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August 08, 2019

Absurd Music Hackathon

8-9 November 2019

Artists, technologists and makers are invited to take part in a hackathon around the themes of absurd musical interfaces, questionable sonic interactions and unworkable music designs.

Making absurd, surreal and silly musical propositions.
Composing unconventional artefacts challenging current music technology.
Subverting the ways we use musical tools to reveal unstated assumptions and explore alternatives.

Does this sound fun to you? Please, join us!

Application Deadline Expired

The event is part of Inter/sections 2019 and it will be held at Queen Mary University of London - Mile End campus, London.

Silly, playful and subversive design

There is a long tradition in design of making provocative proposals and objects. A well-known reference of absurd design ideas is Jaques Carelman‘s Objets Introuvable (unfindable objects) which include the teapot with the handle on the same side as the spout which has illustrated the front cover of many editions of Don Norman‘s Psychology of Everyday Things. The discipline of imagining and building illogical, silly and overcomplicated machines has been practiced by both artists and inventors (see Simone Giertz, Joseph Herscher and Dominic Wilcox to name a few). Within the western culture, these design hazards clearly pay a tribute to Dada and Surrealist movement(s).

Another example of such practices is the Japanese art of Chindogu, where a designer produce “un-useless” objects. Unlike other absurd designs Chindogu must exist (i.e. a concept should be translated into an artefact) and they must be, from a practical point of view, (almost) completely useless. Often Chindogu solve one problem while creating other, larger problems. In this sense the design is not useless, but neither is it useful: it is “un-useless”.

Within the domain of HCI and musical interaction, it is possible to identify a small but growing body of work that challenges technology ideation and development through absurd and playful artefacts. These include the work of Kristina Andersen on the Magic Machine workshops in which the making of silly fictional instruments allows participants to generate design ideas that are beyond the paradigms imposed by current music tools.

John Bowers and Owen Green instead exploited the notion of hijacking as a way to question existing music technologies, their customary range of application and the implicit norms of musicality codified into the artefacts. As a means to critically engage with current machine listening techniques, Bowers and Green build provocative music designs such as disagreeing pitch trackers, re-de-reverberators and eternal resonance machines. These were collected in the form of annotated portfolio to outline the critiques and upshots emerging while designing and using the various makings.

The workshop’s outcomes might illustrate future visions, uses of new materials, and potential ideas. The designed artefacts and the considerations around them might contribute to generate guidelines, methodological intuitions or provocative statements to be shared with broader design research communities. The project outcomes, ranging from methods and design processes, will be therefore disseminated through academic publications characterised by a strong multidisciplinary outreach.

Go absurd

Interested candidates are required to sketch an unusless music design idea to be developed during the hack lab. The various proposals will offer the basis for further brainstorming during the course of the event. You might therefore work on a team or individually to develop the submitted idea, a variation it or a fresh silly concept. Proposals should also include a short summary of candidates’ musical/artistic background and technical skills (see Absurd Music Design Form link above).

Max 25 participants will be accepted. The selection criteria include:

  • quality of the idea: originality, silliness, unuselessness, style and achievability
  • candidates background (aiming to balance a multidisciplinary convergence of people)
  • age: 18+

The following approaches are suggested (but not required) for the proposal of absurd musical interfaces:

  • overly complicated musical machines
  • musical interfaces that while solving a problem create a new (bigger) problem
  • seriously silly sonic interaction designs
  • hijacking, rejecting or subverting existing musical applications
  • counterintuitive or anti-ergonomic musical tools
  • artificial stupidity for musical interactions
  • fictional media archaeology: musical futures that did not happened
  • almost completely useless interfaces for music performance
  • musical interventions beyond realistic technological premises


In order to support participants two external mentors have been invited to join the event. These guests have significant experience in the fileds of music technology, research through design, DIY, absurd making and other related fields. The mentors will be on site for the all duration of the workshop, guiding and challenging participants from both technical and theoretical viewpoints.

John Bowers

John Bowers (UK) works with modular synthesisers, home-brew electronics, reconstructions of antique image and sound-making devices, self-made software, field recordings and esoteric sensor systems. He makes performance environments which mix sound, image and gesture at a fundamental material level, sometimes accompanied by spoken text. Former researcher in the Interaction Research Studio - Goldsmiths University of London, he is currently Professor of Creative Digital Practice in Culture Lab and Fine Art, Newcastle University, and helps coordinate the label Onoma Research.

Hannah Perner-Wilson

Hannah Perner-Wilson (AT) explores the electrical properties of materials and traditional and contemporary craft techniques, developing new techniques for building electronics that emphasize materiality and process. She believes that this will allow us to build electronics that are more diverse, understandable and expressive than electronics currently are. She is part of the collective KOBAKANT which, amongst many commissions and art projects, published an online database How To Get What You Want for sharing DIY wearable technology approach.

Workshop structure and resources

The Unuseless Music Design Hackathon partecipation fee is £15. Instructions will follow on the money transfer methods. The money collected will be used to buy materials to be used during the workshop. The tools provided to the participants will include:

  • digital fabrication tools (2D design tools - laser cutter)
  • traditional workshop tools
  • Bela maker platform (to be returned at the end of the workshop)
  • basic circuitry and sensors

The following materials will be provided:

  • basic laser cutter materials (e.g. MDF, acrylic, cardboard)
  • textile materials (e.g. conductive wires, fabrics, leather)

The realised projects will be presented during a final event at the end of the second hackathon day. Below a first draft of the event schedule.

If needed, participants are encouraged to bring any particular tool or material (subject to communication with the organising committee - see Absurd Music Design Form link above) and use any open-source or free resource. During the event, the organising committee - MAT and Bela members - will coordinate and facilitate the various activities. Lunches and coffee breaks will be provided. We will not be able to reimburse any expanse (e.g. travel or accommodation) for accepted participants.

From the initial gathering of ideas to the final presentation of artefacts, core elements of the event will be collaboration and mutual support. The organising committee will try its best to welcome and make everyone comfortable. Cordiality and sharing are therefore expected from all participants as well :)

Early examples


Academic work

  • .:thePooch:. - Chindogu Challenge 2005

  • Bowers and Archer. “Not Hyper, not meta, not cyber but infra- instruments.” NIME 2005

  • Vines et al. “Questionable concepts: critique as resource for designing with eighty somethings.” CHI 2012

  • Bowers “The logic of annotated portfolios: communicating the value of ‘research through design’.” DIS 2012

  • Gaver “What should we expect from research through design?” CHI 2012

  • Sheridan “Digital Arts Entrepreneurship: Evaluating Performative Interaction.” Interactive Experience in the Digital Age 2014

  • Blythe et al. “Anti-solutionist strategies: Seriously silly design fiction.” CHI 2016

  • Andersen and Wakkary “The Magic Machine Workshops: Making Personal Design Knowledge.” CHI 2019

Musical instruments, installations and interfaces

Absurd Hackathon

Images credits:

  • Jaques Carelman - Bicyclette-Harmonium
  • AuthorFilms - Reddit - ProgrammerHumor - Advanced Volume Control

Inter/sections is supported by: