Month: June 2013

Declaration Kriol

img_2771I’ve been working with Arts on the Run and Rafiki Jazz on an embedded research project, developing software around group composition / improvisation sessions. It’s interesting to be developing computer language when the members of the band have different mother tongues and musical heritage, so that the technology forms part of the ongoing cultural negotiation. The technology I’m making will form the voice of an “avatar”, which will be created by puppet maker Emma Powell, and which will join the band on stage. So the technology will literally contribute another language (or at least pseudo-language, but lets see!). The project is using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the most translated document) as inspiration, hence the name.

My involvement is funded by the Culture, Society and Innovation Hub, University of Leeds, where my fellowship with ICSRiM is based. The Declaration Kriol project is also funded by the AHRC Transmitting Musical Heritage project, University of Sheffield.

Here is the first recording I contributed to using my new software. The track was composed and recorded in a single day at Yellow Arch in Sheffield:

So far the software organises sound sampled live from from the vocalists into a timbre space, and I’m then triggering ‘drawings’ in that space. The drawings are forming a set of symbols, I guess words are next… As you can hear, the software forms a very small part of the whole, here’s all the fine people involved, in no particular order:

Kadialy Kouyate (senegal): kora
Vanessa Rani Chutturghoon (uk/mauritius): vocals
Catherine Carr (uk): guitar
Sarah Yaseen (uk): vocals
Mina Salama (egypt): ney and kawala flutes
Jaheda Choudhury (uk/bangladesh) MC
Guery Tibirica (brazil): berimbau, percussion
John Ball (uk): tabla
Tony Koni: fretless bass
Alex ‘yaxu’ McLean: code (algo-kriol)
Arad Tamizi (Iran): daf
Monica Ross, Acts of Memory: Declaration mentor
Aysegul Thornett: documentary photography
Joao Paulo Simoes: documentary filming
Robin Downe, Yellow Arch Studios: sound engineer

Touring in the Autumn!

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What on earth is live coding?

Busy times at the moment, but a quick pause to link to the afore-mentioned full interview in Dazed and Confused by the fine Stephen Fortune. I think the on-line version is a bit longer than in print. There’ll likely be another algorave related article in Wired magazine (the UK version I think) in the next month or so. Anyway here’s the text from Dazed and Confused for posterity:

Alex McLean is a programmer and live coder. He performs with a livecoding band called Slub and tours with the travelling Algorave festival. But what is “livecoding” exactly? “Live coders are basically performing by writing computer programs live on stage, while the programs are generating their art – whether that’s visuals or music,’ McLean says. “Their computer screens are projected, so that the audience can see the code being manipulated. But the focus is on the music, on people dancing and seriously enjoying themselves”. In the run up to an Algorave aboard the MS Stubnitz, London, we met McLean who did his best to scramble our brain.

Do you think a newcomer to the algorave scene would leave enlightened or mystified?
Hopefully they would enjoy the music without feeling that they were compelled to understand it. Also because we’re making music, not doing formally specified software engineering, there’s no real ground of understanding anyway, apart from the music itself. Even those making the software don’t really have to understand it – “bugs” often get into the code which don’t make sense, but still sound good, so we just go with it.

Is there any genre or activity which you feel livecoding resembles?
In terms of algorithmic music, on one side there’s the “electroacoustic” focus on experimental sound, the search for new dimensions of timbre and musical movement. But Live coding is a way of making music and is not tied to any particular genre. I’ve heard live coders make drone music, jazz, indian classical music, indie covers, and hip hop manipulated beatbox.

How do ideas circulate throughout the scene?
There’s a big overlap with free and open source culture, so sharing ideas in the form of software and sourcecode happens a great deal. There are many languages for algorithmic music and video, such as Supercollider, Fluxus, ChucK, Impromptu and PureData, and strong communities of practice have grown around them.

Are your fellow algoravers proficient programmers?
Yes, many livecoders make and adapt their own programming environments: that takes some experience. But proficiency at coding dance music is different to making financial systems or whatever. I’ve run workshops where I’ve got non-programmers making acid house together in a couple of hours. I think there’s real possibility to make producing algorave music more like drumming circles, where beginners can just join in and learn through doing.

Can any sort of coding be a creative activity? Or only certain forms, like livecoding?
Creativity is a surprisingly recent concept, and not that well defined, but I like to think of it as everyday behaviour, which most people engage in daily. Coding generally involves making sense out of huge, crazy structures, and it’s impossible to get anywhere without zoning out into a state of focussed, creative flow.

You claim you’d like to make programming more like a synthesiser. How would that be different from the other software systems that people use to make music?
I think it’s important to consider programming as exploration rather than implementation, because then we are using computer languages more like human languages. Any software interface can be thought of as a language, but the openness of programming allows us to set our own creative limits to explore, instead of working inside fixed, pre-defined limits. To me this is using computers on a deep level for what they are – language machines.

Who (or what) inspires you?
If I had to pick one person it would have to be Laurie Spiegel, I love the way she writes about using computer language to transform musical patterns.

Check out the original article.