Socks that vibrate to music. Artist playlists based on your tweets and your weather. A visualizer that reacts not only to the music that’s playing, but also to your flailing hands.
Music Hack Day San Francisco — the latest stop on the ongoing, global Music Hack Day tour — was the place to see these things and more. At this latest iteration, 109 participants built 40 hacks at Github’s hacking space, with the overnight session for the ultra-dedicated at Spotify’s San Francisco office. They built everything over the course of a single weekend, presenting their creations to each other on Sunday evening in an amusing set of show-and-tell-style demonstrations, in typical Music Hack Day fashion.
For those of us who care about music, technology, the future, or especially all three, these events are a smorgasbord of weird, wild, and possibly even useful music technologies. Some of these hacks are closer to art, and some closer to commerce, but all of them are interesting from where we’re sitting.
That said, here are some standouts from Music Hack Day SF 2014, in alphabetical order:
This virtual drum kit for iOS (see the super-hacky-looking photo to the right), from Alex Gourley, Ronald Mannak, Lucas Yan, and Jason Xie, involves attaching sensors from Texas Instruments to a couple of drumsticks in order to detect what they’re doing. Then you can play along with any song, with your iPhone showing which drum you’ve hit with whatever movement you’ve just made, so you can learn how to hit the right drums. For an extra challenge, the hack can analyze the song you’re playing to find the beats, so that it can tell you when to play along, somewhat a la Guitar Hero.
The basic idea with this complicated app is that it makes the drumbeats to whatever you’re listening to vibrate your hands and feet, to sync up with what the drummer was playing on the track. To pull off this bit of magic, according to its creator Pierre Reimertz, Feel Beats asks the user for the song they want to hear, then seeks out a MIDI version of it, extracts the drum notes, and sends them to an Arduino board with little vibrating thingies attached to it.
Hold two vibrators in your hands and the other two to your socks, and in a sense, you’ll feel like the drummer that was playing on the track. When the drummer stomps the kick drum pedal, for instance, you might feel that in your right foot.
This music hack by Colin DuRant and Harrison Harnisch is ready for primetime, unlike some of the others listed here. To use it, simply tweet the name of an artist to @givemeplaylist. You’ll receive a playlist in reply, including songs by that artist and similar artists, all based on the sentiment of your most recent tweets and the weather at your current location. It works best for the weather part if you add a location to your tweet.
Magnetic Mesh (no demo, website, or code)
Leap Motion, which can detect your movements with more resolution than Microsoft Kinect, and is starting to be included in laptops, offers all kinds of possibilities for interacting with music. This one is pretty neat, although you can’t try it yourself (yet?). Magnetic Mesh, from Matt Tytel, mashes Leap Motion with Cinder “to make an awesome visualizer that reacts to your hand movements.”
Ching-Wei Chen, Micah Elizabeth Scott, and Francis “B” built a nifty live remix instrument that analyzes whatever song you feed into it. Then it assigns various slices of that song to buttons on an 8×8, MPC-style sample-triggering interface, so the user can play each one. On top of that, it presents a light show based in part on the mood of each segment. When played, it’s “like a sampler, a drum machine, and a unique synesthetic light instrument all in one.”
The best way to understand this might be to watch it in action:
LeapJ, the ambitious work of Jonathan Azoff, Joseph Turian, Nathan Leiby, Aylan Mello, and Windsor Schmidt, aims to create a live show in your browser to go along with the song of your choice, using only digital components — motion in real space as detected by Leap Motion, a remix of the music you’ve selected, the visual waveform of that remix, and images of the artist in question. Given that so much music is consumed on devices with screens, this hack is not so far-fetched as it might seem.
A collaboration between Justin Higgins, Johnny Megahan, and Teja Vishwanadha, turnt-able is a twist on the now-defunct but once-insanely-popular group-listening app Turntable.fm that purports to let users rate music recommendation services instead of songs.
(Photo courtesy of Kara Murphy)