For the past year and a half, I’ve been working on a project called #MusicBricks. It was a European-funded project, the purpose of which was to take some of the really great results of academic research in the area of music tech and find ways to get it out to people who could make use of it in the “real world”.
What we did was to bundle these results up into things that hackers, makers and creative developers could use at events like the Music Tech Fest hack camp. APIs, GUIs and TUIs – data sets and user interfaces – including the R-IoT board (pictured above). A tiny thing – about the size of a postage stamp, specifically designed for audio applications. It can fit into small objects and form the basis of wearable technologies, it has very low latency (important when you’re dealing with music and sound), wifi built in and sensors that can tell how and where it’s moving.
There were also algorithms that could tell what key you’re in, what the tempo is, or what the melody is doing. Others that could analyse songs and match for similarity or mood. An entire library of free sounds. A whole range of different musical building blocks.
But the important thing about these components, user interfaces and APIs that we gave the hackers is that they were interoperable. You could make something new by putting things together in new combinations – like Lego bricks. That was the core of the idea. The methodology was then to support some of the best ideas to commercial prototype with mentoring, a bit of micro-funding and introductions within industry.
This is a genuinely applied version of the music industry innovation stuff I’ve been talking about for a long time now. Not just responding to changes brought about by the internet – but generating new ideas by combining hard science with the arts in a creative context and then bringing those ideas to market.
The results have been phenomenal. 11 new projects and products, one patent application, projects going into the worlds of gaming and entertainment – but also products aimed at helping musicians with disabilities, brand new types of musical instruments, and even one project that was revealed to have serious applications within forestry, agriculture and heavy industry.
The report writing, as always happens with these things, was phenomenally arduous.
Over the last four weeks, we’ve written six reports totalling almost 80,000 words. That’s a PhD. All of the reports are available online, but the one that explains it best is the final public report. That’s the one specifically aimed at a general audience, rather than bound in technical detail and wrapped up in the arcane language of European project documentation.
Download and have a flick through. We’re quite proud of it – though it nearly killed us along the way. Such a massive undertaking with so many obstacles put in our path, but the end result was something quite incredible – and now, as we go through the final review of the project, we start to think about what happens next – now that #MusicBricks has been established as a commercial enterprise and becomes part of what we do for a living.
New bricks are joining the toolkit, new products will come out of it, and the impact on European policy has been… well, read the report.
18 months, several major events, loads of mentorship, tons of writing, days upon days of lost sleep and a lot of changes to deal with along the way. But as big as that was, it was step one…
Looking forward to the next.