We launched the Music Tech Fest in 2012 as a creative playground - a ‘festival of music ideas’ - in an attempt to bring all music tech creators and thinkers under one roof. It was a byproduct of our involvement in the EU Roadmap for Music Information Research (MIReS) which aimed at opening up the scientific field of MIR to cultural, social and creative studies. Despite the fact that a festival was not on the cards, our modest ambition to do a couple of workshops which would bring artists and scientists as well as academia and industry into a common creative space, resulted in an unexpected level of response, and a three day festival was born. By raising match funding and support from local organisations, we succeeded in showcasing 54 presenters, inventors and performers, 70 innovative hackers, makers and developers of novel instruments, 70 creative practitioners and emerging artists who were set to reinterpret the way music is perceived, experienced and performed.
The event gathered the whole music technology ecosystem under one roof, including EMI, BBC, Spotify, Shazam, Soundcloud, Wired, Ninja Tune, Warp, some of the best academic research teams in Europe and a long list of exciting startups. We turned the festival website into an instrument which is still playable in our archive. We developed the collaborative music making Synaesthesia app on a shoestring just to encourage play and interaction between everyone wearing one of nine colours of the festival T-shirts. By scanning the coloured Ts different sounds became playable on mobile allowing pitch and rhythm manipulation. The hackers were encouraged to create new types of instruments out of found objects and we ended up with light sabres triggering sounds from Star Wars, and a musical ping pong table which had a strong preference for good ping pong players. Everyone had a great time playing and experimenting with sound, and the BBC called it “the future of music”.
In its second year (London, 17-19 May 2013) the event attracted the attention of all major music labels. We set out to ‘make music with anything’, with 60 presenters, 70 artists and hackers & creative developers. Jamie Cullum improvised for the first time on the new Seaboard, Sony/RCA gave our hackers 330GB of audio stems to play with, Mike Skinner uploaded his stems for the hackers to use. Matt Black jammed on the Ninja Jamm app and Steven Hill launched the Warp Incubator for new artists. Both mainstream and indie artists drew inspiration from the event to grow ideas with the music tech community and perform them at next year’s event.
In its third year the event was invited to Wellington, Boston, London, Berlin and Paris by partners including the British Council, New Zealand Music Commission, Microsoft Research, London Symphony Orchestra, and the Centre Pompidou.
At MTF Wellington, 26-28 February 2014, we ran a New Zealand pilot in partnership with the British Council and New Zealand Music Commission, featuring a small group of musicians who developed new types of instruments for the first time using electronics and programming. Hacks included a ‘mobile orchestra’ and an ‘optical autoharp theremin’ which created music from light. The highlight was a collaboration between electronic artists and Polynesian musicians whose traditional wooden and seashell instruments were sonified to produce entirely new sounds.
MTF Boston at Microsoft Research, 21-23 March 2014, featured 63 performers & presenters to a select audience of 150 invited guests. Partners included Berklee College of Music, MIT Media Lab and Harvard Music Brains, and hackers interacted with emerging artists overnight at the state of the art live-streaming studio Redstar Union. Special reports were created for the BBC TV show BBC Click by presenter LJRich who became a hacker overnight.
Boston saw the first of the academic ‘afterparty’ symposiums, which took place at Microsoft Research on the 24th. Luminaries from across a wide range of disciplines collaborated to produce the Manifesto for the Future of Music Technology Research in response to the Music Tech Fest experience. The manifesto now bears hundreds of signatures.
Collaborations have continued well beyond the festival. Artists travelled to London to perform with collaborators, and there has been an ongoing remote live online presence of Boston artists during the festivals in London, Berlin and Paris.
On 5-7 September 2014 it was time for MTF London again, with 90 presenters-performers, 35 hackers and, for the first time, 12 kids accompanied by their chaperones. The festival was run in partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican LSO St Luke’s, and featured an unprecedented number of impromptu collaborations between established and emerging artists. Mercury Prize nominee Leafcutter John (Polar Bear) invited Tim Exile, Jason Singh and Yazz Ahmed for an incredible improvised performance; Lu Edmonds (PIL) joined with Feral Five, several sonified games controllers and a 3D printer on drums for a Gunk (Geek Punk) improv. The hack camp included remote linkup from Berklee College of Music graduates in Boston at our first ever telehackathon, while the first ever MTF kids hackathon – in which 8-16 year-olds learned hands-on electronics and coding to make instruments which they performed on stage - delighted the London audiences.
At the ‘afterparty’ symposium on 8 September at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL), a group of 42 musicians and researchers launched the research field of Human Music Interaction with a series of collaborative project proposals.
The MTF Berlin pilot event on 24-26 October 2014 brought together 43 performers & presenters as well as 30 hackers. It featured partnerships with Factory Berlin, Berklee College of Music and Fraunhofer IDMT. The festival also included remote participation from Berklee College of Music graduates in Boston. At the hack camp, young first-time instrument makers Piotr Paduch and Sara Morris impressed both the jury and audiences for creating engaging performances using electronic interfaces they had invented and created from scratch overnight, and both won top hack camp awards.
MTF Paris, 21-23 November 2014 at IRCAM, Centre Pompidou, featured 55 presenters & performers, and 22 hackers; as well as remote participation from Berklee College of Music graduates in Boston. 8 artists who had performed at MTF Berlin flew over to perform and collaborate with other artists, and a final jam on the main stage at the end of the festival brought together artists from across genres and around Europe in an impromptu collaboration using technologies many had never used or seen. The winner of the grand prize for a new instrument was a group of 6 artists from 6 different cities who had met at MTF Paris for the first time.
In 2015 the festival had 15 invitations by cities and organisations across the globe. We still owe a show to our community in NYC who have joined forces on the ground, and our community in LA who are still pushing ahead with plans for an MTF LA. We owe one to São Paulo and Buenos Aires, and have been offered several locations in Australia, Canada and the Middle East. But we also wanted to allow for things to evolve in between the festivals and grow to a new level. For this reason we stayed in Europe focusing on two big regional festivals which would involve all of the creative community to think about new formats for music and new ways of combining different fields of knowledge in this space. MTF Scandinavia ran 29-31 May 2015 with the academic afterparty on the 1st of June; MTF Central ran 18-20 September 2015, with the academic afterparty on the 21st and MTF Berlin ran 27-29 May 2016 with #MTFLabs running the week before and the academic afterparty on the 10th of May.
In 2016, Music Tech Fest celebrated its 10th festival with a major event in Berlin. #MTFBerlin was our biggest festival yet, with week long experiments, inventions and debates at #MTFLabs, followed by an incredible lineup on the #MTFStage, immersive installations as part of #MTFSpace, the 24hr element14 Hack Camp, an all night party in a hidden chamber #MTFLates, workshops for kids and teens #MTFKids and new #MTFSparks, #MTFTracks a 24hr Trackathon, #MTFJams - a weekend long Jam Camp, a gathering of industry insiders at #MTFAmplier and startup showcase at #MTFSoundpit - all under the incredible roof of the Funkhaus, the worlds largest recording studio. Later the same year we ran a fully dedicated #MTFSparks in Genoa.
In 2017 we took part in Wallifornia Music Tech in Liège with a special edition of #MTFSparks. Later that year we launched a first week-long #MTFLabs attached to Slush in Helsinki and challenged the 3-minute startup pitch by presenting the innovations developed during the week as a 20 minute performance. The amazing breakthroughs during the #MTFLabs were featured on Finnish national television evening news and attracted multiple volunteers from among Slush startup and investor communities. Audiences had the chance to experience previews of the results of the lab at Slush Music, while the full on première was at the opening of Slush - a gathering which attracts 20 000 delegates.
In 2018 we became the first multi-gender tech platform to have over 50% women involved across all activities at MTF Stockholm. It was the largest number of MTF people creating and innovating together at the same time to date. Over 800 people filled 6 floors of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology U Building, occupying Creative Labs, Hacks, Trackathon, Playground, Showcase, Sparks, Experience, Interview Stage, Mycelia Space and Tekla Girls. Over a week Imogen Heap ran the Blockchain Lab, and a series of Mycelia activities. The MTF Network symposium occupied the library for a couple of days. A week of Exclusives ran in the Reactor Hall, the decommissioned underground nuclear reactor chamber 25 meters under ground with an extraordinary group of 90 diverse high level experts from different fields and all sides of the planet working on new ideas for Performance AI. 81 people bounced their voices off the surface of the Moon in real time via the Dwingeloo Telescope. Extra performances of #MTFLabs had to be organised when the queues of people outside became unmanageable. Later that year we were invited to occupy the Open Codes exhibition at the legendary ZKM centre for art and media in Karlsruhe and take some of the extraordinary results of #MTFLabs forward.