5 Questions to Jonathan Marmor about Monthly Music Hackathon NYC

At Monthly Music Hackathon NYC, musicians, programmers, artists, scientists, composers, hardware tinkerers, and others spend the last Saturday of each month hacking together projects exploring music. We talked to Jonathan Marmor, composer, tabla player, engineer at Spotify, and founder of Monthly Music Hackathon NYC.

What’s the idea behind a music hackathon?

Monthly Music Hackathon NYC is a block of time reserved every month for you to work on whatever creative music project you like, share your ideas with other folks interested in music with an extremely diverse range of experiences and expertise, meet potential collaborators, and perform or talk about your work. It’s an opportunity to practice going through the whole lifecycle of a creative project in a single day — from idea, through development, iteration, completion, and publishing. New York City has so many vibrant communities that are interested in music in different ways. Monthly Music Hackathon NYC aims to be a forum for sharing ideas, getting unexpected feedback, and making unexpected new music and insights into what music is.

Do they have themes?

For 2015 we have a different theme each month. We start each day with a series of short talks from experts on the subject, and sometimes have hands-on workshops. Here’s our list of subjects for 2015:

Automatic Music – Algorithmic composition and performance

February 28, 2015
Spotify NYC (Register)

Synthesis & Samples – March 28, 2015
Rhythm & Time – April 25, 2015
Melody & Harmony – May 23, 2015
Lyrics & Language – June 20, 2015
New Musical Instruments – July 25, 2015
Music Games – August 29, 2015
Music Education – September 26, 2015
Haunted Sound Art Installations – October 31, 2015
Sound Visualization – December 12, 2015
Data Sonification – January 30, 2016

Brendan Hussey

Brendan Hussey

Does one need to know how to code to participate? Can one learn on the fly?

You don’t need to know how to code to participate. We’re all about making things, no matter what tools or media you like to work with. Making a piece of music or a sound-making sculpture are just as valid projects as making a robot that automatically learns how to play the tuba. The best part of Monthly Music Hackathon NYC is that participants have such different areas of expertise that collaborations are always filled with surprising revelations of different points of view. You can always find someone to collaborate with if you don’t possess all the skills necessary to build what you have in mind (although it’s important to avoid one-way manager-worker relationships at a hackathon! Everyone is there to be creative.).

On the other hand, if you do want to learn to code or solder, Monthly Music Hackathon is a safe environment to try to do something you wouldn’t normally try, and it’s likely someone there can give you a hand if you get stuck.

Is there a performance element to a hackathon?

Yes, there are performances at Monthly Music Hackathon NYC! At 8 PM all participants collaboratively put together a concert and presentations of all the hacks built that day. These usually involve at least some talking, to explain how the project works, but the more performances and art installations we have the happier the audience is.

Travis McDemus

Travis McDemus

Do you have a success story to tell us, a collaboration that started during a hackathon?

Every month there are several new collaborations between participants with different backgrounds. One that really stood out for its sheer beauty was guitarist and SuperCollider programmer Peter Schmitz’s collaboration with acclaimed guitarist Didier Aschour. They met at a Monthly Music Hackathon NYC in 2012, and by the end of the day had made an elaborate table top guitar performance system. Didier drove an electric guitar with ebows and objects while Peter manipulated a SuperCollider program that processed Didier’s guitar output and fed it back into the room in such a way that it affected Didier’s guitar, creating a droning, buzzing, swirling immersive sound.

A collaboration between a Cooper Union visual artist and an engineer resulted in a wind harp made out of a metal rain gutter. You could “play” it with a laptop that controlled the speed and direction of a plastic fan.

Composer Michael Vincent Waller met cellist Colette Alexander at a Monthly Music Hackathon. By the end of the day, Waller had written a new two minute work for solo cello, consulting Colette throughout the day. Colette gave a heart-wrenchingly beautiful performance after spending only 30 minutes learning the finished piece.

Monthly Music Hackathon co-organizer Brenden Hussey tends to work on his own. He usually brings a pile of electronics and trash and household goods and broken musical instruments with him. One time he emerged from a hack day with a modified printer that played slide guitar. Another time he made a player-glockenspiel. Last month at the Glitch Music Hack he did a performance art piece in which he placed pickups and microphones all over a pile of drills, electric toothbrushes, sewing machines, Dremels, blenders, and milk foamers.

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