What if a competition didn’t just encourage entrants to try to make a better product? What if it encouraged friendly rivalry between makers to produce entries that were also shared across the community?

That’s the idea behind Digitópia’s upcoming series of competitions, now entering its third year. Digitópia itself is based in Porto, Portugal, at the Casa da Musica. But even if Portugal isn’t exactly in your neighborhood, entrants and onlookers alike can benefit from shared, open sourced contributions.

In fact, even the prizes itself are open projects. The simple, anthropomorphic-looking controller above is a free project. It’s dead-simple, a combination of an IKEA salad bowl, a potentiometer, and ultrasonic distance sensors. But as a result, it’s also inexpensive, simple to use (particularly with the addition of Digitópia’s custom-developed software), and a flexible starting point for further work. (Actually, handling multiple ultrasonics is a bit tricky, too, relative to things like infrared, so that’s a particularly nice addition.)

First up: Max and Pd patchers, your pride is on the line.

Think your Max/MSP or Pure Data multimedia patch is the most original around? Prove it. An international competition will find the best patches, and all of them (whether made in Max or Pd) will be released under a free software license. A panel will judge the results, led by Pedro Rebelo, composer, digital artist and Director of Education at the School of Music and Sonic Arts, Queen’s University Belfast. New deadline: February 14. (That’s right, polish off your best patch, send it into battle, and then take your pumped-up sense of masculinity / femininity out for a fantastic Valentine’s Day dinner.)

There are other competitions, too. The third-annual Musical Miniatures Competition is looking for musical works or “gestures” of 15 seconds or less. (If you’ve ignored other calls for works, this one should leave you no excuse.) The sounds will be licensed under a Creative Commons license for freesound.org, adding to that communal repository of sounds. Bram de Jong, legendary developer and freesound.org guru, will judge the results. Deadline: May 28.

Produce the best sound or the best patch, and you get the controller above and accompanying software. But the for third competition, you get the futuristic controller of your dreams. You submit the idea, and Digitópia builds the results. The entrants are judged on “innovation, originality, feasibility and inclusive potential.” (Yes, it needs to be feasible in order for them to build it — no electronic music equivalents of The Homer.)

Oh, yes, and the Dreams Competition has me as the judge. Deadline: April 3. Keep a dream journal.

The beauty of all of this is that these are contests that give back. We’ll have sounds, patches, inventions, and hardware documentation for the prize and the entrants; stay tuned as that documentation becomes available.

Speaking of getting something out of this for yourself… don’t have any dream ideas? No good at Max and Pd patching? For an absurdly-cheap €15 for three whole days of seminars, Digitópia will teach you patching skills in these two tools. Jeez, for that price, you could afford a flight to beautiful Portugal and still come out ahead. No details on the new seminars for spring up yet, but I’ll put up a notice when they are. (I’m also teaching a seminar at Digitópia the first week of June.)

Digitópia Competitions 2010

Digitópia – Platform for the Development of Digital Music Communities


One of the free (as in beer and freedom) included patches for the Digitópia controller.