Rethink Music Hackathon Winners: Having 'The Talk,' Dancing to Make Music, Concert Playlists

This week's Rethink Music conference kicked off with a weekend Hackathon, where participants built and presented 25 music "hacks," or hastily-created apps, at Microsoft's New England Research and Development Center (a.k.a. N.E.R.D) on Sunday.

You can use most of them today, and we see a good deal of potential for some of them to evolve into fully formed apps. The top three winners will present their creations to Rethink Music attendees today (Monday).

Rethink Music Hackathon Winners

Kinect Bomba: Named for the Latin dance style, Kinect Bomba leverages the Remix API from The Echo Nest ( publisher of against Microsoft's Kinect motion sensing input technology to create tempo-synced music as users move and shake along to any MP3 -- creating remixes, adding layers, and even triggering loops through motion alone.

Basically, it's a way to make music by dancing along to it. This is sort of a tricky concept, so we shot some video (audio is quiet):

Concert Playlist Generator: This hack keeps track of the concerts you plan to attend, building a Spotify playlist featuring music from the headliners and opening bands, helping you prepare for the show -- and, in the case of opening bands, deciding when to hit the venue. Sadly, there's no live version of this for you to play around with at this point, but the app's official status is "in progress," so that could change after the conference.

The Byrds and The Bee Gees (MediaNet, EMI, and The Echo Nest prize winner): This app humorously explains how you, I, and anyone else came to be, through a musical approach to "the talk" parents give children about the so-called birds and the bees. Enter a birthday and this web app figures out when you might have been conceived, presents some information about what life was like on that day, and generates a Spotify playlist based on what your parents could have been listening to. It's simple, even if deciding to have "the talk" is not. The hardest part might be -- as Paul Lamere put it -- coming to grips with whether or not your Dad was "smooth back then," which affects the app's music choice.

Company Prizewinners (chosen by API sponsors) (Songkick, 7digital prizes): lets artists and promoters create custom concert posters with which fans can interact through QR codes and a corresponding mobile application. By aiming a smartphone with a QR code reader app at the poster, fans at a concert can access everything from event information and ticket sales to MP3s and merchandise. made its debut at Boston Music Hack Day 2011, but has since grown through the incorporation of APIs from Songkick, Lyricfind, and The Echo Nest. After choosing an image, artists and promoters can opt to play an MP3 automatically when the user scans the code; sell music and other stuff; and encourage fans to leave a message on the artist's Facebook page from within the app. Lyrical Sonnet Awesome - (Lyricfind prize): CJ Carr, who made the brain wave goggles that so impressed us at last year's Boston Music Hack Day (I'm pretty sure I saw them in a bag at the Rethink hackathon) closed out the demonstration round with an impressive automatic poetry generator that can assemble a coherent sonnet -- in iambic pentameter no less -- based on seed words. The app extracts lyrics, line by line, from 14 different songs based on your specified words. It is now available in a slightly rough version. To create your own sonnet with Lyrical Sonnet Awesome, enter up to 14 words separated by commas after the equals sign in the following URL, then paste it into your browser.     

Plan a Jam (Spotify and The Echo Nest prizes): Plan a Jam can optimize your party playlist based on the musical tastes of attendees who have RSVPed to the event on Facebook. The app takes into account the music "Likes" of registered attendees, adds extra weight to artists Liked by more than one person, and then outputs a Spotify playlist based on all of your guests' preferences so you can choose the perfect music for the gathering in mere seconds.

Opera Omnia
(Free Music Archive prize): Introduced as "a horrible experiment that is an abuse of every information retrieval technique ever," this hack reassembles songs in new styles -- say, for when you want to hear what a Björk song would sound like injected with shots of Mastodon. (We saw this hack online after the demo, but appears to be down at the moment.)

Honorable mention

Map of Music Style - Paul Lamere is a sort of commissioner of all things hackathon. His past entries -- Jennie's Ultimate Road Trip (built as a father-daughter team); Bohemian Rhapsichord, which morphed the classic Queen song into a playable web instrument; and a Grammy Award predictor that nearly matched's predictions -- have always highlighted fun and interesting uses of music technology. With Map of Music Style, Lamere graphically represents the relationships between music genres, visually reinforced what most of us were thinking all along: that nothing could be further from old school hip-hop than j-pop. You can try this hack yourself on his blog, Music Machinery, where you can read about how he built it and explore genres with the interactive map.

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