When I was told about this event, I was wondering what a hackathon would be like. As I've never attended one before, I searched online to find out how it works. Many blogs stated that for the entire duration of the hackathon, you will not be able to think about anything else. One of them said, "Stack your table with loads of snacks and coffee because they will come in handy". On one hand, this sounded exciting, but on the other hand, I was reluctant because I was not ready to take away much time from my PhD.
Anyway, I registered and I was so glad that I did! I was lucky to have a great team that had a mix of AI researchers and musicians. My teammates were António Ramires, Laura Ibáñez, Anja Scheller, Seunghun Lee, Ying Wang, and CJ Carr. We were assigned to an intriguing topic called "Generate. Interpolate. Orchestrate". The aim was to visualise the genre that AI is capable of creating. Just like electric guitar gave birth to rock music and likewise, laptop gave rise to electronic music, what's the new AI-esthetic?
The hackathon spanned for 5 days from 9th to 13th September. Our group was lead by Lamtharn Hanoi Hantrakul, AI Resident at Google Brain. He gave a talk at the conference which was inspiring. He demonstrated the DDSP library developed by Magenta. Another takeaway from his talk was the continuous references drawn between conventional musical instruments and environmental sounds. For instance, neural style transfer from seagull sounds to a Cello.
An interesting idea that we explored during the hackathon was to make birds sing. Although DDSP is generally applied to harmonic sounds, we wanted to explore it with bird sounds. Below is the original audio of me singing "somewhere over the rainbow".
Below is the seagull's rendition of the same audio.
I was pretty surprised with the results. I'm looking forward to making some music with DDSP and bird sounds.
The time that we invested in the hackathon was generally after 5 pm. We spent the late evenings on it and I didn't sleep for one of the nights. I don't completely agree with the notion of having time for nothing else during the hackathon. I think the time spent on it primarily depends on the team, their schedules, and the best part, it's flexible. People are understanding if you are clear about your commitments. So, my advice would be to not shy away from your first hackathon. Surely, give it a go. I didn't neglect my PhD during the hackathon. Moreover, I learnt lot of new concepts and met amazing people. The 5 days was a bit demanding, but worth it!