Posts Tagged music hack day

More on “Where’s the Drama?”

My Music Hack Day Berlin hack was “Where’s the Drama?” – a web app that automatically identifies the most dramatic moment in any song and plays it for you. I’ve been having lots of fun playing with it … and even though (or perhaps because) I know how it works, I’m often surprised at how well it does at finding the most dramatic moments.  Here are some examples:

How does it work? The app grabs the detailed audio analysis for the song from The Echo Nest.  This includes a detailed loudness map of the song. This is the data I use to find the drama.  To do so, I look for the part of the song with the largest rise in volume over the course of a 30 second window (longer songs can have a bit of a longer dramatic window). I give extra weight to crescendos that culminate in louder peaks (so if there are two crescendos that are 20dB in range but one ends at 5dB louder, it will win). Once I identify the most dynamic part of a song, I pad it a bit (so we get to hear a bit of the drop after the build).

The rest is just UI – the song gets plotted as a heavily filtered loudness curve with the dramatic passage highlighted. I plot things with Highcharts, which is a pretty nifty javascript plotting and charting library. I recommend.


Playing the music – I wanted to use Spotify to play the music, which was a bit problematic since there currently isn’t a way to play full streams with the Spotify Web API, so I did a couple of hacky hacks that got me pretty far. First of all, I discovered that you can add a time offset to a Spotify URI like so:


When this URI is opened in Spotify (even when opened via a browser), Spotify will start to play the song a the 1:05 time offset.  

I still needed to be able to stop playing the track – and there’s no way to do that directly – so instead, I just open the URI:


which happens to be the URI for John Cage’s 4’33.  In other words, to stop playing one track, I just start playing another (that happens to be silent).  The awesome side effect of this is that I’ll be slowly turning anyone who uses “Where’s the Drama?” into experimental music listeners as the Spotify recommendation system responds to all of those John Cage ‘plays’. This should win some sort of ‘hackiest hack of the year’ award.

It was a fun hack to make, and great fun to demo. And now that I have the app, I am no longer wasting time listening to song intros and outros, I can just get to the bit of the song that matters the most. 

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Cannes Burn

This weekend brought me to Cannes and the French Riviera for the MIDEM Music Hack Day where I’ve spent about 40 hours working on my music hack called Cannes Burn.  Cannes Burn is a visualization that accompanies the song Burn by Ellie Goulding. Go check it out if you haven’t already seen it before reading on. It requires a modern computer and browser that supports webgl.


The Hack uses the new ENsync.js library that I created last week. ENsync uses the Echo Nest analysis to provide synchronization of a JS web app with music.  With ENsync you can setup elaborate animations that are triggered by musical events (such on every bar, beat or tatum).  The Hack also uses threejs – the amazing 3D library by Mr.Doob.

Creating the hack was a whole lot of fun – I spent hours building 3D shapes out of flying cubes. I probably listened to the song Burn many hundreds of times this weekend. (Thanks to my hacker neighbors who put up with my endless Ellie looping without complaint).  

It has been a great weekend here in Cannes. It is so inspiring to be surrounded by a bunch of really smart folks who are passionate about music and technology and see and hear how they are building their stuff.  Such a great, sharing vibe from all of the hackers. I feel really lucky to  part of it all!   

Check out all the hacks on hacker league:  MIDEM Music Hack Day Hacks and check out my hack at:  Cannes Burn


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What are your favorite Music Hack Day Hacks?

Photo by Thomas Bonte

Photo by Thomas Bonte

In a couple of weeks I’m heading out to Chicago to give a talk at the Chicago Music Summit about Music Hacking at Music Hack Days. I’ll have an hour to talk about hack days and show off lots of demos. Naturally, I’d like to highlight all the best hacks. However,  given that there have been over 30 music hack days, remembering the best of the 2000+ hacks is going to be a challenge.  I’m hoping you can help me remember the best hacks, either by adding a comment to this post or just tweeting with #bestmusichack. I prefer hacks that I can demo directly via the web or that have been captured on video. To get things started here are some of the most notable hacks that I can recall.

Whimsical Hacks

Hardware Hacks

Music Exploration and Discovery Hacks

Party playlisting

Of the many party playlisting hacks that have been created, which one is the best?

Hacks that have been turned into businesses

Music Remixing Hacks

Performance art

No need to be shy about suggesting your own hacks. As you can see, I have no qualms about adding my own hacks (Bonhamizer, Infinite Jukebox and Boil The Frog) to the list.

I anticipate your recommendations. Thanks in advance for your help!

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What is a Music Hack Day?

With 3 new Music Hack Days announced this week, it might be time for you to check out what goes on at a Music Hack Day.  Here are some videos that give a taste of what it’s like:

Music Hack Day Paris 2013

Music Hack Day Sydney 2012**

Music Hack Day 2012 Barcelona

Music Hack Day NYC 2011

For more info on what a Music Hack Day is like read: What happens at a Music Hack Day. I hope to see you all at one of the upcoming events.

**It is strange how a non-hacker made it onto the thumbnail for the Sydney video. Dude, It’s Sydney Australia, not Sydney Lawrence ;).


Upcoming Music Hack Days – Chicago, Bologna and NYC


Photo by Thomas Bonte

Fall is traditional Music Hack Day season, and 2013 is shaping up to be the strongest yet. Three Music Hack Days have just been announced:

  • Chicago – September 21st and 22nd – this will be the first ever Music Hack Day in Chicago.
  • Bologna – October 5th and 6th – in collaboration with roBOt Festival 2013. The first Music Hack Day in Italy.
  • New York – October 18th and 19th – being held in Spotify’s nifty new offices.

There will no doubt be more hack days before the end of the year including the traditional Boston and London events.  You can check out the full schedule and sign up to be notified whenever at a new Music Hack Day is announced at

Music Hack Day is an international 24-hour event where programmers, designers and artists come together to conceptualize, build and demo the future of music. Software, hardware, mobile, web, instruments, art – anything goes as long as it’s music related.

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The Hack Day Manifesto

What do you need to do to put on a good hack event like a Music Hack Day? Read The Hack Day Manifesto for insights on what it takes to make sure you don’t have hack event fail.   Here’s some choice bits:

Your 4MB DSL isn’t enough

Hack days have special requirements: don’t just trust anyone who tells you that “it’ll be fine”. Think about the networking issues, and verify that they work for the kind of capacity you are going to have. People from the venue or their commercial partner will tell you all sorts of things you want to hear but keep in the back of your mind that they may not have any clue what they are talking about. Given the importance of network access, if you are operating a commercial event consider requiring network performance as part of your contract with venues and suppliers.

Rock solid WiFi

Many commercial WiFi providers plan for much lower use than actually occurs at hack days. The network should be capable of handling at least 4 devices per attendee.

Don’t make people feel unwelcome

Avoid sexism and other discriminatory language or attitudes. Don’t make any assumptions about your attendees. Get someone who is demographically very different from you to check your marketing material through to see if it makes sense and isn’t offensive to someone who doesn’t share your background.

Read The Hack Day Manifesto. If you agree with the sentiment, and you have enough hacker juice to fork the manifesto, edit it and send a pull request, you are invited to add yourself to the list of supporters.

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Why do Music Hackers hack?

[vimeo w=600]

A short film by Pauline de Zeew, with Paul King and Syd Lawrence

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The Future of Mood in Music

One of my favorite hacks from Music Hack Day London is Mood Knobs.  It is a Spotify App that generates Echo Nest playlists by mood. Turn some cool virtual analog knobs to generate playlists.

Mood Knobs

The developers have put the source in github. W00t.  Check it all out here: The Future of Mood in Music.

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Bohemian Rhapsichord – a Music Hack Day Hack

It is Music Hack Day Boston this weekend. I worked with my daughter Jennie (of Jennie’s Ultimate Roadtrip fame) to build a music hack. This year we wanted to build a hack that actually made music. And so we built Bohemian Rhapsichord.

Bohemian Rhapsichord is a web app that turns the song Bohemian Rhapsody into a musical instrument.  It uses TheEcho Nest analyzer to break the song into segments of quasi-stable musical events. It then shows these as an array of colored tiles (where the colors are based on timbre) that you can interact with like a musical instrument.

If you click on a tile, you play that portion of the song (or hold down shift or control and play tiles just by mousing over them).  You can bind different segments to keys letting you play the ‘instrument’ with your keyboard too (See the FAQ for all the details).   You can re-sort the tiles based on a few criteria (sequential order, by loudness, duration or by similarity to the last played note).  It is a fun way to make music based on one of the best songs in the world.

The app makes use of the very new (and not always the most stable) web audio API. Currently, the only browser that I know that supports the web audio API is Chrome.    The app is online so give it a try:  Bohemian Rhapsichord

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Bipolar Radio

I just finished my  hack for Music Hack Day SF. It is called Bipolar Radio.   It is your standard Pandora-style artist radio but with a twist. Type in an artist, and you’ll get an endless stream of music by similar artists.   When you need to hear a high energy song, just click on the yellow happy face and you’ll instantly hear a high energy song by the currently playing artist.  Similarly, if you’d like to chill out, just click on the green face and you’ll instantly hear a low energy song that should help you relax a bit.

The hack uses the Echo Nest song data to help find the high and low energy songs. I use a combination of loudness, energy, danceability, and tempo to sort and filter the songs by an artist into the high and low energy buckets.  I’m taking advantage of the new Rdio / Echo Nest integration to get Rdio IDs so I can play them in Rdio’s nifty player.

Give it a whirl and let me know what you think:   Bipolar Radio