Music Makers Hacklab (CTM Festival Berlin 2017)

From the 30th of January until the 5nd of February I participated in the annual “Music Makers Hacklab” in Berlin, as part of Club TransMediale Festival (CTM). The hacklab was facilitated by artists Byrke Lou and Peter Kirn, and was hosted by Native Instruments. “The hacklab is a collaborative, improvisatory, experimental environment for working together to conceive and realise new ideas in a week of intensive activity.”

The theme of CTM was Fear Anger Love, and so the matching theme of the hacklab week was Emotional Invention: “We invite new ideas about how musical performance and interaction evoke feelings, and how they might realize emotional needs.”

I met people from varying backgrounds, there were musicians, music therapists, instrument builders, programmers, visual artists, dancers and more. The first few days it was all about getting to know each other, play around with ideas and skills that people brought in.

I ended up working together with researcher Paul Evers, musician Sara Vondraskova (Never Sol) and designer Markus Koistinen. Resulting out of his previous research, Paul brought in a dataset of music that people consider motivating. So it contained a collection of songs that people use for getting themselves motivated for something in their life. We liked this as a starting point and started playing with ideas how we can experiment with this dataset.

We came up with the plan to give a performance in which we construct a new musical piece based on the songs from the dataset. We wondered (and joked): “will this be the ultimate motivational music piece?”. We wanted to take audio samples from the songs from the dataset and reuse them to create new music. Besides, I came up with the idea to gather the lyrics from all the songs and construct new lyrics out of them. So I programmed a tool that randomly searches for rhyming sentences within the existing dataset. So each time you run the python script, it will generate a set of three or four rhyming sentences, based on existing sentences from the dataset.

For the live performance we wanted to improvise with the prepared audio samples. Also, the plan was to generate the lyrics on the spot and in an improvising way sing the newly generated lyrics.

While working on this, we often had a good laugh about the lyrics that resulted from the program. Sometimes they were really strange, random and funny. But sometimes they were super motivational and empowering! Sometimes they were also extremely rude or sexual or something like that. I was thinking “oh no, do I want to sing this live?”. We decided I would sing the lyrics any way, no matter what it would be. Maybe this was risky? But it was also strange to skip lines, because we wanted to project the computer terminal in which the lyrics were generated live by the program. I wouldn’t have the chance to keep them a secret from the audience on stage.

The Hacklab performances were on the last day of the week (5nd of February) as part of CTM and was sold out. Our performance started with a computer-like voice that spoke the instructions that Paul gave to people that filled in the questionnaire about motivational music. It was something like: “Please compile a playlist of musical pieces that you find motivating. For example, the music can motivate you while riding a bike, doing homework, etc. No matter what kind of music it is, as long as you consider it motivating….”

Then my other team members started improvising with the audio samples, and I started to generate my lyrics in the terminal that was projected on the screen. When the generation was finished, I started singing them, using different effects on my voice. When I was done with that piece of lyrics, I generated a new one, and so on.

We received positive reactions on our performance and concept. Even though the performance wasn’t ultimately motivating 😉 This wasn’t necessarily our goal, it was an experiment. Even someone said it was a bit fearful. It was very different from the atmosphere of the original songs. Maybe this also has to do with our taste and how we manipulated the audio samples.

Considering my quest for ways of performing that feel good to me: improvising the lyrics like this felt right. On stage I had a lot of artistic freedom, but on the same hand I was also tied to the words the computer gave me. Also, in this way, the focus isn’t only on me, it is also on the actual lyrics that are projected behind me. I constantly created a shift in focus by altering between facing the audience and facing the projection. One feedback note I received was that I could’ve switched more to other musical scales. Apparently, I remained safely in one scale while singing. Moving to another scale can create a tension shift, a change, something interesting.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a video published (yet). During the hacklab week I understood that a professional video would be made of all our performances. Therefore I didn’t make any footage myself. But now I don’t see anything coming… Hopefully someone will still publish a video soon. Next time, I will record a video myself anyway.

I like to do a lot of solo work. But collaborating from time to time feels really good to me. It’s very refreshing to arrive somewhere with your views and skills and work together with other people with different views and skills and combining them into artistic practices. My team members were great! And just like the Kluster collaboration I did a while ago, I ended up with heaps of inspiration. But even though it brings me to things I wouldn’t think of of my own, which I am really enthusiastic about, I also notice that I often don’t see the perfect end result that I had in mind, because everyone in the team wants to go in different directions. But it was really inspiring to be there during that intense week of working together. Also meeting people who I didn’t collaborate with during that week resulted in future collaborations. For example, I applied for the Choreography Coding Lab from Fiber Festival with a dancer I met during the Music Makers Hacklab.

This was an amazing experience, too bad you can only participate once in your life in this Music Makers Hacklab 🙂

Published by Kayleigh Beard

I sing, perform, and make my own digital instruments. Through my voice, and making music with intuitive body gestures, I seek to create a serene and tranquil atmosphere to retreat from today’s overwhelming world.

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