Bridging communities and building new technology with the help of Twitter



Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 15.32.55From short tweets, great things emerge. That’s what happened when Drake Music’s head of R&D Gawain Hewitt set up a Twitter profile for his work at the charity. Little did he know what he would achieve by posting a few tweets.

Six weeks after his first tweet as @drakemusicrandd, Gawain had organised a hack day, bringing together the music making and technology hacking communities, which has spawned three, possibly four, new musical instruments which will make music making more accessible.

Gawain is surprised by how Twitter has helped in his mission to bring music making and tech hacking together to help create accessible instruments.

“The most important people I have engaged with so far have been through Twitter. That has been a surprise,” he says. “In fact, my success with Twitter will change what I do in the future because it has been so successful.”

The hack day idea started with Gawain’s assumption that there were technologically gifted people who like making things who would be interested in hacking for a good cause. His thinking was that that DM needed R&D input and that the hacking community could provide it.

“My assumption, which has been borne out, is that this is a group of people who lack context. Gifted hackers are looking for good projects. Just look around at what tends to get made – exploding crisp packets, for example. There are brilliant things made such as the Raspberry Pi which was sent to the limits of space, but generally the hacking community is looking for good projects to get involved with.

“I figured it was a community that would be interested in our cause – to do something with a social aim which might hook people in. That proved to the case.”

For those that are unfamiliar with the hacking community, Gawain says these are people who are excited by making, hacking and generally fiddling with things in the way musicians are excited by making music. It is the process of making which excites people, he adds.

After a few tweets as @drakemusicrandd, Gawain connected with Zen (@designerzen) who helped set the brief for the hack day. He was first one to connect on Twitter and to respond to the hack day concept. He also helped with the design of the day, which was vital for Gawain being an outsider to the hacking community.

The hack day took place on Sunday 21 April. Ten hackers travelled from across the country to spend the day at Furtherfield HQ in the middle of Finsbury Park, London, creating accessible music technology.

By the end of the day, new instruments, code and hardware had appeared from nowhere, including Max MSP patches, PD patches, iPad Apps, new hardware with custom coded IC’s and Flash based motion sensing instruments.

The event ended in true hack style with the hackers voting for a winner. Mo (@DiogoMoreda) was the clear winner with his breath powered hardware musical instrument, and Zen took second place with his browser based motion sensing instrument.

“Mo arrived with a tobacco tin with components, a ten year old Dell PC . . . and a brain the size of a water melon. He just sat there and got on with it.”

Gawain was also delighted that two leading lights in music technology, Kelly Snook and Beccy Stewart, both got in touch about the hack day and managed to drop in too. Kelly came at the start of the day and Beccy at the end. “They are stratospherically clever people – makes, coders, well established music hardware and systems designers,” he says.

As a result of the hack day Drake Music is also working on a project with Beccy and Kelly which Gawain hopes will also feature as a piece of post-doctoral research.

And that’s not all.

Zen is looking to share his instrument for free and Gawain is working with Mo to develop a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter to build his instrument as open hardware so that anyone can build it from the blueprints and protoypes he is working on.

Gawain says that so much came out of the hack day that a few months on he is still unpacking it.

As for Twitter, he says the medium has had a significant role to play in bringing together two communities. It has helped build a foundation for future projects

“The hack day has been a huge success in terms of widening our networks. Just one event has built such solid foundations for my R&D work.”

Read more about the hack day here.


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