Woohoo! We recently held our 5th Simpleweb challenge hacknight as part of the Fringe supported by BBC 6 Music Festival – and it was awesome! A massive thanks to the University of Bristol, UWE and At-Bristol Science Centre for all their support.

We were joined by around 50 local developers, creatives and music-types at the At-Bristol science centre, with developers from the BBC, MixRadio, 7Digital, Songkick, Simpleweb (of course) and students from the University of Bristol and UWE.

After tucking into some homemade food, grabbing a drink and getting into the party spirit with music courtesy of our in-house DJ/ product manager, Dave, we set off for 3 hours hacking to see who could build the coolest/ most useful/ most advanced/ craziest music related app in just 3 hours.

We were joined by a special guest judge and legendary Bristol-based producer DJ Krust who said…

“Amazing to see what these guys could do with 3 hours and a laptop. I have seen the future and they have it at their finger tips. I was most impressed with the speed that they could create a working prototype. Next level!”

The atmosphere was amazing and we were delighted when the wonderful team from Ujima Radio, Bristol’s community radio station, came to see what was going on. Ujima is an awesome Bristol-based social enterprise and if you haven’t heard of them – I urge you to go check them out now!

Team Ujima dropped in to say hi
Team Ujima dropped in to say hi

At 10pm we called time and each team showed off what they’d built. Here’s a selection of some of the best…

Playlist Supercutter


Programmer at BBC Radio, Beth, used the BBC Music API to grab the A Playlist (a weekly playlist of the hottest tracks) from 6Music. She then used the MusixMatch API to search for any lyrics for any of the tracks.

When the lyrics are collected, Playlist Supercutter creates a mini supercut (compilation of a large number of short video clips) which reads the lyrics out.

“I really wanted to do something with lyrics and did experiment on the evening with a text-to-speech system” says Beth, “but it wasn’t great as it lacked a bit of character. I really wanted something that was just a bit fun and out of left-field and nothing too serious and sometimes these strange ideas spawn other more serious ideas.”

You can watch a screencast of Beth’s awesome hack here:

Brownie Synthesiser


Simpleweb developer Adam had two crazy awesome ideas, one of which involved controlling a virtual orchestra. Due to some “technical-difficulties” (that resulted in a lot of swearing), this project sadly failed to make it off the ground.

In a last minute attempt to make something cool, Adam grabbed 8 homemade brownies, injected some wires into their gooey core and then into a Makey Makey interface controller, combining CoffeeScript, some MP3s and a little bit of Node.js.

Each brownie was wired up to trigger a specific soundbite (no pun intended) from Daft Punk’s Harder Better Faster. Taking a bite of a brownie triggered a clip (harder, better, faster or stronger) and when done in quick succession played out the track.

Third Place – Beer bottle xylophone

@jarkman, @njh, @libbymiller

When Libby emailed me the day before the hacknight asking if there would be any spare beer bottles her team could use in the hack, I knew this would be interesting…

The idea of a bottle xylophone had been planted by a friend, and that’s exactly what the team set out to do.

Nick started working on the Flic buttons, which communicate via Bluetooth with his phone. Richard started working on the moving parts – an Arduino Nano, two servos, a bit of piano wire, and a 2p piece for a striker. All the kit was held together with glue “because it’s not a hack if it’s not held together with a glue gun” says Richard.

The team decided to make each of Nick’s buttons responsible for one bottle. Nick built a bit of Ruby which sent a byte to the Arduino for each button press, and Richard fixed the Arduino code to read its serial port and do the appropriate smiting.

The whole sequence was then:

  1. Press button, which sends Bluetooth to
  2. a phone, which uses the Flic app to do HTTP to a URL on
  3. a laptop (over a local wifi network) which runs some Ruby to spit out a byte over a serial port to
  4. an Arduino which drives shoulder and arm servos to clonk
  5. a beer bottle with a twopence.

Second Place – Image Grid Sequencer

@dombrown94@dave_gardens, Sam Hunt

UWE students Sam, Dom and David made an Image to Grid based step sequencer.

An image is loaded into the app, which is down sampled to an image of x * y size (in pixels), specified by the controls in the window. Voices controls the Y axis and number of steps controls X. Each row has a different note associated with it, triggering a different sound. The threshold control determines how strong in terms of RGB value each pixel needs to be for triggering a note. This can be seen in the difference between screenshots 1 & 2.

ImgGrid1 Imggrid2

The team used the JUCE framework which is written in C++. The output from this triggered sounds in Logic Pro X through the use of MIDI Messages.

First Place – Whale Theremin


A fan of John Cage and post avant garde music in general, Zia created this awesome theremin which detects motion via the webcam and turns this into sound.

“I watch a lot of nature documentaries so that’s where the whale idea must come from” says Zia. “Also a theremin effect with a Sawtooth oscillator kind of reminds me of a whale call.”

Zia used the Web Audio API for the oscillator, filter and reverb. The webcam motion detection was built using a git repo called js-cam-motion, which allows you to get a coordinate for movement in front of the camera.

Using the coordinate from the web cam, Zia pitched the oscillator and set the filter frequency. He also used the webcam to move an image of a whale around on the screen.
whaletheraminYou can view the project on GitHub here.


A massive thanks to everyone who came and shoutouts to the BBC, Ujima Radio, At-Bristol, Bristol University and UWE. We had an awesome night and we can’t wait for the next one!

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