Music Tech Fest - Day 1

The second, and sellout Music Tech Fest had a huge buzz about it. Mike Skinner (The Streets, The D.O.T.) sent over his latest aiff files, RCA Records supplied a load of stems for the Music Hack Camp hackers to play with, and there were amazing speakers. There was so much new stuff to do, see, hear and think about that we’re doing a separate blog for each day. Here are some of our highlights from Day 1, including Alex Allmont’s Lego sculptures that play rhythms, EMI’s strategies for artists, and live performances.

Artists talk Music and Tech

Within minutes of the festival opening, artist and beinghuman founder Gaynor O’Flynn, (who performed later), had got things off to a rousing start. We are in the “post give it away for free era” she declared.

Tim Murray-Browne talked about the London Music Hackspace’s ensemble project to design entirely new instruments and interfaces. It’s called the Cave of Sounds and was open during the fest. We visited and found some amazing work in progress, from Xbox sample triggering with movement, to shadows on paper making sounds - we made shapes like crazy.

Carol MacGillivray and Bruno Mathez who create under the name Trope, described their kinetic art installations in the Diasynchronoscope project. They were showing the stunning Stylus at the Fest - photos just don’t do it justice, but when you are in the room with the hypnotic sounds and lights you just don’t want to leave. ‘An alien god instrument’ wrote one visitor.

From Hackers to Product Makers

Broadcaster and writer Jamillah Knowles moderated this panel that looked at how people move from that fun hack to getting a product out there. It featured MusicBrainz’ Robert Kaye, New York Monthly Music Hackathon’s Jonathan Marmor, Thomas Lidy from Spectralmind and Jean-Baptiste Thiebaut of London’s Music Hackspace, who is also Head of Technology at ROLI, makers of the amazing Seaboard instrument (see Day 2 for more info on this).

Hacking was described as trying out new things, rather than prototyping, and the challenge of making a product is the move from “I can use this” to “everyone can use this”, and steering a path through the business side.

Jean-Baptiste said that a lot of artists are working with engineers these days to design their own solutions, especially as MIDI can be so difficult.

So what can working with artists bring? How about a Prince robot playing a harp? Jonathan Marmor predicted specialised artist-designed objects would be the next big thing.

Jamillah Knowles, Jonathan Marmor, Robert Kaye, Thomas Lidy, Jean-Baptiste Thiebaut

There’s a big mismatch between hackers and business people - it’s better for hackers to pick up a business book said Robert Kaye, as they are good at teaching themselves.

Robert was adamant that hacking is all about passion. He’s been working on a cocktail-making robot - Bartendro - for four years.

He was also very passionate about the challenge of getting more women into hacking - in response to a question from Jo Thomas, award-winning electronic composer and music academic. Geek activism and organisations such as coding mentors Pyladies are the way forward in his eyes. The panel agreed that inspiring girls early, at elementary/primary school age was key. Robert said women don’t always need to be coders to be in music tech, there are a lot of different roles inside engineering.

Music Tech Meetup then hosted an onsite meetup, which was a great chance for people to hook up.

Matt Black - Ninja Jamm

Last year Matt Black, of Coldcut, and Ninja Tune records, showed Music Tech Fest a very early version of his Ninja Jamm app. This time he came back to jam with the recently launched app which lets you remix tracks by top Ninja Tune artists such as Bonobo, DJ Food, and Mr Scruff in a really easy, intuitive way. You can upload your mxes straight to SoundCloud too. Matt was creating amazing sounds just using his iPhone. See our full interview with Matt Black about Ninja Jamm, Coldcut, and his favourite music gear.

Bands, Brands and Tech

Where legendary labels meet future business models

It’s rare to hear top music industry strategists talking about their plans, and this fascinating session brought together EMI’s Digital Development Manager Rebecca Lammers and Head of Technical and Creative (Digital Marketing) Josh Saunders, artist manager Richard Antwi from Levels Entertainment, and marketing, branding and tech experts - creative strategist Charly Massey, Michela Magas and Nikke Osterback.

Big record companies are harnessing new tech, and playing a long term game with some of their artists such as trading free downloads for signups. There were 55,000 signups for a Lykke Li campaign, said Nikke who is Senior Digital Consultant at Atlantic Records UK/Warner Music Group and has created award-winning campaigns for Plan B’s Ill Manors, Bruno Mars and more.

Richard told how Jacob Banks’ debut EP The Monologue was given away for free, and he got Radio 1 play on the strength of it. It was put onto iTunes later.

Nikke described a hugely successful fan engagement campaign for Ed Sheeran that sourced video content via Vyclone, by asking fans to film him. Vyclone is an app that creates movies automatically from multi-camera multi-angle footage from your mobile phone, and is open to anyone to use. The Ed Sheeran video received 220,000 views in just 24 hours, and the budget was just £500.

Oisin Lunny, Nikke Osterback, Rebecca Lammers, Richard Antwi, Charly Massey, Josh Saunders, Michela Magas

Josh Saunders of EMI picked out some top artist & tech collaborations - Damon Albarn making a Gorillaz version of Korg i-Electribe which includes the collective’s own sounds and samples, and Alicia Keys working with Native Instruments on a virtual piano called Alicia’s Keys, that she went on to use on her album The Element of Freedom.

It was startling to hear EMI say that they thought there was still some way to go on platforms for discovering music, and filters - “no-one’s licked it yet.”

EMI are YouTube enthusiasts, and recent signings have all had huge YouTube fanbases revealed Rebecca Lammers. But once signed, they moved the artists over to Vevo which they feel works best for them.

Music Tech Fest founder Michela Magas of Stromatolite talked about how music has opened up, and said that there has been a huge democratisation of music - you don’t need rich parents, as circuit-bending, cheap sensors, lo tech and lo fi can give you what you need to make music.

Oisin Lunny chipped in that he loved the fact that Brian Eno spent decades using a Yamaha DX7. (An 80s synth that was considered the first commercially successful digital synth).

The panel’s favourite new tech? Björk’s Biophilia, Spotify, Shazam, 2-way smartphone interaction, and the new Seaboard instrument (more of that in Day 2’s report).

Richard Antwi who manages artists such as Jacob Banks and Wretch 32, showed us his favourite new tech in action - the djay app on his iPhone.

Robert Kaye, MusicBrainz

From making the fount of all record release knowledge, MusicBrainz, to a harmonic pendulum for Burning Man festival, and cocktail-making robots, Robert Kaye’s open-source ethos and huge personality made him an MTF fave.

He is also the Executive Director of the non-profit MetaBrainz Foundation that builds community databases and makes them available in the public domain.

It was great to hear him talk about all his projects - and reveal that record companies use his community-sourced MusicBrainz database to keep track of their own releases, as it is so comprehensive and accurate.

Tristan Shone - Author and Punisher

Tristan Shone makes brain-hammering industrial doom and drone metal on his own instruments, including Author and Punisher. The devices “draw heavily on aspects of industrial automation, robotics and mechanical tools and devices, and require significant force from the performer”.

The US-based artist is more used to performing in clubs, but shook the walls of Music Tech Fest’s Ravensbourne home with his visceral and thrilling set.

Breath - Gaynor O’Flynn and Nick Rothwell

Gaynor O’Flynn and Nick Rothwell performed a haunting and mesmerising interactive multi media piece called Breath, which was premiered at the Kinetica Art Fair in 2012. Gaynor devised the piece, and her voice and sampled heartbeat create realtime circles of light which are then projected back onto her. Nick used Field, Max and Ableton to create the circles of light that interact with Gaynor’s voice & body and a sample of her heartbeat.

Jacob Banks

Rising star Jacob Banks, MOBO Unsung winner, finished off the evening with a passionate performance of his signature soul songs. He had been on Jools Holland’s Later show earlier in the week, and was just about to start touring with Alicia Keys. The intimate set was being recorded for the Music Tech Fest hackers to give them fresh vocal stems to play with - lucky them!

We’ll have more on Music Tech Fest soon.