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‘The Power of Immersion’: Abbey Road Red announces results of Hackathon 2019

Hackathon 2019 took place over 36-hours in the iconic Studio Two, across November  9 and 10 and centred around the theme ‘The Power of Immersion’

Chagall with her MI.MU gloves

Abbey Road Red, the music technology incubator at Abbey Road Studios, has announced the conclusion of its second annual Hackathon.

Hackathon 2019 took place over 36-hours in the iconic Studio Two, across November  9 and 10 and centred around the theme ‘The Power of Immersion’.

In the same studio that witnessed some of the biggest milestones in audio recording, from the first ever stereo recording in 1935, to the pioneering quadrophonic recording of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of The Moon, over 80 hand-picked developers, designers, artists and music producers experimented with spatial computing, Facebook’s Spark AR platform, game engines, light hacking as well as spatial audio and the legendary gear of Abbey Road Studios to create new dimensions of artistic expression.

Dominika Dronska, head of digital at Abbey Road Studios said: “Today for us is a celebration of collaboration, the perfect blend of technology and creativity. As on many occasions in the Studios’ history, we are building tools ahead of their time, preparing for future generations of artists. With the rise of virtual and augmented musical experiences, we challenged the room to push the boundaries of immersion, to spatialise audio and augment musical performances.”

The strategic partner for this year’s Hackathon was Facebook, whose Spark AR technology was key to allowing hackers to develop their solutions. Spark AR provides the tools for designing, developing and publishing custom augmented reality effects across the Facebook family of apps.

As the 17 teams worked into the night, they drew inspiration from innovators and artists presenting their newest work to the room. Professor Kelly Snook, a former NASA researcher, data sonification scientist and music producer presented the first prototypes of Concordia, an immersive musical instrument for scientific exploration based on the work of Johannes Kepler, which allows people to experience and play the music of the planets. Halina Rice, an avant-electro music producer, artist and remixer showcased an immersive soundscape on Saturday night with projections from visual artist and interactive designer Jan Petyrek.

The Hackathon also welcomed Dutch producer, songwriter, singer and performer Chagall, who first gained recognition as an early-adopter of the MI·MU wireless data gloves and a motion capture suit giving her full body presence in her music and 360 visuals. Adopting the theme of immersion, Chagall explored new ways of immersive performance and closed the weekend’s events with an incredible live show, incorporating new technologies and techniques built during the Hackathon.

Chagall said: “Everyone who steps into this space has this historic sensation and it’s amazing to think about all the beautiful and time-changing music that has been made here, and that it is still happening today as part of the Hack. There’s all this history, but we are focusing on the new things. I came here to do a performance and I ended up hacking myself because I was inspired by all of this stuff happening and all these genius minds in one space, so I wanted to be part of it too.”

After 24 hours, the teams presented their concepts to the jury, who were assessing creativity and technical innovation. The expert jury comprised:

  • Isabel Garvey, managing director, Abbey Road Studios
  • Jay Katsuyama, VP technology, Universal Music Group
  • Steve Kelly, senior director of innovation and technology, Universal Music Group
  • Edgar Neto, partner engineer, Facebook
  • Mirek Stiles, head of audio products, Abbey Road Studios
  • Guillaume Le Nost, executive director, creative technologies, L-ISA

The Best Hack of the Year was from team Pocket Venue who won both the Spark AR first prize and the L-ISA prize, having broken all the rules by going against the mentors’ advice and combining three separate technologies to drive each other to create an interactive AR music player. Pocket Venue walked away with prizes comprising four Oculus Quests, a day of immersive mixing training and VIP tickets to a gig at EartH Hackney.

Spark AR’s second prize went to Cros Crowd Singer FB Filter, whose app allows multiple players to control sound in the room through facial expressions applied through a face filter.

An inspiring example of accessible design was shown by team Hear The World who sought to empower the visually-impaired by leveraging the power of soundscape design. Their system analyses images for known objects, translating them into sound textures relevant to each one.  As a result, they won both L-ISA’s second prize and the Audio Commons prize of a free recording session in the Media Studios at Queen Mary University, London.

The next prizes awarded were:

  • The Tenzing Prize for the Best Energy On Stage went to Sian Cross’ Alive, which is a multi-sensory experience that navigates human reality through functional music
  • The London Field Brewery Prize for the Most Immersive Experience went to Beat Buddies AR, which is a shareable, collaborative music game, immersing users in an environment inspired by the track
  • The Unity Prize for the Team with the Best Game On went to Abbey Road In A Box, which is an interactive spatial recreation of Abbey Road’s Studio Two

This year’s Hackathon was the Studios’ second, following an inaugural event last November which saw nearly 100 developers and creatives compete in a 36-hour Hackathon centred around ‘Reimagining Music Creation and Consumption’. Last year’s first prize went to AI-powered rap battle opponent Rapple, which responds to your bars with a punch line in the same rhythm and with a sense of humour.