Our Engineers get Hands-On at Flow Festival

by Katariina Nyberg - 30 Sep 2016

Flow Festival is a boutique music festival in Helsinki held every year around the second weekend of August. The festival is known for its innovative visual design, versatile line up, and great food. It is set in an old industry area east of the Helsinki city center.

The Helsinki Technology Hub had the pleasure of welcoming Zalando’s Nordic Marketing Team to our offices to work on the Flow Festival, raising our brand awareness and engaging our Finnish target group of young adults.

A small group of our Helsinki engineers, or Zelsinkis as we call ourselves, endeavoured to create audio-reactive visuals for the club setup of the festival. The idea came from a hack I created at the Music Tech Fest held in Berlin at the end of May 2016, and was extended with input from other engineers that had a background in the Finnish demoscene. The purpose of these hacks was first and foremost to have fun, to indulge in a bit of creative coding, and to present our skills in an artistic context that shows off Zalando’s technology hub in Helsinki.

Getting to this point required some extra work from marketing as well as our engineers. What helped both sides work together was the shared commitment and ambition we all had to create a really cool “club” that fit the aesthetic of the Flow Festival and represents Zalando’s products and tech department in the best light.

Once Flow started, both Marketing and the Helsinki Tech Hub saw the fruits of their labour. We were impressed by each other’s work and skills, coming together as a group with feelings of respect and joy. This motivated us to try out another new collaboration between our departments, perhaps next year’s edition of Flow, or even sooner!

The cross-departmental success we experienced was not the only outcome of this event. The programmers involved were able to see their own achievements manifest in front of an audience of hundreds. Discussing the event afterwards their satisfaction was clear: “There is nothing better than running your productions on a big screen for a crowd”, says software engineer Dag Ågren.

Engineer Dan Suman was also excited about Zalando’s role in the festival: “Flow Festival is a synergy of youth, arts, music. The creativity can be perceived everywhere, yet people still took pictures of our visualisations. So, they must have looked cool."

Programming is knowledge-intensive work and requires a lot of creativity. Playing around with code and creating more abstract, artistic outcomes fed the creativity of our engineers, making them better programmers and increasing their motivation.

See the rest of the visualisations we created below. Drop me a line if you want to get in contact about our Flow Festival contributions via Twitter at @katsi111.

Visuals displayed at Flow Festival

Growing fractal trees with music and letting the trees decay with autumnal colours. Realised with Processing 3.0 using Java, the Minim library, recursion, randomisation, and FFT for sound analysis.

A randomly generated cube structure is lit up from the inside according to the sound level. Inspired by the creator’s own earlier demoscene work, and the original designs for seating arrangements in the hall. Also invokes the image of shipping boxes. Realised with plain C using OpenGL.

Drawing sound waves as shapes by plotting the audio waveform against the same waveform, but delayed. A generalisation of the concept of Poincaré plots, a mathematical tool from chaos theory, which is used to reveal hidden shapes and structures in chaotic systems. Realised with plain C using OpenGL.

The Visualiser is available on the App Store now, called WaveFlower.

Realised with Processing 3.0 using Java. It uses two processing libraries: Minim for SoundIn and Geomerative. Using plain font text and the Geomerative library, the text is segmented according to the sound level. The same concept applies to text opacity that reacts to the sound level by creating an electric neon effect.

Realised with Processing 3.0 using Java. It uses Minim library for SoundIn. Based on the sound level, it varies the number of grid cells. The higher the level of sound, the more lines are drawn and the more ellipses are present covering the text area.

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