2nd Workshop on Philosophy of Human+Computer Music

Happy to have the following abstract accepted for the 2nd Workshop on Philosophy of Human+Computer Music, in the University of Sheffield.

Textility of live code
Alex McLean
ICSRiM, School of Music, University of Leeds

Live coding is a practice involving live manipulation of computation via a notation (see e.g. Collins et al, 2003). While the notation is written and edited by a human, it is is continually interpreted by a computer, connecting an abstract practice with live experience. Furthermore, live coding notations are higher order, where symbols do not necessarily represent single events (e.g. notes), but compose together as formal linguistic structures which generate many events. These two elements make live code quite different from the traditional musical score; a piece is not represented within the notation, but in changes to it. Rather than a source of music, the notation becomes a live material, as one component in a feedback loop of musical activity.

There are many ways to approach live coding, but for the present discussion I take the case study of an Algorave-style performance (Collins and McLean, 2014), for its keen focus on movements of the body contrasted with abstract code and the fixed stare of the live coding performer. In this, the live coder must enter a hyper-aware state, in creative flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008). They must listen; acutely aware of the passing of time, the structure as it unfolds, literally counting down to the next point at which change is anticipated and (potentially) fulfilled via a code edit. In the dance music context this point is well defined, all in the room aware of its approach. The coder must also be aware of physical energy, the ‘shape’ of the performance (Greasley and Prior, 2013). All this is on top of the cognitive demands of the programming language, manipulating the code while maintaining syntactical correctness.

The philosophical question that this raises is how (in the spirit of Small, 1998), does this musical activity model, allow us to reflect upon and perhaps reimagine, the human relationship with technology in society? Can we include wider perspectives, by drawing upon neolithic approaches to technology such as the warp weighted loom, in this view (Cocker, 2014)?


* Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: the psychology of optimal  experience. HarperCollins.
* Cocker, E. (2014, January). Live notation – reflections on a   kairotic practice. Performance Research Journal 18 (5).
* Collins, N. and A. McLean (2014). Algorave: A survey of the history,   aesthetics and technology of live performance of algorithmic  electronic dance music. In Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression.
* Collins, N., A. McLean, J. Rohrhuber, and A. Ward (2003). Live coding in laptop performance. Organised Sound 8 (03), 321-330.
* Greasley AE; Prior HM (2013) “Mixtapes and turntablism: DJs’ perspectives on musical shape”, Empirical Musicology Review. 8.1: 23-43.
* Small, C. (1998, June). Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (Music Culture) (First ed.). Wesleyan.

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