Choirless Interview on BBC Radio Bristol

This sunny Sunday morning I was interviewed live on BBC Radio Bristol about Choirless, the Call for Code project I've been working on for the past few months. This was a short interview just over five minutes long that started with a clip of the pupils from Wallscourt Farm Academy singing a song called “Let's Harvest” in celebration of their harvest festival.

This was a particularly landmark event for myself as this was Choirless coming “full circle” back to where it started. The original inspiration was to allow my daughter to sing with her school choir virtually during lockdown. We had a few of the kids test out the very first prototype we had, but this was the first time the school had officially use it. Whilst the pupils are physically back in school again now, they are restricted to 'social bubbles' of about a dozen pupils to minimise any risk of spread of COVID-19. So each 'bubble' recorded separately and Choirless merged them all together. In total there were 400 kids singing!

You can listen to the snippet of the performance and the interview itself on the BBC Sounds website. You will need to register for a free account to listen to it. Skip to 02:51:52 for where the interview starts.

Or here is a transcript:

Jonathan Ray: Yep indeed during these difficult times just have a listen to this.

[clip of pupils singing plays]

The pupils of Wallscourt Farm Academy in Stoke Gifford with a song especially for their recent harvest festival. What's really great about it is it was recorded using a new website called Choirless and Matt Hamilton the creator is on the line. Good morning Matt! Thank you very much for your time on BBC Radio Bristol, it’s good to talk to you.

Matt Hamilton: Good morning! Thanks on having me on.

JR: Yeah, so you are the parent of one of those little ones just singing.

MH: Yes I am, yes, my daughter Sarah was the inspiration for Choirless because she wasn't able to sing in the school choir whilst they were all studying from home, and yeah so that's why I decided to build Choirless.

JR: So that's amazing. Obviously you are quite good technologically speaking, and and you’re quite web savvy, because you can’t just knock these things up in a matter of moments unless you know what you are doing.

MH: No indeed I mean this was developed as part of a competition called Call for Code. I work for IBM and they have a huge great big competition with about 400,000 developers across the globe in about a 179 countries. People came together to produce solutions to try and produce solutions to some of the big problems like climate change, and this year, COVDI-19. And so, as part of that, I submitted Choirless as an entry into that developed it as a part of that. [note: I should have mentioned here, that this has been built by a team of myself and colleagues Sean Tracey and Glynn Bird]

JR: Well you said your daughter was the inspiration for that, I mean, did you consult with her on what steps to take?

MH: I did I did a little bit. As with most nine year olds, she was very excited and then got very bored with me talking non stop about it. So we had an amazing interesting we've had over 200 choirs and bands contact us already to to use it. We've had choirs for blind kids in Scotland and a 150 piece school marching band in the U. S. we’ve had all sorts — churches, a lot of churches, coming coming to us as well because they are not able to do that sort of normal Sunday sing along.

JR: So, how does it work?

MH: So what happens is each of the band or choir leader records their first part, the lead part, and then invites everybody else they want to join and collaborate with them and they get shown and played back that part and they sing along to it. So it's almost like they do a duet with the with the leader and all the parts are brought together and using the power of IBM Cloud and A. I., it joins all the parts together. About five to six minutes later out comes a full piece. So you just heard 400 kids from Wallscourt Farm Academy singing there.

JR: Amazing because we've seen a lot about how social media and things like Zoom and Skype and the rest of it has brought choirs together in some some kind of shape or form what's next Matt? Is it world domination?

MH: Well that'll be lovely, yeah, that's what we are working towards! So we are expanding it out and have more features, we're adding into it as well to allow people to more control over the things that they’re producing and just getting more people using it and that's the sort of the main focus at the moment.

JR: You're getting sort of tweaks — you’re tweaking it as advised by people who use it who could give you suggestions — how about the web communities? Has it being taken on board from a wider field, perhaps? You know, has it attracted the attention, I mean you know, of Elon Musk or someone like that? I mean because it does sound quite sort-of revolution in some ways.

MH: Yes! Not Elon Musk yet. All the entries into Call for Code, everything's based around what is called Open Source Software. So the idea is that the software is freely available for anybody to contribute to. So we're open to other developers to get involved and to come along to contribute as well to the project. I’m looking for, as well, for musical partners — I’m not sure how musical Elon Musk is, but you know if we can get musical partners as well, you know..,

JR: It was the first thing that came to mind Matt! I mean I know it's a bit far fetched, you know ahead of itself but having said that you probably didn't realise you would be where you are now perhaps with this?

MH: No, it's it's been amazing we got to within the the internal IBM challenge for Call for Code, we came second place. It was a world wide challenge and it was presented as a big global gala hosted by CNN’s Van Jones just recently along with Chelsea Clinton , the CEO of IBM Arvind Krishna and it was… just yeah, it's been amazing the reaction we’ve had to it.

JR: Really, wow! What a shame you can’t hob nob with those big names you've dropped in person, you’ve had to do it via online as it were.

MH: Indeed!

JR: But, how do we access this if we are interested in using it.

MH: So if you to

JR: Yeah.

MH: You can you can go on there and there's a link that to registering interest. Soon we're gonna be opening up to absolutely everybody, but the moment you can register and we’ll send you an invite. We are just slightly controlling the the flow in so that we can fix any issues that come up as we go along because each musical style slightly different. So, you know, we'll try with a choir and it might work; we might try it with a reggae band and it might not work quite as well. So we are tweaking it as we go along with with each contribution comes in.

JR: Brilliant Matt! Lovely. Good stuff, well done! it's a great innovation in difficult times. Good to talk to you.

MH: Thanks a lot.