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Hackathons could save music's soul

Collective code rewritings have changed tech. Could a new concept do the same for music?

C.回.R is a concept hackathon I started with Holly Herndon as a means to both critique the state of current hack culture and speculate on an alternative format to help address problems in the arts.

A hackathon, traditionally, is an event that brings together people (usually programmers) in one space for a limited period of time (usually 1-2 days), to rapidly produce projects towards a goal. The format is quite wonderful, encouraging collaboration, mutual respect and creativity, however after being involved with numerous hacks of varying scope and scale, I began to think that the format was not living up to it's potential.

Firstly, hacks have been around long enough to have become appropriated by companies with little motivation to challenge the fundamental logics of their industries and operations. Often these events are thinly veiled recruitment opportunities, held to identify skilled developers and designers, and do little more than generate throwaway projects with minor value. Very rarely, with the exception of incredible projects like CrisisCamp, Farm Hack and the very recent Refugees United, do these meetings of bright minds ever push to produce anything of tangible utility, or invite in the perspectives of those with first hand experience of real world problems - which I have found to be a greater issue with the hubris of the ‘innovation’ industry as a whole. We know we have the capability to start amazing projects in a short period of time, however are we asking the right questions, of the right people?

The concept of C.回.R is quite simple. A lot of programming is done in the name of artists, and yet artists are rarely invited to bring their ideas to the table. It seems absurd that in a time with unprecedented access to code and talent, artists are still largely waiting for others to identify and solve problems on their behalf. Artists need to demand a stake in the changing of their own industry, or risk being left behind.

We were happy to be invited by the incredible Visions of the Now Festival in Stockholm (curated by Swedish artist Anna Lundh to hold the first C.回.R last month, and invited a number of artists from the festival to identify one opportunity they saw for a service related to their practice. Participating artists included Goodiepal, Luke Fischbeck, Natalie Jeremijenko and Holly, who all led deep and lively discussions with hackers to think of ways to address the issues that were raised. Two substantial projects were constructed in 24 hours, with hackers Per-Olov Jernberg, Palle Torsson, Andrejs Ljundgren & Gabriel Kanulf building a system for capturing emotion from your daily online life for musical and artistic use, and Victor Guerrero creating an intermediary online space for interactions between artists and remote audiences during live streamed performances.

It was striking to me how many artists and festival attendees dropped in to contribute thoughts or ideas to the discussion, and as a result we are thinking of redeveloping the site to capture a rolling stream of problems and responses that can be posted in parallel with events and discussions. We are humble with our ambitions for the project, however feel confident that curating substantive conversations between these two groups is an essential step towards creating tools and services that work in the favor of artists.


1) Learn some basic code

Understanding how the web works on a rudimentary level is essential, and it has never been easier to learn for free online. Take some short classes in HTML, CSS and Javascript/jquery on Codecademy, as even knowing a little bit will help you to scope your concept to something feasible and translatable to developers and designers.

2) Make sure you are identifying a real problem or opportunity

It takes a lot of time and thought to build something that someone would want to use, so be sure to ask yourself if you believe this is addressing a real issue. If not, save your time for an idea that passes this test.

3) Sketch it out, and don’t be precious!

Imagine the most basic implementation of your idea, and sketch it out on paper. Particularly if you are collaborating with someone, don’t be concerned with details that are immaterial to the core concept.

4) Attend a hack local to you

Go online, find a hack or hacker space local to you, and turn up. These are almost always incredibly welcoming environments, and there is always something you can help with. Seeing projects come to life around you is invaluable, and may well give you a few extra ideas.

5) Be confident

Your real world experience is an asset - many services are built by a similar group of people with similar backgrounds and ideas. If you know enough to identify a real problem, then you know enough to make something incredible.

Reach out to me @matdryhurst if you would like to host a C.回.R or just get in touch :)