Broken symmetry at Civic Sound Week, Rotherham

A row of seven raspberry pi computers on a stage
Photo credit Danté

Last week was Civic Sound Week in Rotherham. This was originally going to be a full blown festival, but changed format due to the pandemic wave, instead becoming a series of drop-in multichannel sound installations. My original plan for a performance collaboration couldn’t happen, and I was invited to do an installation instead.

I didn’t have a sound module with enough channels to hand, but decided not to buy any new gear, and instead use some of the many Raspberry Pis I have, normally for doing workshops. I managed to get seven working and synchronised (using ptpd), and with stereo Pimoroni Phat DACs was able to address 14 speakers.

I’ve been thinking about binary patterns as underlying metrical structure for a while. That is, rhythms that aren’t played, but are implied by the rhythms which are played. So my idea was to record myself live coding seven times, with one of the sessions providing the underlying metrical structure for the other six. I recorded and played these sessions back as keypresses, and each session had a different duration, and all of them were on loop. That created a phase pattern, but where all the sessions were transforming the same underlying metrical structure, which was also changing on its own loop. I set the Pis up in a row on the stage, so visitors could look at the code being edited if they wanted. The metrical pattern was sent over OSC/UDP via the broadcast address, which needed a small change to tidal. My feedforward editor already allowed recording/playback of live code keypresses, and just needed a tweak to support looping.

I only had a couple of hours to record the piece (I wanted to do it in the space itself), and by the end couldn’t really listen to it objectively. But I think it worked, and this is definitely an idea I’d like to explore more, with more time, and more focus on interaction between the sounds being used.

Huge thanks to the Centre for Strategic Aesthetics for the invitation. I’m looking forward to doing more things in Rotherham soon.


  1. Awesome Alex! Live computational performance -> installation is something I’ve found myself doing as well in recent years… the playback versions being replayable with algorithmically-generated variations specific to each runtime. The recording/playback process feels like making a player piano roll, doesn’t it?! I think those histories of performance->archive/installation have a lot of “resonance” now. I really like your idea of layering the multiple live-playback sessions! Do you have documentation? Or am I missing the link?

  2. Hi Amy!

    That’s great that you’ve been doing similar things. It does feel like making a piano roll. But actually I find it really difficult to re-listen to music I’ve made, so found it a real challenge to make this without getting totally sick of the first ‘takes’ and replacing them, and getting stuck in a loop of replacing everything.

    I don’t have documentation of it sadly, but I think a recording exists. I’ll try to get a copy of it. I intended to record it myself but I was just too tired!

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