Music Tech Fest London - Day 1

Music Tech Fest London 2014 launched with an incredible mix of technology, performance and probing of the future of the music industry. With everything from brain hacking to playable interactive artist merchandise, wearable tech and new business models, it was a compelling first day.

Andrew Dubber keynote speech to a full house

Future music industry

Giving a thought provoking keynote speech, MTF Director Andrew Dubber kicked the event off. He talked about the future of the music industry and some of the problems and challenges it faces in the coming years, particularly the need for open, mashable and forward compatible media. A major theme was that technology is and always has been an integral part of music; something that touches all aspects of its creation and reception. Making some really interesting points, he got the audience’s creative juices flowing.

Living sound sculpture - Arboreal Lighting

Next up, Alex Haw from Atmos Studio presented an amazing project called ‘Arboreal Lighting’. Commissioned by the Camden Roundhouse and Imogen Heap, it is a huge installation piece made up of thousands of individual lights that work as pixels in a giant display. Pulsating with a rainbow of colours, it transforms the sound from a space into an almost living sculpture of light.

Arboreal Lightning Atmos Studio

Digital Medieval

Jeremy Silver has had a distinguished career with a string of key players in the world of the digital music industry and is himself a pioneer. Reading an excerpt from his book ‘Digital Medieval’, he argues that the new landscape of the digital revolution looks more like a series of medieval city-states, where content is tethered to one provider or platform, than a period of renaissance. Raising really interesting questions, such as what happens to the digital music collection and online content of a loved one in the event of their death, he set the tone of what needs to happen to happen to keep the digital world free, and to bring about a true digital renaissance.

Jeremy Silver

Loudness Wars

Ian Shepherd took to the stage to explain a bit about the ‘loudness wars’ that have been plaguing the media industries over the last twenty years. Essentially, due to a desire to make each record sound more commercially desirable and punchy, extreme compression is used which results in a major deterioration in sound quality. Some modern albums even display clipping and audible distortion. Music with a low dynamic range, such as this incredibly loud contemporary mastering has a small difference between the loudest and quietest parts of the waveform. Music with more dynamic range sounds more open, rounded and musical. As part of the ‘Dynamic Range Day’ festival, Ian has created the ‘Perception’ Plug-in for mastering engineers. Loudness changes our perception of music, deceiving us into thinking it sounds better when it doesn’t. The plugin helps the mastering engineer to see past this and offers realtime ‘before and after’ comparisons in order to find the sweet spot for mastering. Using the new EBU R128 loudness standard (as found in iTunes Radio), any damage done by excessive processing can be reversed.

Fans and artist connection - Leaf

Filling the void left by Myspace (the old version), Leaf is a marketplace that allows fans the chance to connect with one another and the musical act, whilst also offering the artist a chance to engage with and grow their audience. With free streaming music, concert tickets and the chance to buy merchandise directly from the artist, Leaf gives musicians a platform which they or their label can run themselves.

Occupy Music

We were then treated to an exclusive ‘teaser’ trailer of the Occupy Music film. Hosts Andrew Dubber and Michela Magas travelled all over Brazil documenting the underground music collectives that have sprung up across the country in the wake of the internet. With everything from time bartering systems right up to independent record labels printing their own currencies, it is clear that a whole new system of collaboration, cooperation and music creation/distribution is rising outside of the mainstream. A memorable quote from Dubber “You don’t just tear down the system, you create a new one’.

Off Axis - ‘Gigswap’ and more

The next presentation followed on from the themes of the Occupy Music film. Jeff Thompson, founder of Un-Convention, has created a revolutionary network called ‘Off Axis’ that allows musical acts to play sold out shows in cities that they have never been to. Based around the ‘gigswap’ model that has been going around as long as bands have been touring, it formalises the gig swapping barter system by quantifying units of collaboration. These can then be redeemed at a later date. For example, if a London band hosts a Manchester band for a sold-out show (minimum 70 people) in London, rather than having to play a reciprocal gig in Manchester, the band can redeem the units of collaboration by being invited to another city with another band altogether. In this way, inter-city live music is democratised and otherwise impenetrable music circuits can be made worthwhile for touring bands, which offers many exciting possibilities for smaller acts. This also gives an element of reliability to what would have otherwise been a vague promise between two bands.

Digital Rights Management - Kendra Initiative

Addressing the quagmire of digital rights management and royalties, Kendra Initiative is an open architecture system that is looking to create a new standard. Historically, tracking the fine details of credits involving production, collaboration, rights and samples has always been incredibly tricky. By incorporating this into one system, rights managers at labels, or even with acts can map out royalty calculations and track sales reports. This offers a chance for much richer metadata on musical compositions, and empowers the artist and label to not shy away from previously difficult areas such as using samples, or doing collaborations/covers.

Artist marketing tools - SupaPass

Essentially a subscription fanclub with a crowd sourcing and funding setup, SupaPass is a “business model in a box’ solution for artists. Aiming to help startups and small companies flourish in the music ecosystem of the future, they offer a range of marketing tools and means by which artists’ fans can become supporters of their favourite acts in return for VIP access.

Soundwave Mug

On-demand merchandise - DizzyJam

Co-founded by Neil Cocker, DizzyJam is the world’s leading independent print-on-demand merchandise system for the music industry. Talking about some of the major problems faced by labels and acts, Neil explained that smaller companies and artists can benefit from the economics of scale of DizzyJam. Previously this was only available to large labels putting in even larger orders. Merchandise is showing itself to be a commercially viable product that is harder to pirate. With new technology, it is now possible to print-on-demand orders, and amazingly a new soundcloud API allows the company to pull wavs from soundcloud and print them onto personalized mugs at We were passed round an example of this, featuring a very familiar waveform on the side of a white mug. A parting thought was that the two main areas of the future of merchandise are personalization and interactivity; with this the possibilities are endless and the soundcloud mug was just the beginning!

Interactive drum poster from Novalia

Interactive Merchandise - Novalia

On the theme of interactivity, we then saw an amazing example of interactive physical merchandise from Novalia. Founded by Kate Stone, the company set themselves the goal of “making paper interactive”. By printing using conventional equipment, but with new techniques and conductive inks, they were able to make a poster that registered touch sensitivity. This in effect meant that a piece of paper could be turned into a touchscreen, or with the advent of MIDI over Bluetooth 4, a full-blown MIDI controller! To demonstrate we saw a fantastic poster of a drumkit where each picture of a drum played the relevant drum sound as you touched it. Also a picture of two mixing decks and a cross-fader had the ability to function as an actual scratching interface for DJ software running on an iPhone. This is really revolutionary retrofitting of a very old technology (paper!), and we think the possible applications for this in the future will be endless. Start expecting posters that sing to you…

EEG brainwave to music interface

Brain hacking - EEG Musical Interface

Taking a leap into what felt like science fiction, Matan Berkowitz ushered us into the magical world of musical brain hacking. Having spent much time researching and developing musical interfaces for people with disabilities, he teamed up with an Israeli professor to create an EEG brainwave to music interface. By reading the brain activities at 20 specific levels, this information is then transmitted to 20 separate MIDI channels which can be fed into any music generation software. Giving a fascinating demonstration, we were able to see and hear changes in the music as his brain activity fluctuated. Whilst still in its infancy, this technology could really change how the severely disabled not just interact with, but create music.

Biobeats - merging healthcare and music, helping people focus

Dr David Plans related to us his compelling backstory. As a software developer he was working too hard, and was suffering from chronic stress. This actually put him in hospital with a heart attack, during which he was declared clinically dead and given a toe-tag for the morgue. After recovering from this life changing wake-up call, he has now devoted his time to developing software apps that respond to your heart-rate and other stress indicators with the goal of helping you focus on mindfulness and ultimately lowering stress. Biobeats, an app to help focus has proven popular helping not just stressed individuals, but also PTSD sufferers, people with early onset dementia and children with ADHD (including Dr Plans’ own son). Preventative medicine is a new frontier for science and anything that can be effective at reducing illness and suffering without going straight to prescribing drugs is a really positive development.

Crewdson with his Concertronica Andrew Dubber

Crewdson’s Concertronica - concertina MIDI controller

Hugh Jones (aka Crewdson) absolutely blew us away with his heavily modded concertina. The ‘Concertronica’ functions much like a normal concertina but with the every single movement being able to be tracked and exported as a MIDI controller. So, all the buttons on each side of the instrument can grab, loop and distort sound and samples, whilst the distance between the two handles can further manipulate them. This was particularly impressive in his demonstration where he grabbed a clip of his voice and used the extension/contraction function of the concertonica to scroll through the waveform. The design of this new instrument is entirely one-of-a-kind and a really ingenious mix of old and new technology.

Poetry Machine - poetry meets music

Robert Thomas’s Poetry Machine with Geoff Howse, Tadeo Sendon, Kevin Logan and Artur Vidal

This is a really interesting project where a poem is fed into a specially designed program that modulates the sound according to a pre-programmed set of random probabilities. We weren’t entirely sure how it worked, but the end result was very impressive! The project was best shown off by the performance where a poem was played through the program, accompanied by a completely improvised sound-art performance.

Jason Singh

Wearable music tech & beatboxing jam - Adam John Williams & Jason Singh

In true Music Tech Fest style, no day is complete without improvised music. Inviting two veterans of MTF to the stage, Adam John Williams and Jason Singh, we got to see these two musicians jam together. A winner of the hack contest two years running, Adam John Williams had created an amazing array of wearable music technology that made him look more cyborg than musician. Alongside him was Jason Singh, a distinguished beat-boxer with an impressive setup of looping and sound warping equipment. The result was a beautiful wall of sound, with these two intrepid musical hackers at the helm. As Jason threw out some incredibly realistic and aggressive beats, Adam used his homemade exoskeleton-glove-controller to modulate the sounds, creating a great combination of glitch-electronica and human beats to bring day one to a close.

Adam John Williams