Andrew Dubber, Music Tech Fest’s director, explains to me the freedom Music Tech Fest fosters in joining creative musicians and technological minds in an all-inclusive environment – the aim is to ultimately liberate the music technology scene and revel in the mayhem that ensues.
How and why was 'Music Tech Fest' conceived and what developments has it gone through to make it the internationally-reaching community it is today?
I wasn’t there for the first Music Tech Fest. It was something that came out of the European Road Map for the Future of Music Information Research. Michela Magas was the scientific director for that project - and was the founder of the Music Tech Fest. The idea was to bring together artists and scientists, academics and industry in a ‘hands on’ experimental environment - rather than just a conference. I came along to the second one and, like most people who now work for MTF - I basically just never went home. I was asked to take on the role of director of the festival, and we have had invitations - sometimes through some of my own professional connections - to bring the event to different cities. It’s different everywhere we do it, and we learn a lot by doing each one. But what makes it work is the fact that it brings together such a diverse range of brilliant and interesting people. It’s not a matter of controlling the outcome. You put them together in a room and watch what happens.
Why do you think it is important for musicians working with technology to meet face to face in a world saturated by online ‘music technology’ content?
I don’t think it’s necessarily important for musicians to meet each other face to face. It’s nice, just as any personal human interaction is nice. But there’s a lot that can be done through online collaboration between people who have the same language and mode of working. What’s important is that they meet *other types of people* with different skills and frames of thinking. People who aren’t musicians, but bring something else to music. And to make that work, people need to build something together. If you want to innovate in music, you need creative technologists, designers, hackers, musicians, artists, product designers, music industry people - a whole range of different minds. That’s what the face to face stuff is for. You get people working collaboratively and it opens up all sorts of unimagined possibilities.
‘Music Tech Fest’ seems different in that you pride yourself on being ‘a community with a festival, not a festival with a community’ - why is it important to 'bring down' the hierarchy that a lot of creative ‘festivals’ have and somewhat ‘level the playing-field’ for musicians working with technology?
There are a few important things here. First - we want to remove barriers to participation. Anyone who wants to play music, make technologies, hack, research or find out about music technologies should not be prevented from doing so because of financial restrictions. Second, it’s important to us that things that happen at Music Tech Fest have a life beyond the festival. New projects begin, new businesses are formed, new art installations are imagined, new performances planned - that sort of thing. That’s what Music Tech Fest is for. It’s a catalyst for the community. Where people come together, get exposed to new concepts and experiences, meet new people, have interesting discussions, make new prototypes and so on - but then go off to develop those further and maybe come back and showcase those things on the main stage at a later Music Tech Fest.
A lot of the creative developments in the ‘music tech’ world aren’t solely to do with music anymore - how and why is cross-collaboration in artistic mediums important and how does ‘Music Tech Fest’ foster these concepts?
The edges where music stops and other stuff starts has always been blurred - but now more than ever. We’re interested in music for its own sake, because music is amazing - and we’re also interested in music as a tool for other things (social change, industrial innovation, education…). Music is something pretty much everyone has a relationship with in one way or another. It’s the bit that connects the tech-heads with the artistic people, the academics with the industry. We’re working with Volvo trucks and Philips lighting. Those organisations might not be thought of as music related, but they see the value of a transversal approach to innovation, and music as a galvanising force that gets young people interested in technology and engineering. The cross-collaboration in the arts is especially important in an age of computing because the artificial barriers between storytelling, music, film, visual arts - even taste and touch - are broken down in our increasingly synaesthetic and multi-modal world.
The improvements and accessibility of technology in general is something that is obviously allowing more people to engage with it. How has the festival engaged with the issues of inaccessibility to technology to allow a wider engagement with music tech?
It’s a really important strand of what we do. For instance, we’re working closely with a number of organisations who are focused on using technology to remove barriers to participation for people with disabilities. We encourage our hackers to keep accessibility in mind when developing any new projects and we showcase projects that are about making music available to more people in more places - for instance, the One Handed Musical Instrument (OHMI) Trust, Drake Music and Human Instruments. It’s also a key part of our #MTFResearch network principles. The Manifesto for the Future of Music Technology Research, which came about as a response to the Music Tech Fest we held at Microsoft Research in Boston. See: http://musictechifesto.org
All images courtesy of Andrew Dubber