forming teams, sharing ideas, initializing their repos and writing code.

Kevin does the Rdio API deep dive

Kevin does the Rdio API deep dive

Hack Time

After all the preliminaries are over it was finally time to start hacking.


Hackers formed teams, large and small.


The competition for the best vest was fierce:


They staked out a comfortable workspace in chairs …


Or on the floor …


There were some very creative hardware hacks:


Software hacks:


Plenty of good food


And lots of fun



Overnight Hacking
The Microsoft NERD was only available until 9PM – after that we moved over to hack/reduce – a wonderful hacking space a five minute walk away. There we were greeted by a perfect hacking space with lots of great wifi, great hacker lighting, and lots of beer.  Hacking continued all night. Some hackers did try to get some sleep (either at the hack, or back at home), but some hardcore hackers stayed the whole night.

By 9AM on Sunday morning, the hackers were back at the NERD, for lots of coffee, some breakfast and then more hacking.

Hacking ends

At 2:30, hacking was officially over, and teams submitted their projects to Hacker League. Sixty hacks were submitted.

Demo Session
By 3PM the 200 hackers had all gathered back into the big room joined by a hundred folks who had come just to see the demo session.  Hackers had two minutes to show their stuff. It is a hard demo to give. You are giving a demo of software that you’ve just finished building. It might have some bugs. The WiFi is a little flaky, you haven’t slept in 24 hours, your hands are shaking from too much coffee and too much nervousness, you have to type while holding a microphone and your laptop just won’t sync with the projector just right, and the audio isn’t coming out of the speakers, and the colors look all wrong on the screen. All in front of 300 people.  I’ve done it dozens of times and it still is a really scary demo to give. But it is incredibly exhilarating too – to take nothing but an idea and turn it into something that can amaze or amuse a room full of tech elite in 24 hours. It is quite a rush.

Here I am giving my demo, heart pounding, blood racing ...

Here I am giving my demo, heart pounding, blood racing …

There were two A/V setups so while one team was presenting, the next team was setting up. This allowed us to get through 60 demos in just over two hours. There was a very low incidence of demo fail. And only two inappropriate demos (one was a 2 minute powerpoint presentation with no tech built, the other was a 2 minute tech commercial for a product). I was worried that we might have a #titstare moment with one hack that seemed to contain questionable content but that hacker apparently decided not to present.

The  60 hacks represented a wide range of domains. There were games, music learning tools, programs designed to create, manipulate, remix and even destroy music. I’d love to cover them all, but there are just too many.

The full list is on hacker league. Here are some of my absolute favorites:

String Theory – A musical instrument and sound sculpture build from yearn and stretch sensors and powered by an Arduino.

 String Theory Submitted A musical instrument and sound sculpture build from yearn and stretch sensors and powered by an Arduino.

String Theory

The Lone Arranger – a terminal app that allows you to easily rearrange your audio. By a father and son hacking team.


The Secret History of Music – combs biographies, lyrics, and commentary from song meanings from two artists, combines them into one fictional artist, and uses Markov chain magic to generate a 50K novel about this new fictional band.

LED Soundsystem – this hack attempts to generate a light show synchronized to the music. It has a special place in my heart because the hacking team was working on the same problem I was working on for my abandoned hack – i.e. automatically finding the ‘drop’ in a song.  Unfortunately, this team had a demo fail – but they are smart guys and I expect to see good stuff from them at the next hack day.


eHarmonica – an electronic harmonica!


Enter the dragon – In today’s world, everyone deserves a spectacular entrance. And we intend to give it to them. Enter the Dragon uses bluetooth technology to detect when a user enters the room and plays their personalized entrance music.


Dadabots – Dadabots are bot accounts on creative websites that make procedural creations or remixes of other creations


ios SoundPuzzle A simple iOS ear training game built programmatically from the free music archive and the echonest remix api.DSC_3290___Flickr_-_Photo_Sharing_

danceomatictotally awesome automatic choreography from an mp3 and a web based stick figure performance.

Jotunnslayer –  Never again listen to power metal without slaying ice giants. Die in battle. Earn your place in Valhalla.


Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death Metal – Political representation via musical exploration


Echos – Choose your favorite song and shoot to the beat! Fight enemies that respond to and are controlled by the music! Listen closely and experience unparalleled power as you get into the groove! Enjoy addictive arcade-style game-play in this twist on a classic formula.


TweetTones – a native iOS application that generates synthesized music from tweets in real-time.


Short-Attention Span Playlist Scanner – Glenn made a radio scanner that find and plays just the choruses.


ionian Eclipse – A web-based multiplayer top-down space shooter with procedurally generated enemies and interactions driven by music events.


CFD is Colorful Fluid Dynamics: A HTML5 Music Visualizer and Spotify Plugin – A music visualizer written entirely in vanilla javascript/canvas that is based on computational fluid dynamics and a complex particle system.


ColorMe – Ever wondered what your music looked like? Now you can look at songs by your favorite artist with this super fun web app, powered by the Echo Nest.


How Repetitive –  measures how often audio segments repeat themselves within in a given song.


Jason’s music visualizer – an html/css visualizer on steroids.


And last, but by no means least, Jonathan’s awesome MIDI Digester that converts audio to MIDI and back, over and over to generate some very strange sounds. The very essence of the music.


There are so many excellent hacks, I’m sure I’ve missed many notables. Luckily, covered the event, so expect to see Eliot’s writups on all the best hacks on


At the end of the mega demo session, there’s a brief prize awarding ceremony where a half-dozen organizations give out modest prizes for hackers that made cool stuff using their tech.

Finally we adjourned to the local pub for some food, beer and hacking recaps.


Special thanks to the organizers of the event. The Music Hack Day would not happen without Elissa and Matt. They do all the hard work. Finding the venue, wrangling the sponsors and volunteers, making a mega Costco food run, dealing with the A/V, running the registration, selecting and hiring the caterers, designing t-shirts and so much more. There’s a huge amount of work that goes into planning the event, much more than meets the eye.  Elissa and Matt are the unsung heroes of Music Hack Day. We should make a music hack to sing their song.

Elissa and Matt. The Unsung Music Hack Day Heros

Elissa and Matt. The Unsung Music Hack Day Heros

Thanks also to the event sponsors: Rdio, Spotify, Microsoft, hack/reduce, Free Music Archive, SoundCloud, Mailchimp and The Echo Nest, and the many volunteers who came and helped us run the whole show.

Some of the awesome and unusually attractive volunteers at Music Hack Day Boston

Some of the awesome and unusually attractive volunteers at Music Hack Day Boston

More Music Hack Days
Interested in going to a Music Hack Day? Check out the Music Hack Day calendar for upcoming events. There’s one in Helsinki this weekend, and there’s one in London in just a few weeks. More events are rumored to be in the planning stages for 2014.

(Photos mostly by Michelle Ackerman, a few by me)

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PAPPA – Paul’s Awesome Party Playlisting App

For my Boston Music Hack Day hack I built Yet Another Party Playlisting App (YAPPA), because the world needed another party playlister – but really, I built it because I needed another hack, because 15 hours into the 24 hour hackathon I realized that my first hack just wasn’t going to work (more on that in another post). And so, with 9 hours left in the hack day, I thought I would try my hand at the party playlisting app.

The YAPPA is a frequently built app. In some sense one can look at the act of building a YAPPA as a hacking exercise. Just as a still life painter will practice by painting a bowl of fruit, or a pianist will practice scales, a music hacker can build their hacking muscle by creating a YAPPA.

The essential features of a YAPPA are straightforward – create a listening experience for a party based upon the tastes of the guests.  Allow guests to suggest music for the party, apply some rules to select music that satisfies all the guests, and keep the music flowing.

With those features in mind, I created my party playlisting app. The interface is dead simple – guests can add music to the party via the master web interface or text the artist and song from the mobile phones to the party phone number. Once the party has started, PAPPA will keep the music flowing.


The key technology of PAPPA is how it picks the music to play next. Most YAPPAs will try to schedule music based on fairness so that everyone’s music taste is considered. Some YAPPAs also use song attributes such as song hotttnesss, song energy and danceability to make sure that the music matches the vibe of the party. PAPPA takes a very different approach to scheduling music. That’s because PAPPA takes a very different approach to parties. PAPPA doesn’t like parties. PAPPA wants everyone to go home. So PAPPA takes all of these songs that have been carefully texted to the party phone number, along with all the artist and song suggestions submitted via the web and throws them away. It doesn’t care about the music taste of the guests at the party. In fact it despises their taste (and the guests as well). Instead, PAPPA selects and plays the absolute worst music it can find. It gives the listener an endless string of the most horrible (but popular) music. Here’s a sample (the first 3 songs are bait to lure in the unwitting party guests):

  1. Royals by Lorde
  2. Levels by Avicii
  3. Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke
  4. #Twerkit featuring Nicki Minaj by Busta Rhymes
  5. From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart by Britney Spears
  6. Amigas Cheetahs by The Cheetah Girls
  7. Do Ya Think I’m Sexy by Paris Hilton
  8. Incredible by Clique Girlz
  9. No Ordinary Love by Jennifer Love Hewitt
  10. Mexican Wrestler by Emma Roberts
  11. I Don’t Think About It by Emily Osment
  12. A La Nanita Nana by The Cheetah Girls
  13. Don”t Let Me Be The Last To Know by Britney Spears
  14. Wild featuring Big Sean by Jessie J
  15. Heartbeat (Album Version) by Paris Hilton
  16. Love The Way You Love Me by The Pussycat Dolls
  17. When You Told Me You Loved Me by Jessica Simpson
  18. Jericho by Hilary Duff
  19. Strip by Brooke Hogan
  20. Pero Me Acuerdo De Tí by Christina Aguilera
  21. Bang Bang by Joachim Garraud
  22. Right Now featuring David Guetta (Sick Individuals Dub) by Rihanna
  23. Wilde Piraten by The Cool Kids
  24. Friend Lover by Electrik Red
  25. Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me by D4L
  26. Who’s That Girl by Hilary Duff
  27. Get In There, Frank! by Fun
  28. Hold It Don”t Drop It by Jennifer Lopez
  29. Sweet Sixteen by Hilary Duff
  30. Live It Up featuring Pitbull by Jennifer Lopez
  31. Freckles by Natasha Bedingfield
  32. I Want You by Paris Hilton
  33. Hold It Close by Fun
  34. Magic by The Pussycat Dolls
  35. How To Lose A Girl by Mitchel Musso
  36. Fairy Tales by JoJo
  37. Slow It Down featuring Fabolous (Album Version (Explicit)) by The-Dream
  38. Mr. Hamudah by Charles Hamilton
  39. Promise by Vanessa Hudgens
  40. Metamorphosis by Hilary Duff

How does PAPPA find the worst music in the world?  It looks through all the data that The Echo Nest is collecting about how people experience music online to find the songs that have been banned frequently. When a music listener says “ban this song” they are making a pretty strong statement about the song – essentially saying, “I do not ever want to hear that song again in my life”.  PAPPA finds these songs that have the highest banned-to-play ratio (i.e. the songs that have been proportionally banned the most when play count is taken into consideration) and adds them to the playlist. The result being a playlist filled with the most reviled music – with songs by Paris Hilton, Jennifer Love Hewitt and the great Emma Roberts. The perfect playlist to send your guests home.

At this moment, lets pause and listen to the song Mexican Wrestler by Emma Roberts:


What happens to all those carefully crafted text messages of songs sent by the guests?  No, there’s no Twilio app catching all those messages, parsing out songs and adding them to a play queue to be scheduled. They just go to my phone. That’s so if people are not leaving the party fast enough, I can use all the phone numbers of the guests to start to text them back and tell them they should go home.


By the way, if you look at the songs that were texted to me during my two minute demo you’d realize how fruitless a YAPPA really is. There’s no possible way to make a party playlist that is going to satisfy everyone in the room. Tastes are too varied, and there’s always that guy who thinks he is clever by adding some Rick Astly to the party queue. Here’s what was texted to me during my two minute demo:

  1. Gregory Porter – be good
  2. Rebecca Black – It’s Friday
  3. Weird Al Yankovic – Fat
  4. Lady Gaga – Applause
  5. Weird Al Yankovic – Amish Paradise (from a different phone number from the other weird Al fan)
  6. Ghostbusters
  7. boss ass bitch
  8. Basement Jaxx raindrops
  9. John Mayer your body is a wonderland
  10. jay z holy grail
  11. Underworld spikee
  12. wake me up
  13. Britney Spears – Hit Me Baby One More Time
  14. Slayer War Ensemble
  15. Bieber baby
  16. KANYE
  17. Royksopp
  18. Ra Ra riot
  19. Rick Astley
  20. Mozart
  21. OSM
  22. Mikey Cyrus
  23. Hi paul
  24. Stevie wonder overjoyed

Imagine trying to build a party playlist based upon those 24 input songs. Admittedly, a hackathon demo session is not a real test case for a party playlister but I still think you’d end up with a terrible mix of songs that no smart algorithm, nor any smart human, could stitch together into a playlist that would be appropriate and pleasing for a party.  My guess is that if you did an A/B test for two parties, where one party played music based upon suggestions texted to a YAPPA and the other party played the top hotttest songs, the YAPPA party would always lose. I’d run this test, but that would mean I’d have to go to two parties. I hate parties, so this test will never happen. Its one of the flaws in our scientific method.

Who are the worst artists?
Looking at the PAPPA playlists I see a number of recurring artists – Britney Spears and Paris Hilton seem to be well represented. I thought it would be interesting to create a histogram of the top recurring artists in the most banned songs list.  Here’s the fascinating result:


One thing I find notable about this list is the predominance of female artists.  Females outnumber males by a substantial amount.  Here’s some pie:


80% of the most banned artists are female. A stunning result. There’s something going on here. Someone suggested that the act of banning a song is an aggressive act that may skew male, and many of these aggressively banning males don’t like to listen to female artists. More study is needed here. It may involve parties, so I’m out.

Wrapping it all up

I enjoyed creating my PAPPA YAPPA. Demoing it was really fun and the audience seemed to enjoy the twist ending.  The patterns in the data underlying the app are pretty interesting too. Why are so many banned songs by female artists?

If you are having your own party and want to use PAPPA to help enhance the party you can go to:


Just replace the phone number in the URL with your own and you are good to go.

PAPPA - Paul's Awesome Party Playlisting App - Ruining parties since 2013

PAPPA – Paul’s Awesome Party Playlisting App – Ruining parties since 2013

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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!


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Hacking on the Echo Nest at Boston Music Hack Day

Kind of Blue

Kind of Green

If you are going to the Music Hack Day Boston this weekend, you may want to consider creating an hack based on the Echo Nest APIs.  The Echo Nest is offering a prize for the best hack that is built based upon Echo Nest technology.  The prize is the much coveted Echo Nest Sweatsedo.  The softness, the coolness and the ‘blueness’ of this casual attire is unsurpassed by the clothing offered by any other music technology company.  However, we realize that not everyone can wear the sweatsedo with proper style. For those, who are not cool enough to wear the Echo Nest sweatsedo, they can opt for the alternate prize of $1,000 cash.  So your choice is for a prize is a Kind of Blue, or a Kind of Green.

But, wait! There’s more. Since we are unveiling two new APIs at Music Hack Day weekend,  we are going to offer not one, but two prizes, one to each of the two best hacks that use the Echo Nest APIs.   If you create one of the two best hacks that use the Echo Nest, you will get to chose from the ‘Kind of Blue’ or the ‘Kind of Green’ prize.   So get hacking!

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Hardware hacking at Music Hack Day Boston

There will be some opportunities for organized  hardware hacking at this weekend’s Music Hack Day Boston in the form of afternoon workshops.  All the details are on the Music Hack Day Workshops page.  Here’s just a teaser to wet your appetite.

Electric Eels Workshop by Noah Vawter with Justin  from Burnkit 2600.  This project introduces a mobile platform for melodic and percussive electronic music instruments.  It encourages playing them more like traditional instruments- electrical energy is produced on a note-by-note basis from its players’ movements.

Atari Punk Console Workshop –  Jimmie Rodgers will lead a workshop on building Atari Punk Consoles. The Atari Punk Console is a simple synthesizer with a wide range of sounds. It is so named because the sounds generated are similar to those of the early Atari consoles.



Atari Punk Consoles


Pen Plotter & Chiplotle workshop –   While not exactly hardware hacking, it is definitely old school. Douglas Repetto  and Brian Whitman  will show you how to plot your beautiful music visualizations or whatever else on quite possibly the sexiest of all paper output mechanisms — early 1980s HPGL pen plotters!



The sexiest of all paper output mechanisms


Programmable Audio Effects in a Sketch Environment with LeafLabs’ Maple – by Okie Williams. In this 2 hour workshop you will learn  how you can use Maple with a little extra circuitry (op-amps, resistors, capacitors) to program your own audio effects in an Arduino-like sketch environment and focus mainly on programming effects instead of hardware.


Audio and Guitar effects on Maple


Example of a guitar effect

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What happens at a Music Hack Day?

So what is a Music Hack Day really like?  Here’s a quick rundown of some of the things that will happen at the Music Hack Day.

9AM – 10AM Saturday morning – Registration – hackers start to arrive between 9AM and 10AM for registration.


Welcome to the Microsoft NERD


You get your badge, wander around the venue (which is graciously provided by Microsoft) have a muffin and a cup of coffee and meet up with old friends and / or make new friends.


Smiling faces greet you at MHD Registration



Informal hacking space at the NERD


This is a good time to start scoping around for hacking partners if you think you might need some help building a hack.  If you want to get a head start in connecting with other hackers consider posting to the Ideas page on the Music Hack Day Boston Wiki.


Group hacking



Meet interesting people at Music Hack Day



10AM – Opening remarks – someone will walk you through the weekend, and give you an idea of what to expect, and tell you all the important info like where the bathrooms are.


Dave Haynes kicks of Music Hack Day London


10:15 – Lightning pitches – a big part of the Music Hack Day is the sharing of knowledge about various music-related technologies, whether it’s an API, a library, technique, hardware gizmo.  During the lightning pitches, everyone who has a technology that they’d like to talk about gives a 60 second description of their technology.


Getting ready for the lightning rounds


11:00 Morning Workshops – The morning workshops are 15 to 20 minute overviews of a particular technology.  There may be be 10 to 20 workshops run in a two hour period.  Depending on the number workshop, there may be more than one track, so pay attention during the lightning pitches to figure out which workshops you’d like to attend.


Waiting for the workshops to start


Some companies offer prizes to the best hack that uses their technology.  If you want to try to win something cool like a concert tickets, an iPad, or some cash, pay attention to the workshops to see who is giving out prizes.


The Echo Nest workshop



The Songkick workshop


1:00PM Lunch time – lunch is free – but don’t let it stop you from hacking.


Eat or hack?


2:00PM Hacking commences – after lunch – formal hacking begins. You have 24 hours to build something cool that is related to music. Hacking will finish up at 2:30PM on Sunday.


Hacking commences


2:00PM Afternoon workshops – In the afternoon, there are some in-depth workshops where you can learn how to build or do something.  The workshops (as with everything at the Music Hack Day), is optional, you can chose to attend a workshop or find a quiet spot and work on your hack.   Some of the workshops may be scheduled on an ad hoc basis (anyone can put on a workshop, just post a note on the ‘workshops board’).  There are 3 hardware oriented workshops, at the Boston Music Hack Day that will give you an opportunity to build or interact with hardware (a rare thing for many of us software types).

Pen plotter & Chiplotle workshop Douglas Repetto and Brian Whitman will show you how to plot your beautiful music visualizations or whatever else on quite possibly the sexiest of all paper output mechanisms — early 1980s HPGL pen plotters! You’ll learn how to use Chiplotle, a Python bridge for live HPGL drawing control, and we’ll have a a few plotters on hand for everyone to use.  Plus, there will be plotters available for hacking after the workshop.

More info:

Electric Eels Workshop

“Electric Eels” workshop – by Noah Vawter – This project introduces a mobile platform for electronic music instruments.  It encouragesplaying them more like traditional instruments.  The new techniques this project introduces extend the role of electricity generation – Electrical energy for every note comes from its players’ movements.

Atari Punk Console workshop

Jimmie Rodgers will lead a workshop on building Atari Punk Consoles. The Atari Punk Console is a simple synthesizer with a wide range of sounds. It is so named because the sounds generated are similar to those of the early Atari consoles. In this workshop you will learn the basics of the timing circuits used to make these crazy sounds. You will also learn how to solder, and how to change the the sounds with your fingers as the contact, or even using light to make a simple light Theremin.


Jimmie's workshop


All parts and tools included in the costs. Additional parts will be available, so you will be able to customize your APC with lights, touch contacts, photo resistors, etc. You are encouraged to find a fun case for your APC and bring it (cigar box, mint tin, Mr. Potato Head other plastic toy, etc), anything hollow that can hold a deck of cards would do. If you do not have a case, then Altoid tins will be available at the workshop.


Hardware hacking


6PM – Dinner – At 6PM the pizzas arrive. Get a slice or two and some soda (the beer comes later), and get back to your hack.  Remember, eating and sleeping is for the weak


Eating is for the weak


9:30 PM – Leg stretching time. – Hacking continues until around 9:30 PM when the Microsoft NERD will close. At that point hacking shifts to the Echo Nest (a few  T stops away).


Onto the T to get to the Echo Nest


10:00 PM Hacking Continues at the Echo Nest


The Echo Nest offices


The venue for overnight hacking is at the Echo Nest in Davis Square – 4 stops away on the T from the main venue.  At the Echo Nest there will be some beer, some live music provided by Javelin, and plenty of comfortable hacking space for the hardcore hackers.


Late night hacking


Overnight hacking is where all the magic happens.


Overnight hacking in London



Overnight hacking at the Echo Nest


8AM Sunday Morning – On Sunday morning, hacking finishes up at the Echo Nest and will return to the Microsoft NERD at 9AM, where you’ll find some more coffee and light breakfast.  Hacking continues thorough lunch.


Remember, eating is for the weak.


2:30 PM Hacking finishes. By 2:30 PM you should have information about your hack posted to the wiki.  Only hacks included on the wiki by 2:30 PM will be included in the final presentations.


Last minute hacking


3:00 PM – Final Demos – This is the time to show your stuff!  Once all the hacks are complete, everyone will move to the big room for the hack demos. We’ll be joined by about 100 non-hackers who are here to see all the demos.   During the demo time, everyone who managed to get a hack listed onto the hacks wiki by 2:30 will get 2 minutes to present their hack.


Giving a demo - Flight of the bumble bee on guitar


There will be people from the music industry, the press, and the tech world in attendance so it doesn’t hurt to try to make your 2 minutes in the spotlight memorable.    We should have two projectors setup so each hack presenter should have 2 minutes to setup and then 2 minutes to present.


Demoing the big piano



Ben demos the roomba recon



Giving good demo is fun


We will be ruthless with the timing. When your 2 minutes are up,  we’ll start the next demo, so make sure you get to the point quickly

5:00 PM  – final awards – At 5PM the panel of judges will gather to pick the winners of the prizes, and present the awards.  But of course, everyone is a winner.


Announcing the prize winners


6:00PM – After all is done, we will find a local pub to get some refreshment.


Time for a beer


It is sure to be a good time.

Photos from flickr photographers:  Elizabeth Thomsen,  Dave Haynes, Thomas Bonte, Ben Reyes, Brad Searles, aroscoe, habber,  David Noël, imelda, James Wheare, narq,

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Even without Zooey, Music Hack Days are pretty awesome

Paul + Matt @ The Hub - Photo by Thomas Bonte

This picture represents the perfection of the Music Hack Day.  Here I am sitting at my computer, in a dark room, totally focused on building my hack, while I sit next to the music technology superstar Matt Ogle of In front of me is a beer, a red bull and a glass of Ben Fields‘ private stock. What could be better than this!  (Well, I suppose sitting on my right, just out of view could be Zooey Deschanel, that might be better).  If you want to find yourself in such a position, then consider signing up for one of the upcoming Music Hack Days.  There’s one in Barcelona on October 2,3 and there’s one in Boston on October 16, 17.   Registrations are going fast, so sign up early to guarantee that you’ll have a seat.

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Boston Music Hack Day is in the can.

I’ve almost recovered from the Boston Music Hack Day.  Here’s a retrospective of posts, tweets video and images about the event.  First, lots of people have written about their experiences at the hack day. Here’s a sampling:

Some Videos:

Ian Hogarth from Songkick:

Bodega Girls at the Echo Nestival


Click for slide show

Lots of friendly tweets too.



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Things I learned about organizing a hack day

Boston Music Hack Day is in the can.  I learned a lot over the last few days about what happens when you have 200+ programmers gather for a weekend.  Here’s some of the things I want to remember for next time:

  • Plan for no-shows – when the event is free,  there will be some people who sign up, but then, for whatever reason will not show up.  We had lots of people on the waiting list that could have attended if we had anticipated the no-shows.


    No-shows should be sitting in these empty seats

  • Buy Less Food – When people are up all night coding, they tend to skip breakfast.  We had breakfast for 250 on Sunday, we probably only needed breakfast for 100.
  • Late-night hacking with beer and music can be quite productive


    Late-night hacking at the Hack Nest

  • Have dueling projectors – when you have 35 demos to show, plug in time can add a half hour to a 2 hour demo session.  (By the way, thanks to the good Samaritan ubergeek who volunteered to help the presenters get the video (someone tell me who it was)).
  • Work with awesome people – Working Jon and Dave was great,  but there was also an incredible behind-the-scenes team making the Hack Day possible.  We had an awesome set of volunteers who gave their weekend to making the hack day possible.  Here are some of them:

See the guy in the back with the cap? That’s Matthew Santiago – he was a non-stop hack day machine – from moving food for 300, organizing registration,  handling and chauffeuring  the Echo Nestival talent. He worked from 7AM Saturday morning to 7PM Sunday evening with about an hour of sleep.

The secret weapon of the hack day was Elissa – Director of Stuff at the Echo Nest- she managed so many details  from booking the Echo Nestival, renting vans, carting food, finding volunteers, photoshopping badges, getting tee-shirts made, dealing  with press, photographers,  CEOs, and Founders, ordering tables and chairs for the Hack nest,  wrangling sponsors, picking  menus, ordering food,   getting swag, making extra bathroom keys, hand delivering the excess food to the local homeless shelter and so much more.  Elissa quietly managed all of the big and little details that I never would have thought of.   If you attended the hack day, be sure to give her some twitter love.

I learned a lot over the weekend about events and organizing.  I hope I get to be involved in more hack days in the future so I can use my new knowledge.

Photos by Dave Haynes



Boston Music Hack Day

Boston at dawn -ready for the hack day

Breakfast at the music hack day

Hardware hacking at the Boston Music Hack Day

Hardcore hacking at the Boston Music Hack day

The two faces of music discovery

Turning an altoids can into a musical instrumentation

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