As the days are getting colder and shorter, I’m already anxiously awaiting those long summer days again. It reminds me of my trip to Umeå in the north of Sweden earlier this year where night time only lasted from 3am till 6am! I had never experienced such long days before and it was very confusing to have seemingly eternal twilight play tricks on my body clock.
Besides exceptionally long spring days, Umeå stands out for their worldwide top position in medical research, design technology and their extremely fast internet (a rare phenomenon in London). The city has 120,000 inhabitants of which 40,000 are students at the local university, and it’s the hometown of author Stieg Larsson, metal band Meshuggah and hardcore punk band Refused (huge fan of the latter!). But what brought me to Umeå was the very special 3-day Music Tech Fest #Scandi, organised by the festival founders Michela Magas and Andrew Dubber.
Since its premiere in London in 2012, Music Tech Fest has evolved into a global phenomenon. This ‘festival of music ideas’ has had nine editions now already in cities all over the world including Paris, Berlin, Boston (USA) and Wellington (New Zealand). This year they received no less than fifteen invitations from cities in Canada, Australia and the Middle East, just to name a few. I was honoured to being invited to join in the fun at Music Tech Fest Scandi where I met interesting new people and was introduced to a new approach towards creating music.
Some of the inspiring people I met and got to hang out with over the weekend were Matt Black (co-founder of independent record label Ninja Tune and one half of electronic music duo Coldcut), Graham Massey (member of electronic music group 808 State), Jason Singh (vocal sculptor, composer and sound artist), Terry Tyldesly (musician, film-maker and founder of KitMonsters). Also hubby Scanner was there with me as he was to perform live at the festival. And it was lovely to meet big supporter of this blog, Sydney Levinson, in person 🙂
What is Music Tech Fest?
So what is this festival all about then, I hear you say. To use the words on the festival website: it’s a creative playground, born from the idea of bringing together artists, scientists, academia and industry.
While it was never their intention to create a festival, the founders received such a great response and support which led to a full 3-day festival.
Music Tech Fest Scandi took place at Sliperiet, a creative space in the centre of Umeå Arts Campus, just opposite the contemporary art museum Bildmuseet and the river Umeå, a very inspiring location indeed! Sliperiet Cafe was buzzing with energy every day whilst people chatted, enthusiastically demonstrated their creations or fuelled up on much-needed coffee!
If I were to list all the events that took place over the weekend, this post would be endless. The core events were presentations, live music, a 24H hack camp, a kids hackaton and a symposium. There was also an amazing space in Sliperiet with all the latest music gear that could be used by anyone who wanted to jam and create new music. But there was SO much more! To give you an idea of the diverse programme, here’s a (very) short list:
- The world’s largest MIDI controller
- The world premiere of the film Kung Fury, featuring the most dangerous kung fu master criminal: Kung Führer Hitler. (Click here for the trailer.)
- The Electro-Acoustic Café which serves not only coffee but also provides a sonic experience. Curious to know what the heck that means? Then watch this video.
- A pop-up speakeasy bar
- A VIP visit to Guitars the Museum
Monkeys and synthesizers
To me personally, the festival offered me a glimpse into the future of music. Every day was filled with presentations of exciting new music technology, varying from prototypes to beta-tested or established devices and apps. Everywhere you looked, people were on their laptops creating tools, music or other ‘techy things’ or transforming everyday objects, like paper, into keyboards! Everybody was full of energy (I believe an energy drink was one of the main sponsors), positive and more than happy to explain their ‘inventions’.
As I have a background in human-computer interaction, it was incredibly fascinating to meet the makers and talk to them about the issues of technology design and usability.
Via Twitter I found these two fellow Dutchies at Music Tech Fest: Dennis Braunsdorf and Alexander Mooij. These guys are the founders of Prolody, software that will make the lives of music composers, producers and DJs a whole lot easier. Their intelligent audio technology comprises a music composition tool and text-to-speech tool that offer a better and more efficient user experience than most of the products out there. Check out their website to see all their products and demos.
One of my favourite presentations was by Håkan Lidbo, inventor of many playful interactive music devices, including the world’s largest MIDI controller that we got to play with in Umeå. The idea behind this is to move around three larger than life, inflatable featherlight cubes: one cube plays drums, one plays bass and the last one plays melodies. Each cube generates six different loops. By tilting ’round the cubes, the player can make their own composition.
Håkan told us about his fun experiment with monkeys and their (dis)ability to create music. The question behind it was if monkeys like music and are able to create music. Find out the answer here!
Here below is another monkey for you 😉 This is me trying out VR technology. On the mobile screen attached to my head I was watching a film of a circus troupe. Unlike Virtual Really technology from the past, VR nowadays is far more interactive and responsive. When you move around your head, the film moves along with you, i.e. move your head upwards and you see the sky or ceiling of the space on the screen, make a 360-degree turn and your virtual space moves along as well. Coincidentally, Anton of Style Division had demonstrated me the same type of technology on his futuristic OnePlus mobile just a few days before and predicted this would be the new way for people ‘attending’ live events such as music concerts at home. In today’s Observer Tech Monthly Magazine you can read a feature on VR technology, a very interesting read!
The main reason for my trip to Umeå was because my hubby was invited to play live with aforementioned Graham Massey and Jason Singh. It was a fantastic show, especially considering they had never worked together before and the collaboration was entirely improvised. I was especially impressed with Jason’s beatbox qualities. Matt Black decided on the spot to provide video projections for the live performance which was entirely in the spirit of the festival which encourages improvisations and impromptu collaborations between artists. Here are a couple of clips from their performance.
Playing just before them was Mørk, a Norwegian artist I had never heard of before but I definitely loved his performance! Here’s a video I made during his set.
When they announced a 24H hack camp for adults and a kids hackathon, I wondered the following things: 1) what top secret, heavily secured websites were all those people supposed to hack into, and 2) why drag innocent kids into such criminal activities? I soon learned that my interpretation of ‘hacking’ was quite inaccurate and dated. In the 21st century hacking doesn’t necessarily mean breaking into secured websites. Music hacking is ‘designed to find new ways in reinventing and reengineering music for the digital age’. (Music Hack Day)
Here you can see someone playing the keyboards on a piece of paper!
On Sunday morning a group of eager and enthusiastic kids joined in the kids hackathon workshops.
This is very cool and I wish we had such things when I was young! These children made a drawing with special conductive paint enabling them to play music by pressing the ‘keys’ in their painting.
The boy in the middle was probably the youngest participant and it was absolutely adorable to see his face light up when all children were given toy trucks by sponsor Volvo. I saw him happily play with it later on in the corridor.
What else is there in Umeå?
Umeå is northern Sweden’s largest city and was even European capital of culture in 2014. The city offers anything from shopping, to culture, fine dining and nature. I stayed in the innovative self-service hotel U&Me, which shares an inner courtyard and vibrant bar area with its popular sister hotel Stora Hotellet. The nearby Sushi Bar on Renmarkstorget 6 serves yummy sushi for a very good price.
During my stay I visited the contemporary art museum Bildmuseet and the extraordinary Guitars the Museum where twin brothers and museum founders Samuel and Michael Åhdén gave us a lively tour with many interesting anecdotes on famous guitarists. This was definitely one of the highlights of my trip! Unfortunately there wasn’t any time to visit the Umedalens skulpturpark, a massive open-air sculpture park that boasts a permanent collection of nearly 50 sculptures by Swedish and international artists such as Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Miroslaw Balka. A good reason for going back to Umeå one day!
Big thanks to Michela and Andrew for having me in Umeå!
If you want to visit Music Tech Fest, then keep an eye on their website for details on future editions.
Umeå photo gallery
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