Berklee College's Rethink Music conference isn't just for those in the music business — over the weekend, Boston-based music intelligence company the Echo Nest sponsored a "hackathon" at Microsoft's New England Research and Development Center. This gathering provided an opportunity for music developers to get together and spend a day and a half creating applications from scratch that were shown off and judged Sunday afternoon. The top three apps were demoed to Rethink Music attendees today, and we were in the audience to see what was dreamed up.

Microsoft's Kinect continues to be an able platform for hackers

The first winning submissions demonstrated was known as "Kinect Bomba" — Bomba is a traditional Puerto Rican dance where the percussionists match their performances to the movement of a lead dancer, rather than a dancer following the beat of the music. This dance was the inspiration for the app, which uses a Kinect to track the gestures and movements of a dancer and match them to different musical cues — essentially, the dancer becomes a MIDI controller for triggering musical events, allowing the dance itself to become the basis of a musical composition. The system even allowed for two dancers to trigger two separate sets of instruments, and certain gestures could start and stop recording to built a fuller sound. It worked surprisingly well in practice, especially considering the short development timespan. While there might not be a lot of practical uses for this type of music software, it certainly could be the basis of a whole new type of rhythm-based game. It's not the first time we've seen Kinect gestures used to control music, but it was an impressive implementation nonetheless.


The next two apps both took advantage of Spotify to make some clever custom playlists of varying utility. Wanglin Yin developed an app that uses Songkick.com as its basis. Songkick lets users track what concerts they're planning to attend, and Yin's app plugs in to the site, looks at the shows you have upcoming, and pulls together a custom playlist based on those artists. It adds ten songs for the headlining act and three more for each support act. The app updates live; Yin demoed adding a band to her upcoming concert list and the playlist repopulated a few seconds later. While this app isn't ready for consumption, it feels like a natural sort of thing you might find in Spotify's third-party app selection.

Two of the apps used Spotify's open platform to make custom playlists of varying utility

Mark Stoughton went in a more humorous direction with his app, called "The Byrds and the BeeGees." This app also generates a custom playlist, based on your birthdate. It generates a playlist based on what music was popular about nine months earlier than the date you entered, giving you a custom audio selection of the kind of music your parents might have been listening to on the magical night of the user's conception. It's a bit of a bizarre concept, but it's implemented in a funny way, complete with a gratuitous checkbox labeled "was your dad smooth back then?" — checking it simply injects a little Marvin Gaye to the end of the playlist. While this app may be of questionable use, it brought some laughs to the audience and was again well-polished considering the short development timeframe. There was a good amount of creativity on display, and it reinforced the growing usage of Kinect as a creative platform as well as the many options for taking advantage of Spotify's open platform.