2017 Moog Hackathon Recap

Hanoi Hantrakul, center, demonstrates his team's Moog Hackathon instrument.

Hanoi Hantrakul frenetically shook a cardboard box and had the whole room of competitors entranced.

Hantrakul was part of the team, including Zach Kondack and Somesh Ganesh, that won the 2017 Moog Hackathon, put on by the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, and held in the Couch building last weekend.

The Hackathon, sponsored by Moog Music, allows students the chance to build their own musical instrument with a Moog synthesizer for cash and prizes. The winning instrument, ”Moog's Greatest Hits,” was an unexpected combination of a drum and a synthesizer attached to a cardboard box.

”Whatever you attach the synthesizer to, it makes a different noise,” Hantrakul and his team explained. That’s why they chose a cardboard box. The sound would have been different with a wooden box or plastic.

The Hackathon was led off with a "Werkstatt Workshop", designed to get all the competitors familiar with how to hack their synthesizer.

Attendance for this year’s Hackathon was the largest to date, featuring more than 25 teams from different Georgia Tech schools, in addition to teams from Atlanta's Morehouse and Spelman colleges, and Webb Bridge middle school students and their parents from Alpharetta, Georgia. Even a team signed up from Michigan.

This year's Hackathon featured more students from colleges outside Georgia Tech than ever before.

The event was held in the School of Music rehearsal hall - normally home to both the Marching Band and Symphony Orchestra. The Hackathon crowd rivaled both.

As the Hackathon commenced, Chris Howe, a judge for the event, asked the room how many of the competitors enjoyed working with music, and electronics. Many of the students raised not just one hand, but both in response.

Some of the instruments made also relied on hand movements.

Howe, a project engineer at Moog Music and an alumnus of the Music Technology graduate program, knows how they feel. He was still a student at Georgia Tech the year the first Hackathon was held.

Chris Howe, working with a team to get the most out of their instrument.

Competitors worked hard on their inventions for 48 hours. The ten finalist teams designed an incredible variety of instruments that were immediately playable. One was a circuit board you could hold in your hand like a Raspberry Pi, one looked like a Mardi Gras hat, one was even inspired by bagpipes.

Other instruments combined vocals with the synthesizers, which made it a popular instrument for the audience to try for themselves.

Aaron Lanterman, one of the judges for the Hackathon, keeps coming back to judge the competition every year because in part of how the quality of the entries has improved each time.

"I’ve had the privilege of judging every GT Moog Hackathon since its inception. I’m struck by how much the quality of the entries rises every year. It feels like every team is subconsciously pushed to do better by all the other teams, and then everyone 'ups their game.' But even between competing teams, the atmosphere is always collegial and not competitive. The combined awesomeness of all the entries is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Most engineering projects students work on have some sort of ‘practical’ focus. Even our graduates who wind up designing products in the music industry generally must focus on products that will appeal to a wide audience. But at an event like the Hackathon, students can let their more artistic side flourish," said Lanterman.

In the end, the first place winners were Hantrakul, Zack Kondak, and Somesh Ganesh with an instrument they dubbed "Moog's Greatest Hits", a drum kit with an analog synthesizer attached that an additional musician could play in tandem with a drummer.

Hantrakul, Kondak, and Ganesh with their winning instrument, "Moog's Greatest Hits".

Coming in second place were Victor Pino and Matt Egan with their "Non-Linear Analog Expander".

The "Non-Linear Analog Expander" can fit in the palm of your hand, but made a big impression on the judges.

Third place was the "Spinning Plates of Sounds" from Takumi Ogata and Avrosh Kumar.

Each plate controls a different aspect of the music, from rhythmic patterns, melody, and modulation effects.

Honorable mentions went to Christopher Deese, Krish Ravindranath, Jack Thomson, and Mitcham Tuell for the "Sigmoido", and Shi Cheng, Rex Wang, Alan Liu , and Joe Yan for the "Pipe Broken", which was an instrument modeled after bagpipes.

Alan Liu playing the "Pipe Broken".

The night was capped off by Lanterman's eight-year-old son asking the crowd of finalists to play one final jam session together before leaving. The Couch building boomed with analog music well into the night.

The finalists at the end of a great musical instrument invention session.