Interview with a hacker


At the end of May Drake Music was involved with the Web We Want festival as part of our Research & Development programme.

The festival took place at the South Bank Centre in London and involved people from lots of different disciplines coming together to talk about how technology and the internet can be used to create a better society.

Our part in this was twofold. First we hosted a ‘Test It’ session where the general public could come and see the types of music technology we use in our workshops and music sessions. Second we held a hackathon in collaboration with Music Hackspace and Furtherfield, to create new accessible instruments and push forward the development of music technology with accessibility at its heart.

We interviewed Dave Green, one of the hackers who came and got involved to find out more:

Please tell us a bit about yourself

I’m a musician, amongst other things, and a computer science communicator. I specialise in recycling old games controllers.

Hackathon participants working together on projects
Dave demonstrating a different hacked computer game controller being used to make music. Image: Emile Holba.

How did you come to be involved with this Drake Music hackathon?

I got involved through Music Hackspace. I get updates from them and I’m involved with other tech events in London. I saw this and thought it sounded right up my street.

Have you been to a hackathon before?

Not as a participant. What I’ve heard, and come to expect… Nowadays there are a lot of hackathons around. Some get a bit of stick from people. For example, it can be a well-known brand saying we’ll make our data available to you, but whatever you build you won’t own the Intellectual Property. The web development community has become a bit sceptical about it all. This is much more in the spirit of hackathons. I’ve seen something similar at Music Tech Fest too.

What are you working on?

There is a fairly open brief to create an accessible instrument. I saw a student project recently where he worked with stroke patients and put sensors in squeezy balls which then triggered notes. That was good because it motivated the patients to do those actions, which helped with their recovery.

I found some old Playstation 2 quiz game buzzers which are built to last, but nobody plays that game any more, so I bought them on eBay for £2. I also had an existing Raspberry Pi project which I’ve been working on where you can plug in anything that has a USB and get it to generate notes.

I thought if any old games controllers can address access needs it will be these and thought perhaps someone else will have an idea to contribute to it too. It works by going up and down a scale using binary info from the buttons. It can do 3/4 octaves and has access to over 100 different synth sounds.

Has it come together in the way you thought it would?

Yes, it has worked pretty much as I expected. While I’ve been here today people have come round and chipped in with their experience. For example, a visually impaired musician came round and gave feedback on people’s projects. It’s been interesting, for example I thought that this instrument might be too limited, but some of the people who run workshops said that being able to play 10 notes would be enough. That wasn’t advertised as a feature of the day, but has been really useful.

I’m not sure how far this addresses specific accessibility goals, we’re not trained in that side of things, but the attitude we all had was to try and create something flexible and different to a normal instrument. Something which might move possibilities on further. Technology used to be “we’ll give you this and that’s how you use it”. Now people are content to be more open about it.

Anything else to add about the hackathon?

Often with hackathons they say ‘bring a team’ or ‘you’ll be assigned to a team’. This is more like a co-working environment. It’s good because it forces you to sit down and do something, be productive. And you can shout out random questions like “does anyone know anything about Python?”. It’s a very supportive atmosphere.


We’d like to say a huge thank you to Dave and the other hackathon participants for giving up their time to come together and work on pushing forward music technology, opening up new possibilities and developing accessible instruments in just one day.