DJs in the data center: A new spin on IT

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A version of this blog post originally appeared here.

People ask me how I got started mixing sounds, and I tell them I was inspired by my dad (Randy Hypes, a drummer and musician). I’ve been drumming since the third grade and have also been singing all my life. My dad introduced me to hip-hop when I was in the seventh grade, putting me onto Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest.

Fast forward 15 years, and I’ve made a career out of being a DJ and music producer. I try to think outside the box and make my music as different as I can — which always creates unexpected opportunities.

Standing at the intersection of music and technology

I love to make music from everyday sounds. You might have heard “Clippers Beat,” a track that went viral last year where I used the sound of electric hair clippers — if not, check it out and leave a comment. That’s when my work caught the attention of IBM, and they invited me to join the RemixIT project.

When IBM reached out to me, I remember looking at the website and seeing the headline “Turn Disruption into Opportunity.” Every conversation I’ve had with them has circled around this thought; they want you to think differently about your IT infrastructure — and IBM.

Today, a lot of music comes from digital systems. Attach a keyboard to a computer, and you can create the sounds of different instruments and use software to manipulate and mix them into a pretty awesome music track — even one that may go viral. At EDGE 2016, held at the MGM in Las Vegas last month, computers aren’t just enabling the music; they are the music. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a data center the same way again. And that’s what RemixIT is all about.

Capturing the rich variety of IT infrastructure sounds

RemixIT is about thinking differently and being bold about IT. And IBM wanted to show in a fun way that IT infrastructure is more than hardware. Musicians know they have to innovate to stay relevant; so do IT leaders.

I worked with Tim Exile, a musician and DJ who also captures sounds and transforms them into musical compositions. For our RemixIT collaboration, we flew around the world — from Beijing, China, to Montpellier, France, to New York — to record hundreds of raw sounds from IBM data centers.

I wasn’t sure what we’d come away with, but it turned out to be amazing, eye-opening stuff. IBM POWER8, IBM z Systems and LinuxONE servers all make their own unique sounds — from humming and vibrations to different tones from the cooling fans — who knew? We got permission to record server-based percussion by drumming on some of the surfaces. And we even captured sounds in a reverberation room at the IBM Client Experience Lab in Poughkeepsie, New York, where they conduct server sound testing.

Staying true to the sound of IT innovation

When we returned, we decided to stay true to the spirit of the project by using only the data center sounds we had collected — hundreds of them — and used them as the raw material to compose. The first thing we needed was a continuous sound we could load into the computer and run through a keyboard to create our melodies. One of the cooling fans we recorded, from the IBM DS8880, almost sounded like a marimba, and we used that as the main baseline for the melody. We also found plenty of percussion, rhythms and other interesting sounds in our recordings. Then we laid down the music track, manipulating different sounds on the fly.

The whole project was insanely inspiring for a guy like me, and pushed me even further to think differently about gathering sounds creatively. In fact, it motivated me to go out and buy a really nice handheld recorder that I’m now using for my work.

Creating your custom beat with Watson

If you were at IBM Edge 2016 you got to experience the RemixIT project firsthand.

But you didn’t have be there to hear the results. IBM released our new music video, “Man, Machine and Sound,” on YouTube along with some SICK sonic interpretations of technology from Tim.

They also took it a step further to build out a simple interactive player to experiment with the sounds — RemixIT with Watson — so anyone can use our raw materials to create their own custom beat using IBM Watson.

For serious musicians, make sure to grab the free sample pack that you can use to create your remix with your own software. When you post your beats or tracks online, make sure to let Tim and I know: @AndrewHypes, @TimExile and #RemixIT.

I hope you enjoy the music as much as we enjoyed making it.

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