In 2011, the Music Hackspace was a group of noisy hackers getting together in a café. Six years later, the collective moved into one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in London. Meeting.
In London, from our correspondent
In London, DIY art is even brought into Zamboni circuits. On the Somerset House square skating rink, cultural institution in London, the Engo 170 SX machine roams the ice with a drone soundtrack inspired from early video games. Every evening, the routine maintenance becomes an opportunity of a unique live performance: thanks to a movement sensor, the instrumentation adapts itself to the passing of the machine and the ice conditions.
Sarabande for Zamboni, of which one can listen to a short piece over here, is signed Anna Meredith, electronic artist, in collaboration with the community of DIY artists Music Hackspace, realized as part of the Somerset House Studios residence program.
Music Hackspace is part of the first commission of artists from the Somerset House residence program. Set up there since January 2017, they organized tens of workshops and conferences open to the public, all linked to sound: editathons to document the role of women composers in the database of the British Music Collection, workshop weekends to create one’s instruments with invited artists, conferences on tech music given by performing artists, such as the Peruvian sound artist Maria Chavez, Tim Exile, regular of the labels Warp and Planet Mu, or still the Polish who came to present his DIY instrument LightSeq…
LightSeq, Kacper Ziemianin’s luminous sequencer (2016):
They also welcome artists in residence. Tim Exile and his new mysterious Projet Rockpoool, Tim Murray-Browne, who worked with Anna Meredith on the Zamboni, Jack James and his social and political approach of sound or still Leslie Deere, who manipulates sound waves with no interface via Microsoft Kinect. In all, fifty or so people make up the Music Hackspace community.
Even though a residence in one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in London has a little taste of gentrification, the story of the Music Hackspace makes all the energy of the history of hackerspaces resonate. Self-governance, the issue of space, difficulties linked to an open-space (is one allowed to sleep in a hackerspace and where to set limits?), neighborhood problems… creativity and resilience too.
Music Hackspace begins in 2011 in the form of a meeting group within the London Hackspace, at the instigation of the IT engineer and product development manager of the electronic lute-making company Roli, the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Thiebaut, and the music instrument developer of the company Rebel Technology, Martin Klang, recounts Tadeo Sendon, in charge of the association and Susanna Garcia member of the group right from the beginning. With twenty or so people to begin with, the group and its mailing list grow rapidly.
The cohabitation with the hackers from the London Hackspace goes well. At least in the beginning. “They saw us as a wholesome group, a successful initiative that needed to be encouraged,” says Sendon. But the noise of the machines annoys the hackers busying themselves with calmer activities. The group therefore migrates to Jean-Baptiste Thiebaut’s office that soon reveals itself too cramped.
The Music Hackspace takes up residence in the local café. For two years, they organized their meetings and noise concerts there with an uneven participation from the public. “For the Christmas festivities, we could bring together up to 80 people. Sometimes only one person would come to our events,” says Tadeo, laughing. The group persists and reinforces its presence and its online portfolio. “The audience isn’t only for events,” he justifies.
In 2013, the London Hackerspace moved and set up a little further east. The Music Hackspace remained in its café—the separation was effective.
“It was symbolic, we separated from the place where we were born. But there was never really any friction. Hackerspaces are organic places, groups change.”
Tadeo Sendon, Music Hackspace
Then began a homelessness that only ended –for a period of time- when the Music Hackspace settled in Somerset House. “We realized that the space and the entity needn’t be linked.” For a month, they set up in the Barbican, for Hack the Barbican, an exhibition without central curation nor budget—experience that the artistic center did not reiterate. “It was a sort of joker,” says Tadeo, laughing. They presented the OxLork, or Oxford Laptop Orchestra, placing microphones in the center to capture and recreate the environment and the brutalist sound esthetics of the building and organize concerts and collective sound installations. They then won a competition to move into a container for a year, turned into a studio, a few steps away from the London Hackspace. It was then that they obtained grants from the department of British arts for the first time and that their practice became more professional. “We were at last able to pay ourselves.”
The group then settled in the Limewharf technological hub for a year and organized several events at the V&A Museum of Childhood. “Each time we started to lose patience, something good came along.” Up to January 2017, when they obtained their residence at Somerset House Studios, alongside Makerversity or artist and designer studios. Today, they still have two years, taking the time to develop their activities without chasing funding and facilities. “The dream would be to have our own space, says Tadeo Sendon. No longer be under the umbrella of another institution.”
DIY Music, birth of a community
Moving from arty and dynamic East London to the less accessible and more institutional center of London was not without damageable consequences. “We lost part of our base, concedes Tadeo, who however points out that the DIY synthesizer workshops mobilize a loyal community. But our audience has also grown. The involvement of the public is larger and stronger.”
The group also benefits from a growing interest for this scene that mixes music and technology. “I think that the community has always been there but it is certainly more visible and it has learnt to better show its work,” analyzes Tadeo. It has also found its identity: Hackoustic, group of musical hackers that started at the London Hackerspace a few years after the Music Hackspace, is focusing on hacking analog instruments, whereas Music Hackspace prefers electronics and software. Representatives of the algorave scene regularly come to lead workshops to learn the basics of the programming languages TidalCycles and SuperCollider.
Following the intense phase of the home studios, room producers, where amateur musicians were at last able to access all the tools to create their studio—“a kind of industrial revolution,” considers Tadeo—groups like Music Hackspace act as social aggregators. “There was a lot of enthusiasm but after a certain time, you realize that yourself, your home and Internet are not enough. You need to meet people, collaborate. Mixing and networking are important to be a proactive artist.”