Music Tech Fest London - Day 3

We bring you the third day and final installation of our coverage of Music Tech Fest London 2014. It is safe to say we were completely blown away by the variety of innovation in all the projects. It was also particularly exciting to see the results of the Hack Challenges, both with adults and young people alike. The tender age of some of the participants was by no means a barrier to their creativity and technical abilities!

Bookabeat - founded by Makeda & Naomi

Bookabeat - music hiring platform

Bookabeat is an online music hiring platform in which artists can showcase work, manage their profile and their online bookings. A non genre-specific service, it aims to support artists by promoting original work and fostering a greater intimacy between artists and their audiences, as well as streamlining the online booking process for booking artists for events. In addition it aims to be a social initiative in that a percentage of earnings go to funding charitable projects and disadvantaged entrepreneurs.


Songdrop - music in one place

Using music aggregation technology, Songdrop allows you to listen to music from all over the internet in one place: youtube, soundcloud, bandcamp, vimeo, vevo, hype machine and mp3s from blogs can be put into playlists and listened to without having to jump between tabs. Much like a Pinterest for music, it came from looking for a way to collate what they’d been listening to online, including new music that is only on blogs and not on spotify yet.

Out of this came the swipeDJ app – for restaurants, bars, shops and gyms. It allows staff or to have control over music playlists, as well as individuals to sell curated playlists to venues, and can even allow playlists to be opened up to customers as a jukebox- they simply swipe music from a phone onto the screen. We will be looking out for it in venues in London soon!

Musikki - information and discovery

These days it is hard to not only keep track of the new music that is being submitted to the web, but also find out more information when you do like a piece of music. Musikki is a music information and discovery platform that catalogues items by artist, album or song and links all other information to this, including links, news, and official shows. Winning project funding from MIT, the recommendation service shows related artists, not just what other people are listening to, other artists on the same label as well as any collaborations, touring partners and influences. You can preview and buy songs, read lyrics, and see release date information, or whether it has been covered. We particularly liked the neat barcode reader to link you to information if you are physically in a store.

This Is My Jam

This Is My Jam - one click song sharing

Started in London, This Is My Jam addresses the problems of fleeting song sharing online. When you find a song that you absolutely love, you can share it across all platforms with one click - allowing not just your friends but others in the wider network to encounter your favourite songs. Also this means that all the songs on the app have been hand-picked by someone and so are ‘vouched for’. Songs that have been favourited by the users, are then compared with suggestions, as well as a history of the any particular recommendations. It has never been a better time to be a music fan but finding the good stuff is the hardest part. Currently the number of recommended tracks at This Is My Jam stands at about half a million. As an aside, they had a really nice thought experiment where the half million best songs of all time are taken to a desert island on just 3 flash pen-drives, resulting in just over four years of continuous playing!

Powster - video and interactive

Powster prides themselves with making ‘world-first’ ideas. As a crossing point between video and interactive content they have created a number of eye-catching music videos, adverts and internet content including custom adverts for movies where your own facebook pictures are added into the moving image.

We were shown a glimpse behind the scenes of an amazing intereactive video project for Bombay Bicycle Club.

Dr Rebecaa Fiebrink - Wekinator app

A computer scientist at Goldsmiths, Dr Rebecca Fiebrink is also a musician who creates musical software. She is interested in devices that sense motion such as accelerometers, and what can be done with them musically and artistically. Her app ‘Wekinator’ uses supervised learning to create instruments from a range of sources. By giving examples of an input, the algorithm learns the parameters and makes sounds appropriately. Inputs can range from a webcam, a game controller, to even the accelerometer in a laptop.

Uses of her innovative software include many composers looking to expand the possibilities of their instruments and even educational and remedial settings for children and those with learning disabilities. We were shown a few examples of groups of people pulling strings, banging laptops and making music in unconventional ways using this. A particularly nice use was the ‘Snakinator’ in which snakes charmed themselves using their movements on a webcam as the input.

Here is a mesmerising example of the Wekinator app being used for a performance piece.

Lossy & Strangers Are People Too

Lossy & Strangers Are People Too created a mesmerising mix of ambient electronic music and organic swirling visuals with their new collaboration ‘Microverse’.


Shlomo is a UK based vocal artist and beatboxer. He gave an inspiring talk about wanting to make music, and the limitations that various instruments had on his musical development. He raised the point that creative restrictions drive inspiration, and by making music almost entirely with his voice, he is consequently able to explore further his artistic goals. His work has led him to take part in many exciting projects, including a collaboration with Björk.

Shlomo and Adam John Williams had an amazing impromptu jam featuring both of them using gestural controls to modulate audio.

Customuse - 3D printed guitars

Customuse is a company that makes 3D printed guitars, at affordable prices. This allows players to own a completely custom guitar at a price that would have previously been completely unachievable. The sky is the limit with the possibilities that 3D printing brings to guitar making. By starting with a solid cricket bat shaped block of wood that attaches to the neck and houses the pickups, there is no sacrifice tonally even when using plastics as a building material. We were given a demonstration where the guitar was put through its paces with some serious shredding in a jam with Shlomo.

Brush DJ - music while you brush

From a dentist’s perspective, one of the biggest problems especially with young people is encouraging them to brush their teeth for the recommended amount of time of 2 minutes, twice a day. Timing this is always difficult, and it is hard to keep a young person’s interest for that period. To solve this there is Brush DJ, a simple app that allows you to choose a song that you like that will simply play until the requisite time is reached at which point an alarm is sounded. Part of a wider trend at the moment of the gameification of difficult tasks such as learning, exercise and self-discipline, this is a pleasing fix for children’s oral hygiene.

Laboratory Media - ThumbJam

Historically, music education for children at school has been limited, and choice of instrument restricted to recorder and violin. Music technology education at GCSE level or earlier is almost non existant, although the DWP estimates that 93% jobs in the music industry are actually in music technology. With digital instruments and the transference of new technology into an education setting, Laboratory Media hope to make music tech a part of music education. Using ThumbJam (a music looping and sampling app), and a willing participant from the audience they were able to show how easy it is to make both beautiful and complex music using nothing but your hands and iPad.

Melody Writer app

The Associated Board of the Royal Society of Music is the world’s largest music assessment board, testing musical ability for over 125 years testing with performance exam as well as theory. The ABRSM has teamed up with Attic Media to test music theory with the Melody Writer app, exam questions and skill practice. The music XML based system tests children’s ability to make music melody as part of the grade 5 test. It picks up melody and rhythmical errors, such as having too many beats in a bar, as well as other mistakes that previously only a teacher could spot. This is an excellent tool for children to practice a traditionally quite complex area of music theory.

Music Tech Fest Kids Hack

Whilst we had been hearing of all the exciting new projects as part of MTF, downstairs the Kids Hack had been taking place. The challenge was to make a musical instrument in three hours. Each child had an Arduino kit, provided by the sponsor RS Components. This connected a sound library to a variety of sensors such as light, touch and sliders. From this they could make any combination of their choosing, the result being a range of crazy instruments! We particularly enjoyed the arpeggiator and the ‘burble synth’ that responded to hand gestures.

We were particularly impressed by a drone that had also been built complete with barometer, altitude meters, and GPS.

Apparently it is mostly used for filming, of which we got a taste as we saw our faces from above on one of the monitors!

The team at Music Tech Fest agreed that this was a remarkable piece of hacking from such young contributors that they decided to award a spot prize for innovation to the team consisting of a more powerful processor kit for their next project.

Vidibox - audiovisual mixing app

VidiBox is an app available for the iPad, built as part of the Billaboop studio which focuses on reactive apps and realtime processing of audiovisual content. Using a mixture of VJ technology and beat-making software, it aims to make audiovisual mixing simpler and more accessible. Particularly impressive were the suite of features that you would normally find in a sequencer such as quantizing, and we were shown a few amazing examples of this in use by VJs and visual artists. The possibility of using two iPads as a sort of video turntable was very exciting.

Papa Sangre - use your ears to play

Papa Sangre is an incredibly popular app on the app store. It is a game where you use your ears to play; you close your eyes and navigate with an iPad. Based around psycho-acoustics, it relies on echolocation, the ability to work out where sounds are coming from based on what we hear with our two ears. Sean Bean provides the voices, and the experience of creeping around a dark castle at night is genuinely scary. Realistic modelling of sound space only adds to the reality.

Music Jelly - remix project

Music Jelly makes applications and installations, with as much audience engagement as possible. Over a period of four years they have asked musicians to improvise in the same key and tempo, and filmed them to create loops of them playing. Users can then select videos and make unique mashups and remixes using any combination of the video loops. The audience was then invited to come up and mix some music of their own using the app!

Tangible Orchestra - interactive music installation

Tangible Orchestra puts electronic music in three-dimensional space, as opposed to the normal experience of listening through headphones or speakers. Much like listening to a full orchestra, where your position in the room determines the sound you hear, Tangible Orchestra takes seven instruments that are motion-activated spread out across a room and creates different sounds depending on how many audience members are present. In a way this makes the people experiencing the interactive installation both the audience and orchestra. To enhance the atmosphere, each instrument/speaker is fitted with lights that respond to the presence of a listener. This looks like an amazingly immersive musical experience! - curate your music is an app that takes feeds from your favourite music websites and blogs and curates them into one accessible place. From here you can watch embedded content, read on to further editorials and easily share with your friends. This addresses the commonly brought up problem of information overload on the internet, and the lack of portals through which you can filter the things that are most relevant to you. A nice feature is that the app remembers your preferences and over time gets a picture of the things that are interesting to you, and keeps track of any further mentions of topics and bands that you might like, essentially making your own customised music channel.

An example of collating blogs Music Tech Fest

Ableton Push and Max MSP demo

We were given a great demo from Mark Towers of the Ableton Push and Max MSP. By fully integrating into Ableton Live you can have a very physical control over what would otherwise be virtual instruments. Using a patch Mark created an awesome Pong-style instrument where dots of coloured light bounce around the pad and generate notes when they bump into each other.

Whosampled app

Whosampled is an app that allows you to find out which samples have been used on your favourite tracks. A database that is maintained by its users, you can follow the history of musical references, covers and borrowings across all genres right back over a period of hundreds of years!

Music Tech Fest Hackathon

As we neared the end of the three day festival, we were treated to a round up of the results of the Hackathon event that had been going on in the basement of LSO St. Luke’s. The event was sponsored by RS Components who had been providing all the parts for the challenge, as well as the prizes for the winners.

Andrew Faraday and his Digital Collaborative Space - using four volunteers moving coloured dots around a screen with a variety of controllers, music is created every time the dots meet each other.

Bendergon – By attaching flex sensors to the bottoms of straws mounted into a central unit, they created a fascinating instrument that looked much like a hedgehog. By brushing your hand across the ‘spines’, this was able to be translated into musical sounds.

Maio – Coming back to the whole brain/music interface issue that we had seen raised over the weekend, the team behind Maio took an arm band that reads electrical signals in your arm, and repurposed it as a music controller. Simply, the more you flex your muscles and move your arm, the wider the variety of music that gets outputted.

Alex & Johannas ‘Water Dog’ - Using an Axlotti chip and a series of contact sensors in a tray of water, they created an instrument that responded musically to your hand interacting with the water.

This looked like a simple but effective concept that could be ported to any water bearing space, such as a bath or a swimming pool and had many possibilities especially for rehabilitative and special needs educational care.

The winner of a hack challenge at Music Tech Fest Boston, Sean Manton showed us his project in which MIDI recordings are given 3D CAD visual representations. It was fantastic to see a piece of music turned into these wonderfully complex shapes. He suggested that these visualisations could even be 3D printed into a physical form!

Next we were given a performance from SpiderLily, who created a haunting soundscape on a keytar and was accompanied by a fascinating 3D visualisation that was being generated by the music.

We heard again from Matan Berkowitz who had shown us some amazing computer/brain interfaces earlier on at MTF and again he did not disappoint. He had hacked a heart rate monitor to generate a MIDI signal which was then fed through musical software to create some amazing sounds and melodies that were entirely driven by the readings from his body.

The next hack allowed for several people to play together at once and involved an iPad XY controller hack and a modification to include a pressure sensor for an extra dimension of control. Alongside this was a hacked Joystick controller that outputted a MIDI signal and a PS3 controller that modulated the sound using its internal gyroscope.

Sherlock Sounds, takes sounds for the Freesound archive and ports them to google maps to the point that they were recorded. This allows you to take an audio tour of an area, and the sound is modulated as you get closer or further away from it.

Spatial Orchestra turns the space around you into a large MIDI controller by adding a variety of sensors to a room. By simply being in the hacked space, you start generating music and controlling parameters such as delay and reverb by moving around. The result was a slightly trippy feel to what would otherwise have been the normal hubbub of a busy room, in a similar vein to LJ Rich’s project.

The next project encouraged audience participation as part of a musical performance. Using Android devices with NFC enabled touched to a large glowing orb, the audience members could then control individual parts of the song using an app launched on their devices. The result was a beautiful symphony of the fifteen or so members of the audience that participated.

LJ Rich couldn’t be there to present her hack in person, but it consisted of a great concept for the future of music TV. Designed for the new generation of content hungry audiences with short attention spans, ADHDTV consisted of a number of ideas to make music television more relevant. These included: the ability to skip straight to the chorus of a song, to be able to toggle between the interview and a music performance if the two are edited together and to speed up a performance without changing the pitch to be able to get through more content.

It also suggested being able to shared bookmarked video content, more behind the scenes content/recommendations and being able to filter out musicians talking about their social media. Whilst some of these seem more outlandish than others, it seems likely that we might be seeing one or two of these ideas on our screens in the future!

Adam John Williams took to the stage again to present some spot prizes from RS Components who were so impressed by the hacks that they decided to award extra prizes for individual projects that they particularly liked. These were the Bendergorn with its homemade flex sensors, the spatial orchestra and the MIDI CAD visualisations from Sean Manton.

We heard from Ashley from Heart & Soul, which is organisation that works with artists who have learning disabilities. In particular their project SoundLab looks at sound interfaces for people with either learning difficulties or movement difficulties, allowing them to more easily create music.

Their prize for Accessible Music Expressivity went to Andrew Faraday for his shared music space hack, and he was awarded two thousand pounds worth of software and the chance to develop his project further.

The RS Open Challenge was designed to honour someone who didn’t fit into any of the pre existing categories, but nonetheless deserved recognition. The winners were the creators of the iPad pressure sensor and Joystick collaborative hack, and they were awarded two hundred pounds of RS equipment.

The MTV Award for Hack the Gig went to LJ Rich for her ADHTV concept, and the MTV development team will be working with her to look at ways to realize some of her ideas.

Water Dog Andrew Dubber

The Beggars Hack The Fan Experience prize of a year’s worth of vinyl went to ‘Live Drive’ for their NFC audience participation orb project.

The RS Components award for Music Wearables, of five hundred pounds of any RS equipment, went to the BioSynth team with Matan Berkowitz for their heartbeat MIDI sensor.

Finally Music Tech Fest’s own ‘Rethink Music’ award went to the Water Dog team for their instrumentization of water. They will be joining the MTF team in Berlin 2014.

Rich Huxley - Hope and Social Andrew Dubber

Hope and Social

Moving on from the awards segment of Music Tech Fest we were introduced to Rich Huxley from the band Hope & Social and he gave us a fascinating insight into life as an indie band that has decided to go it alone with highly innovative strategies for funding, fan participation and involvement. We heard how his previous band ‘Four Day Hombre’ were flirted with by the music industry, and instead managed to fund an album themselves through their fans, in doing so becoming possibly the first band to ever do this. However, the business model of acting as a major label with major expenses was not sustainable, and the band reformed as Hope & Social with a new strategy.

These days, they have created a wide range of experiential and collaborative events to bring them closer to their fans, including a day trip to the seaside and (our favourite) a pop up French Bistro restaurant in which the audience play tuned wine bottles to join in with the performance.

This innovative attitude and desire to wrest back control over the relationship between musician and audience very much looks like the future of the music industry for independent bands. Rich finished by performing an intimate acoustic version of one of their songs

Andrew Dubber

Nina & The Butterfly Fish - Jam

Nina & The Butterfly Fish from the Trondheim Jazz School treated us with a taste of their forward looking fusion of Jazz and Pop music.

They were joined on stage by a saxophonist and beatboxer Jason Singh, and then a wide variety of audience members for an amazing jam to bring the weekend’s events to a close.

By the end of the show the stage was full of performers playing all manner of instruments!

Music Tech Fest