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Francis wins iPhone category at Boston Music Hack Day

The Phanai Sound Cloud AppMusic Hack Day has been a recent phenomenon where music software developers and enthusiasts from all around the world converge to exchange ideas and compete against each other in “hacking” together a software project in 24 hours.  In 2009, these conferences have been in London, Berlin, Amsterdam and just recently in Boston.  The event was hosted by Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center, and organized by the tireless Jon Pierce, Paul Lamere and Dave Haynes.

Company participants at the conference read like a who’s who in the music software industry, a lot of whom are based out of Boston.  This includes the likes of Harmonix, Noteflight, Tapulous, Sonos, Echo Nest, Last.fm, SoundCloud, NPR, TourFilter, Conduit Labs and Berklee Music Online.  There were a couple dozen brief 25 minute API and platform workshops that participants could choose to attend.

Two companies that have been generating a lot of buzz at the conference were Echo Nest and Noteflight.  Echo Nest has developed a platform that can analyze audio of a song and generate multitudes of music characteristics relating to rhythm, pitch and timbre.  This has led to an emerging field of music informatics with broad applications ranging from determining statistical music analysis on what makes Coldplay popular to doing remixes of cross genre music that happen to have particular features that are similar.  Noteflight does online music notation that is community oriented.  Founded by my former Allurent colleague and Flex mentor Joe Berkovitz, Noteflight is paving the way with how users can contribute and share music scores online.  It comes as no surprise to me that Noteflight is lauded for it’s incredibly intuitive user interface.

SoundCloud, the social networking music service that I use to showcase my music presented their API for account access and audio streaming, which of course got me very interested.  They are based out of Berlin, and were just as excited as me about the prospects of me doing an iPhone app that showcases their audio API.  So just like that, on 2pm last Saturday, I decided to take this on as my project.  I would have to submit my project by the 3:45pm deadline the following day.

Things got off to a pretty rough start.  A faulty sync cable ended up crashing my phone, rendering it inoperable.  Fortunately, one of the SoundCloud developers loaned me his iPhone, while another developer tried to restore my iPhone.  As I was studying their API, it was really convenient to consult them directly!  I coded straight for the next 24 hours, except to sleep briefly from 11pm to 2:30am!  Time was so tight that I was coding on the subway on my way home.

The app I developed, the Phanai SoundCloud iPhone app, showcases some of the music I’ve produced over the years, which can be viewed at SoundCloud here.  In order to develop the iPhone version of this, I needed to use SoundCloud’s API to log into my account, iterate through all my tracks and get information such as the artist name, song name and album artwork.  I also leveraged the iPhone’s touch screen to allow the user to scrub (seek) to any position of the song by swiping along an audio waveform that represents the recorded track.  See above for actual screenshot of the app.

I’m happy to report that I won the iPhone category of the competition, as well as considered a finalist in the overall “Winning Hacks”.  I walked away with a new iTouch, provided by Tapulous and a free online course at Berklee Music.  Special thanks to Hannes, Johannes and Dave from SoundCloud and to the organizers of this event.

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