By Keith Nelson Jr.
Throughout history, renaissances have been marked by individuals pushing conventions in response to present day needs and/or deficiencies. The recent music technology boom, which sees music streaming services outperforming traditional models of music distribution, has developed its own renaissance. Instead of composers manipulating scales and functional tonality, there are app developers creating sound from colors and controlling music selections with webcam hacks. London-based research lab Stromatolite Music Tech Fest is a paradigm in the burgeoning evolution of music technology that has turned every smartphone into an MP3 player with a series of talks which join together creative minds from all over the music industry (app developers, record label execs, etc). Stromatolite co-founder, Michela Magas elucidates the purpose and goal of this audacious endeavor in an interview with SoundCtrl.
SoundCtrl: What was the reason for Stromatolite to begin the Music Tech Fest?
Michela Magas:: We wanted to bring all the guys doing great things with music tech – hackers, startups, researchers – together with music industry people – all under one roof. We are working on a European project at the moment with seven great EU research centers looking at where this whole field might be going. We set it up as a “festival of music ideas” – a creative event where everyone can come together and demo, perform, create. It turned out that everyone we talked to thought this was a good idea.
SC: It looks as if this gathering of the minds is yielding interesting results. I tried out the Synaesthesia app and was blown away with how intuitive it was.
MM: Oh cool, that’s really great. You know we only did that one as an incentive for people to interact and create together during the fest? But it turned out more people were interested.
SC: Any plans to develop it further and add more features?
MM: Yes totally. You see it was created on a shoestring budget and everyone involved had sleepless nights. It wasn’t even in our remit! We just really wanted to do it. So of course we now need to expand it so people can upload their own sounds and match them to the colours they associate with them.
SC: I never thought of that. I suggested adding new sounds but that is pretty ingenious to allow users to match colors to whatever sounds they want.
MM: Well that would make sense because if you read up about synaesthesia you’ll find people associate different colours and sounds. But what was cool was that everyone wore the Music Tech Fest T-shirts in the “testcard” colours so people were “scanning each other.”
SC: What trends in the music tech industry have been addressed at these Music Tech Fest events?
MM: Things like visualising music, hacking into and sonifying ordinary objects, music rights, new tech which allows more efficient music licensing, music-making apps, performance tools and setups… all videos are now being uploaded on our YouTube channel.
SC: What about music streaming? That seems to be a big topic in today’s changing climate on digital music industry.
MM: Yes that too. And sonifying the Twitter stream. So not just ordinary streaming. Companies like Spotify and Last.fm now allow their APIs to be used for the creation of great new apps. Apps and interesting interfaces (both visual and tangible) are definitely top of the list in how those companies see their interaction with listeners.