What happens if you take a couple hundred programmers and hackers and fuel them with caffeine, pizza, beer and Wifi for an entire weekend? The Music Hack Day series, which stopped off in New York City this past weekend, attempts to find out.
The answer is clear: As they did last time, these music technologists self-organized into groups to build a truly remarkable range of functioning digital music technologies — everything from Valentine’s Day music players that build playlists based on your beloved’s name and interests to an app that plays the ideal music for any group gathered at a venue using FourSquare check-ins.
It’s hard to say how long it would take actual companies to conceptualize and build these technologies, but it would surely take longer than one weekend — such is the power of the crowd, especially when that crowd is made up of the talented scientists, engineers and builders who gathered at Manhattan’s General Assembly for Music Hack Day New York.
The official judges (including every single attendee, in classic crowdsourcing style) chose three winners to receive top prizes of $5,000, $3,000 and $1,000. In addition, sponsoring companies awarded prizes in categories listed below. We’ll get to some of the other hacks, which were no less fascinating, later in the week, but the following hacks stood out from the field:
First Prize: Invisible Instruments
With a Nintendo Wii controller in his left hand and an iPhone in his right, Tim Soo wowed the crowd with his collection of invisible musical instruments, including a violin played with (of course) an invisible bow, a phantom drumset, and a literal air guitar.
Soo presented the guitar at Music Hack Day Boston, but he has made lots of progress since then — just listen to the gasps from the crowd as he bows the violin, above — so attendees awarded him the top prize anyway. His system takes the physical inputs from the Wii controller and iPhone and applies them to a custom Max/MSP program to create the resulting sounds. Stradivarius himself would have been impressed.
Second Prize: djtxt
The next time you throw a party, try Dan Aminzade’s dj.txt, which lets people request songs using their cellphones’ SMS or Twitter client, displaying the queue on a computer or computer-connected television for all to see.
The interface is quite slick, and partygoers can request songs by simply texting the artist and song name, which dj.txt understands. But there’s a lot going on underneath the hood of this deceptively simple app:
- Twilio to send and receive text messages,
- Grooveshark to play the music,
- TinySong to look up songs in the Grooveshark catalog,
- Last.fm to display album covers,
- MusiXmatch to display lyrics for the current song,
- The Echo Nest to display stats about party playlists on the recap page, and
- Twitter, to receive song requests via tweet in addition to SMS.
In addition to requesting songs, attendees can text the word “skip” to move on to the next song. After the party, djtxt lets you hear every song that played at the party via Grooveshark while displaying their energy levels, hottness and danceability ratings as determined by The Echo Nest.
Third Prize: Stringer
Stringer allows the user or the programmer to paint invisible lines in 3D space that can be plucked like strings. The longer the invisible line, the lower the note — just like with a real string instrument.
We caught an early glimpse of this project, created by Alex Chen (designer, Google Creative Lab, featured in the video above), Aiden Feldman (web developer, LimeBits), and Tyler Williams (developer, The Echo Nest), some of which is based on Chen’s widely-acclaimed work on MTA.me, which turns a map of the New York subway system into playable strings. This installation adds integration with Microsoft’s Kinect device so that strings can be drawn and plucked by movements in real space.
As the above video indicates, possible applications include sidewalk installations, multi-player games within the home, and live performance.
In addition to the main judges’ awards, Music Hack Day New York sponsors gave out prizes to hackers who used their companies’ products or just plain made something cool.
Best band publicity tool: Jam.ly
The Orchard awarded $1,000 to Eric from Jam.ly (no information yet), an SMS music discovery service.
Best uses of the MOG and Roku APIs (multiple winners)
MOG and Roku awarded free MOG subscriptions to Visualizer.fm, a neat music visualizer; Musical Zeitgeist (Google Trends for music); and Find You Some Vinyl (a way to bypass badly-designed interfaces and search multiple stores when shopping for vinyl).
They awarded a Roku box to MogDedication, which lets you dedicate songs to people using MOG).
Best living room hack according to Boxee: AutomaticDJ
Boxee awarded a Boxee Box to AutomaticDJ, which creates an appropriate playlist for any venue based on the people in the room.
Best hack according to TekServe: Invisible Instruments
TekServe awarded the choice of Ableton Live 8 or a $500 gift card to Invisible Instruments, which also took home top honors from the attendee judges (see above).
Best uses of the MusiXmatch API
MusiXmatch awarded a Windows 7 Phone to /a/valentine/for/you, which finds songs for your sweetheart based on their name; accommodations for the next Music Hack Day to Callaboroake, an online karoake collaboration service; and a one-week vacation in Italy to Valentun.es, which generates custom playlists for Valentine’s Day based on your significant other’s name and interests.
Best music collaboration hack according to Indaba: Gigbeat
Best use of the SongKick API: Gigbeat
Songkick awarded $250 in concert ticket vouchers to Gigbeat, an Android app that helps music fans figure out which shows they should see based on their digital music collections, a search function, the concerts their friends are going to, their location, and their favorite artists.
Best Use of the SoundCloud API: Screaminator
SoundCloud awarded a flight to any of the upcoming Music Hack Days to Screaminator, an iOS app that lets you record a scream, and — if the program decides that it’s a good enough scream — upload your scream to SoundCloud for easy sharing.
Best use of the Ex.fm API: Chris Carella (Updated)
Chris Carella won a set of AudioEngine2 speakers from Ex.fm for an unpresented app called SubJot (the only Ex.fm hack created at Music Hack Day NYC) and Miguel Senquiz, who wore an Ex.fm T-shirt while presenting Patternsketch, a browser-based sequencer and drum machine.
Any use of the Last.fm API (multiple winners)
Best uses of The Echo Nest’s API (multiple winners)
The Echo Nest awarded $500 checks to Video Nest, which builds a Pandora-like service out of YouTube videos; Heartbeat (no information), which selects songs to increase or decrease the listener’s heart rate; Gridsong, which displays a matrix of similar songs based on any starter song; and Vib Riboff, which turns any song into a fast-paced line-art rhythm game. (The Echo Nest publishes Evolver.fm.)
Best use of the 7Digital API: Musicality
7Digital awarded the business card of their U.S. head of operations to Musicality, which lets the user text message a lyrical fragment to receive an SMS with a clip of the song in question.
Best use of Rovi’s API: Boxee Music Quiz (Updated)
Rovi’s prize, a Boxee Box, went to John McCann for Boxee Music Quiz, which quizzes music fans and their friends on the music in their iTunes music collection using metadata from Rovi and sound snippets from The Echo Nest. (Thanks for the update, Twitter — our recording didn’t catch this one the first time around.)
Watch the presentation of the judges’ prizes:
Watch the presentation of the company prizes:
Expect more Music Hack Day NYC coverage in the days or possibly weeks to come, as we work our way through the 72 hacks that were created over the course of the weekend.
Update: Check out this excellent video of Music Hack Day New York:
Photo courtesy of Flickr/thomasbonte