It’s a wonderful time to be experimenting with technology and music. You can create something that looks like the stuff most people imagine as “the future” – elaborate dances of light, power over sound just by waving your hand, software that seems directly out of Star Trek. But you can do it with technology that is now reaching maturity – decades of experience of artists, engineers, and designers is at your back.

“That’s not new,” someone might say. Exactly. Instead of technology being a disposable commodity, forgotten in a couple of years, it’s actually something you can get good at. And a good thing, too. Musical practice has always been about something to which you devote a lifetime, not a two-week sprint. And pulling off cross-media technologies can be demanding of a lot of skills: brush up on your sewing, learn about conductive textiles, refresh your knowledge of physics and electronic circuits, work out the nuances of relays, practice your music theory, and refine your coding skills, and you just might be able to pull it off.

That also means teaming up with others is a very good idea. I’ve long admired (and covered) the Music Hackdays, since their creation. Those events, though, often draw people for whom coding is a day job, and focus on Web music tech. For the Music Hacklab at Berlin’s CTM Festival, working with the CTM staff and co-organizer Derek Holzer, we wanted to concentrate exclusively on creation and performance – things you do live and in person as composers and musicians. And we’ve gathered some select people to work on the project, whose background spans electronics, VJing, and musicianship to fashion and acting.

It’s already been an intense couple of days. And within minutes, we had Ableton Live triggering lightbulbs, demonstrated here by participants Darsha and [CDM MeeBlip summer intern] Arvid:

Who needs fancy lighting protocols? A homebrewed circuit here gets a lightbulb flashing from an Ableton Live MIDI pattern.


The Berlin diet. Tasty hacker snacks provided courtesy Ableton – Bretzel, Pfannkuchen.

Berlin neighbors Native Instruments and Ableton have given us support for the event, including quenching hacker desires for hardware and my insatiable thirst for Club-Mate. (These posts aren’t gonna write themselves.)

And we have some extraordinary things happening. Imogen Heap arrived yesterday with a team from London to talk about wearable interfaces. Today, she showed off her sophisticated live performance rig; drawing on the work of other fashion tech creators, she’s built something unmistakably linked to her performance idiom and musical voice. It involves a complex lexicon of gestures and cues that allow her to perform or compose music away from the computer. Today, she began working with participants to try out the system themselves.

We’ve also begun a series of presentations by artists and developers on how they work.

We have proper video coming of some of these events. In the meantime, I just wanted to share some early reflections and images, as we edit.

I can tell you, though, for all the planning and organization, I’m always amazed at what people can do once you can get them in the same room. Someone with a particular technical skill in coding may meet the performer contact they need; someone working on the visual component of a project may find the person who can think about sound.

And then you know things will happen as people meet. For instance, it was a lot of fun watching Imogen jam yesterday with Onyx Ashanti, two artists working in wearable tech.

You don’t need to miss out. This is just our first attempt at doing something with this particular structure, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. We’ll be doing this here in Berlin through the end of the week, and we’ll have a wiki and video and other resources for you coming as the week’s events are completed, so we can connect to the community beyond CTM and Berlin.









  • nate

    “Musical practice has always been about something to which you devote a lifetime, not a two-week sprint.” Can’t be repeated enough. So this is just an intro article, to be followed by some greater depth in all that occurred at the workshop, right? Looking forward to hearing more about it.

    on a side…how does one go about getting the legal ability to live and work in Berlin (well, guess i should say Germany)?

  • http://www.facebook.com/klemens.da.1 Klemens Da

    yeah.this looks awesome!! im driving from hannover to berlin today! anybody wanna come and split the gas money? :)

  • Benni Graf

    Any chance on getting more info on that lighting control thingy of yours? (I feel save enough with electronics, btw… :-) )

  • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

    Okay, I absolutely agree with your safety warnings, but hold on a second. Darsha is experienced with these kinds of electronics. The DMX comment was clearly a joke. The experimental aspect to the demo is fairly clear (they explicitly say *what it is*) — they took her tested, pre-built rig and added Arduino control.

    So, if you watch the video and don’t jump to conclusions, we’re talking about a “hack” that was at the 5V end — whatever the (reasonable) concerns are about building your own lighting control.

    Anyone irresponsible enough to start playing around with AC control without any safety precautions based on a 45-second video is likely to get themselves into trouble without my help.

    But, come on. I don’t think anyone would mistake a single blinking lightbulb for a DIY lighting rig.

    And the implication that you can only buy this sort of equipment, and can’t engineer it yourself — it’s just not true. Be safe, absolutely, and there’s no shame in doing that by investing in something built by someone who knows what they’re doing. But at some point, *someone* has to learn how to engineer this stuff.

    And, incidentally, your comment hit moderation because of what you titled your userid.

  • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

    Oh, and definitely don’t do your lighting like this. http://xkcd.com/521/

  • http://website.coma/ DAE Error 7002

    Holy shit I signed into the wrong one. My mistake and sincerest apologies. im probably coming off as a twat. This is for my tumblr to maintain anonymity.
    I read the post and watched the vid but you are right. I guess didn’t understand what was going on. None of this was a comment on Darsha or anyone personally.
    My lighting rig is made of store bought fixtures; mostly clamp lights…with standard lightbulbs. ADULT use floodlights and clamp lights.
    Sorry if it was implied that you were putting people into danger. I just wouldn’t want people running with the idea that this stuff is easy. People think circuit bending is easy until they poke the wrong whatever…in something that runs off AC. People think making TV oscilloscopes are easy, till they hit a charged CRT. People thought the vibram five finger shoes were better for you, because they didn’t research them and find their training shoes…not casual wear things which can damage untrained feet.
    In fact, I specifically wrote this for the people irresponsible enough to jump into playing with electricity without doing any research on what’s required…even after you get things working.
    I also never implied that ready made anything was the only way to do this; just offering it up as an option for people who’d rather just guy something readily available than try to make it. I’ve played many shows where musicians had no clue how I was operating my lighting and had no idea the tech even existed without DMX. (And how was the DMX comment a joke? Enttec’s DMXIS and opendmx are both solutions for computer USB to DMX.)
    No hard feelings from me.

  • Nolej

    xkcd is always relevant,

  • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

    Absolutely – no, and given that context, I couldn’t agree more with everything you’re saying!