Music Tech Fest London - Day 2 Later

Animations, an app battle, new instruments and even a new genre - Gunk (geek punk) were all vying for attention as Music Tech Fest day 2 progressed.

Lu Edmonds and MTF Director Michela Magas Andrew Dubber

Hack Camp

The hack camp started in the afternoon and was soon a hive of activity as artists and technologists got going with the Hack Challenges and lots of exciting kit from sponsors RS Components.

Hack camp Andrew Dubber

Play Nicely - Orchestra and Animation

While the hackers hacked, the performances continued. Focusing on the Max Richter recomposed version of Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’, Play Nicely have created a reactive animation of a live performance of the piece.

Each member of the orchestra was mic’ed up and fed through Max MSP into Unity to create a unique element of animation. These were all combined into a large 3D landscape. We were shown a beautiful example of this as the camera panned through a dream world of mountains, trees and wildlife. As the music progressed and ebbed and flowed, so did the different aspects of the animation, from flowers rising out of the ground in spring, to snowfall and white-topped hills. We were impressed by the depth of feeling that having an extra layer of media brings to an already emotive piece.

Painting With Light - software for easy video mapping

Alex May is a visual artist who works primarily with video projection, video mapping and programming. Video mapping is where the area of video to be projected exactly matches the physical environment onto which it is projected. This can happen in two or even three dimensions - for example, a building facade with columns on it can have video that perfectly matches its 3D shape projected on to it. However, much of contemporary video mapping is technically complex, and because of the high-end equipment needed to perform it, it is accessible to only a limited number of people. This in effect limits its development. Painting With Light is a piece of software designed for artists by Alex May, which aims to democratize this process. It requires only basic equipment and no previous experience, and allows the user to draw with a mouse or a graphics tablet straight onto any item.

Oscilla - interactive virtual keyboard

Created by Andrea Santini, Oscilla is an interactive audio-visual installation. Based on optical tracking software, a keyboard is projected onto a space in which visitors can manipulate objects which are tracked, in turn manipulating the sound. In one example of this, a series of candles are placed at intervals on the keyboard and as they are moved around, so do the chords that form from the multiple musical notes controlled by the objects. Essentially an interactive sine-wave synthesizer, this has the really unusual feature of using real life objects as a control surface. We got to have a play with one after, and marvelled at the responsiveness of the tracking as we moved around a series of items on the virtual keyboard.

Jason Singh - a human Roland 808

We were treated to several amazing live performances from Jason Singh including an astonishing a cappella piece titled ‘Roland 808’ - his homage to the iconic drum
machine that he grew up with. Using nothing but a loop pedal and a series of vocal
effects, he conjured up a huge wall of sound and an amazing array of beats. At times it
was hard to believe a human being was actually making all these crazy sounds!

Jason Singh Andrew Dubber

Bitbin glitching drum beats

Matt Hodson aka Bitbin, is a musician and producer of electronic music. Usually performing with a solo setup, he was interested in incorporating other elements into his live set, particularly a live drummer.

We were given a demonstration of a MIDI drumkit being played and then manipulated and processed in realtime by Matt using a series of different effects. The end result was a captivating mix of percussion and glitched beats, completely blurring the line between electronic and more ‘traditional’ forms of making music.

Bitbin glitching live drums Music Tech Fest

Soundcamp’s Reveil - live sounds from around the world

Reveil was the first 24 hour live broadcast of sounds at daybreak, running from 5am until
6am the next morning on International Dawn Chorus Day. Soundcamp broadcast live feeds of ambient sound recorded from a number of locations around the world. The variety of sounds included everything from birds set against the ambient groans of the city’s roads to the richer chorus of wildlife in more exotic areas.

To do this, microphones were left running and the audio was processed by a USB soundcard and a Raspberry Pi, then sent to a stream for all to hear. There were live feeds coming from all over the globe, even underwater. The few examples that we had time to hear had an amazingly calming and reflective quality to them as you slowly adjusted to what would otherwise be ignored ambient sound. It was a bit like standing with your eyes closed and being whisked from one environment to the next!

Tunepics - fast-growing social network

Created by Justin Cooke, Tunepics is a British social network and is one of the fastest growing in the world. Combining more familiar elements such as being able to post photos (complete with pleasing filters, including weather) with clips of music creates a uniquely emotional experience. You are also able to attach how the post makes you feel with a rainbow-coloured emotion wheel, so rather than just a picture post it becomes a window into how you are feeling at that very moment. A photo of an autumnal walk in the park springs into life when soundtracked by a specific song, adding an almost cinematic feel to the post.

BBC R&D - Wifi radio prototypes and the future of radio

We particularly enjoyed the talk from the BBC’s R&D department. Focusing on the future of radio, they surveyed a large number of radio users to find out what extra features they would like from their radio experience. Radio is an interesting example, as the rise of internet channels and stations would traditionally take the experience towards the computer, whilst most listeners still interacted with radio in the kitchen. So they created a prototype for a wifi radio with ‘magic buttons’ - customisable buttons that can perform one-touch actions such as sharing the programme, pausing the radio, or (our favourite) switching channels whenever ‘the Archers’ came on to Radio 4.

BBC wifi radio prototypes

LJ Rich - ‘Glitching’ sound

LJ Rich is an incredibly multi-talented individual. As well as presenting for the BBC, she is also a musical composer and hacker. As someone who also has synaesthesia, she experiences the world in a very different way to everyone else. Because of crossed pathways in her brain, her senses combine as she interacts with stimuli (for example, seeing sound as colour). In order to share this with other people, she has created a device that ‘glitches’ the sounds around her, with musical inserts based on what key the sound is in. She describes it as a ‘mobile composing inspiration rig’. It produces a pleasing and slightly psychedelic effect and is said to ‘soften the edges of life’. LJ has also given a TED talk on her glitching and her synaesthesia.

The Mephistophone - Patrick Wollner and Isak Herman

Patrick Wollner and Isak Herman presented The Mephistophone, a ‘mechatronic hybrid’ device that creates and responds to sonic gestures. It was built with Matthew Herbert for the Royal Opera House and it evolved into a collaborative art and research project based at the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory.

Using a latex surface containing 32 embedded sensors, participants react to sounds by pushing and pulling into the surface of the material. This data is then collected, and any sound made or directed to the computer can be understood and drawn.

In performance and exhibition spaces it can be either a dancer or an orchestra, synthesising movement from sound and vice versa. The illusion of autonomy created by this imitation game has caused audiences and co-performers to react as if the machine is possessed – a reaction that led its creators to name it The Mephistophone.

The Mephistophone

Artists can train The Mephistophone to understand particular sound worlds which can then be played as a versatile instrument. From another perspective, it is also possible to compare this data with other interpretations of similar material to collate evidence on how people produce and make meaningful sound. All programming is open source and all materials are intentionally inexpensive - the whole mechanism is powered by only three Arduino boards - which means that you can make one too.

ROLI Seaboard - Tim Exile and Heen performance

Created in 2009 in London, The ROLI Seaboard is a synth/electric piano unlike no other. Beyond conventional keyboard functions, its soft rubbery surface allows you to bend notes, create glissando slides and increase or decrease the velocity of the notes by how hard you press the keys. We were given a chance to see it in action, as Heen and Tim Exile created a breathtaking improvised performance.

Tim Exile and Heen on the ROLI Seaboard Andrew Dubber

Fakebit Polytechnic - hacked instruments geek punk style

Using hacked instruments such as Guitar Hero controllers, Fakebit Polytechnic bring a
punk mentality to the world of electronic music. They fired through their performance with characteristic energy and their own brand of ‘Gunk’ which stands for ‘geek punk’. The set was to introduce their hacking workshop, to make more instruments for a big Gunk jam later. It was particularly pleasing to see a Guitar Hero controller being used to make actual music!

Fakebit Polytechnic Andrew Dubber

Elio Acaza - Prosthetic synth

Studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, Elio Acaza has created a number of projects that span the divide between design and other areas, particularly healthcare. Inspired by his time recovering from burns after an accident, he seeks to design with empathy for people with injuries. Treating sound as a physical experience of vibration, rather than an auditory one, he prototyped a ‘prosthetic synth’ where sound was output through a vibrating disc that is felt through the skin. His work opens up many possibilities regarding sound and physical therapy rehabilitation.

Battle of the Apps - Ninja Jamm vs Yellofier

Matt Black from Coldcut and Ninja Tune, and Adam John Williams teamed up to demonstrate two iPad music apps, namely Matt’s own Ninja Jamm and Yello’s YelloFier. It was amazing to hear so many crazy manipulations and such a deep remix coming from two iPads and it really brought home how advanced and powerful portable music software is these days. Both were so good it was a battle without a clear winner!

(Check our interview with Matt Black here).

Adam John Williams and Matt Black Andrew Dubber

Droitwich - Flugelhorn and electronic music

With their collaboration DROITWICH, Jason Singh and Yaz Ahmed have created a haunting fusion of Flugelhorn and electronic music. We were completely captivated as they crafted a beautiful and poignant atmosphere of music.

Yaz Ahmed and Jason Singh Music Tech Fest

Leafcutter John - light trigger performance

Leafcutter John gave us a fascinating insight into the world of using light to trigger music. During his performance he used flashing lights and a torch to create a wild variety of sounds and textures. He was joined on stage by Tim Exile, Yaz Ahmed and Jason Singh.

Leafcutter John Andrew Dubber

Gunk - geek punk finale with Lu Edmunds, Feral Five, Fakebit Polytechnic

A storming end to the day saw Lu Edmonds from Public Image Ltd jam with post-punk electro duo Feral Five and chip-tune synth poppers Fakebit Polytechnic, plus workshop hackers, for a grand geek punk finale.

Feral Five, Lu Edmunds, Fakebit Polytechnic

Lu wove his magic on his own handmade instrument with turkish origins, and the Fakebit crew played four upcycled games controllers. Feral Five had the unusual accompaniment of a mic’d up 3D printer, and sampled 3D printing sounds! The ‘Geek Punk allstars’ brought the night to a raucous close.

Feral Five, Lu Edmunds, Fakebit Polytechnic

  • For more on Music Tech Fest London 2014 check our blogs from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.