London’s hacking community descended on the Barbican Centre last weekend for 24 hours of music-app speed-coding, marking the third London Music Hack Day in three years.
What a difference a month makes. Back in November, during Boston’s Music Hack Day, Spotify was nowhere to be seen — only two hacks out of 56 took advantage of the music streaming service’s API. Since then, the company has thrown its doors wide open to developers. It announced an application platform on Nov. 30, complete with a selection of apps to start off with.
The result of that move? Sixteen of the 61 apps, more than one in four, created at the event on Saturday and Sunday took advantage of Spotify’s new functionality. There were apps to turn Spotify into a jukebox, apps to share your Spotify listening with other people, apps to meet people with similar music taste through Spotify, and apps to create playlists in just about every different way under the sun.
That’s not all, though. Elsewhere there was a helicopter crossed with a theremin, a quartet of iPhones singing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a distributed synthesiser, and a keyboard made of owls. You can find the full list right here, but for those starved of time, here are a few of our favourites.
DJing is pretty dull to watch. Whoever’s standing behind the decks just fiddles with a series of buttons and knobs, occasionally bobbing their head along. CTRL changes all of that. It allows you to add glitchers, delays, filters and reverse effects, tempo-synced to any music that can be found on Spotify. You can also overlay a synthesiser matched to the key of the song and hook up stage lights to flash in time.
The method of interaction is a pair of iPhones running OSC apps. Making different motions with the iPhone, turning it upside down, swinging it through the air, and pressing various buttons on the screen will trigger the different effects, rather like a simpler version of Imogen Heap’s famous gloves.
The result? Adding effects to music becomes a much more physical process, more akin to dance than playing Minesweeper. “The solo synthesiser will make even the most unmusical person sound like Hendrix,” said creators Yuli Levtov and Ragnar Hrafkelsson on the hack’s wiki entry.
Learning how to play a song on guitar used to mean working it out yourself, or learning it from a friend. Then it meant trawling through music stores for tab books. Then it meant looking up guitar tabs on a selection of increasingly dodgy-looking websites. The next Jimmy Page will have it easy, because he’ll be able to use Chordify.
Chordify is a Spotify app that looks at what you’re playing, and then attempts to find it on Chordie.com — a website that tracks guitar chords for a wide range of popular songs. If it finds a match that’s valid, it’ll send it to the app, which cleans it up, formats it nicely, and puts it into the Spotify window. All the user has to do is play the song, then open the app, and they’ll be able to strum along to their heart’s content.
Unfortunately, guitar tabs are in a murky area when it comes to copyright, and about half the popular songs’ chords aren’t available in the UK for legal reasons. Still, with a better, licensed source of data, Chordify could change how kids learn to play guitar.
Roderick Hodgson is the guy you’re going to want to blame when, next Christmas morning, every remote-control helicopter is blaring out an inane noise while you’re trying to get some valuable post-turkey nap time.
His hack, Helemin, crosses a helicopter with a theremin to produce what he describes as “the world’s most irritating instrument”. It tracks the helicopter with a webcam, works out where it is, and then generates music from the resulting x and y co-ordinates in the image. Hodgson’s advice? “Consider wearing earplugs.”
You can see it in action here.
Robb Böhnke took Apple’s voice-activated assistant Siri as the inspiration for his hack, which allows your iPhone to spit lyrics from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.” The lyrics are processed through the iPhone’s speech synthesis, and are carefully synced to the beat using the Echo Nest’s API.
Even more impressively, if you can get 4 iPhone 4Ss together, you can get them to harmonise along to an a cappella rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which each phone taking its own role in the intricate four-part harmony.
Tastebuds.fm Spotify App
You might be familiar with Tastebuds.fm already. It’s an online dating site that pulls in data about what you like to listen to from Last.fm, and then uses that to match you up with people who have similar music taste.
The Spotify app created by the Tastebuds.fm team at Music Hack Day doesn’t too anything too complex — merely putting the website into the Spotify client and pulling in music from your library of playlists rather than your Last.fm profile — but it does it really smoothly, and looks almost finished. Expect to see it in the Spotify App Finder very soon.