2017 had it’s ups and downs, many friends made but also some enemies, hoping to improve on that front next year.
I probably did more performances than ever before, a whole load in Sheffield plus Berlin, Huddersfield, Leeds, Newcastle, London, Brighton, Morelia, Guadalajara and some big festivals Transmediale, Green Man, Shambala, Blue Dot, No bounds, Unconscious Archives.. It was good to focus on UK performances, and in particular Sheffield, the scene is getting stronger here now with interest in live coding from proper local promoters like Off Me Nut and Hope Works.
I didn’t do so many talks, I’ve shrunk away from going to conferences etc for various reasons. I did do a few of these ‘punchy’ public talks though, a TEDx talk in Hull, and similar things in Bump Festival in Belgium and Thinking Digital Arts up in Newcastle. It felt good to force myself to get better in explaining things. It was a real honour+pleasure to finish up the year with a keynote talk at ICLC 2017 in Morelia, as I said at the time, if you want to be invited to give a keynote all you have to do is start an international conference then wait two years.
The big thing was leaving Unviersity academia to join the PENELOPE project as post-doc in the Deutsches Museum in Munich (think MASSIVE science museum). I’m still based in Sheffield but visit Munich regularly as part of this five-year project. It’s a part-time position, so in theory I’ve can spend 50% of my time on music. It’s not quite worked out that way but hopefully will get closer to that next year.
The other big thing was AlgoMech festival (part-organised by PENELOPE), five days in November that took months on end of planning and fundraising to pull off. In the end it went pretty damn well, great exhibition+symposium and all the performances were totally amazing. We got some nice coverage in Makery, The Wire, The Guardian and from this nice blogger.. It destroyed me (as you can witness in the Guardian video) but a few fine people want to get involved to make it a collaboratively organised thing and we’re looking at May 2019 for the next one.
I’ve got involved in some lovely collaborations, e.g. TidalClub with Lucy, and most recently a techno collab Class Compliant Audio Interfaces with Sam/Damu. I’ve also done some great collabs with Joanne, Alexandra (who has found her way into Slub) and a/v shows with Miri.
With the afore-linked Guardian video and a couple of mixmag articles, and appearances in Electronic Music magazine, Vice and even Mary Anne Hobbs’s show on BBC Radio 6 it feels like we made a breakthrough with Algorave in 2017. It feels like this has brought many positives but also negatives, it’s kind of easier doing something that no-one knows about, and I’ve always enjoyed small communities. I’m still definitely on for the ride, but looking for ways of keeping things interesting+fun.. AlgoMech was a big part of that, and I’m looking to broaden things out a bit with EulerRoom next year too.
Towards the end of 2017 I’ve managed to finish a couple of huge projects that are exciting in their own right but together were perhaps a little too much to take on. A real biggie was editing The Oxford Handbook of Algorithmic Music with Roger Dean, now with the printers and hitting the shelves February 2018.
I didn’t do much writing in 2017, but was happy to contribute a piece to Furtherfield on Lessons from the Luddites, and to collaborate with Kate Sicchio on an article and interactive online thingie about our Sound Choreographer <> Body Code project.
My crowdfunded album ‘spicule’ is now ridiculously over-schedule but I have a clear path now.. and a lot of material built up from these live streams:
It was great to start working with the Childrens’ Media Conference this year, running a tanglebots workshop with the amazing kids at Wybourn community primary school, the results contributing to the Playground digital art exhibition. At one point I asked the children to put their hands up if they’d hurt themselves, almost all immediately did.. Oops!
— Alex McLean (@yaxu) June 26, 2017
Amongst it all I’ve managed to put some work into TidalCycles, with the community around it growing really nicely with some people making music with it which is really far too good. I’ve done a whole load of TidalCycles workshops, next year planning to do one big one every month, to make tidal development more sustainable.. As well as helping run the free tidalclub meetups. One really nice thing was running a TidalCycles summer school, great fun and included an excusion into the nearby peak district for a group jam, check the below video..
That’ll do for now, although will likely drop back to add things I’ve forgotten, as I chew things over.. Plus the year isn’t over yet, really looking forward to the TidalCycles winter solstice party on 21st Dec!
When I listen back to an old live code performance that sounds too good to be anything I could have done, new ideas popping up through it and working out perfectly.. But there’s wave of sadness – it’s impossible that I could do anything like it again. Also a kind of loneliness, music that’s perfect for me down my cul-de-sac of obsession, but not for anyone else? Well, maybe the other people in the room at the time were feeling it too..
This could be a fundamental disconnect between music makers and music listeners though. Music makers have the power to make music that is perfect for them, exactly the music they want to hear.. But the results might well sound rubbish for everyone else if they haven’t shared your journey. There is skill in bridging this gap as much as possible, trying to let people into your world, not being self-indulgent, while also not compromising to much on your obsessions..
A couple of things to share:
1. Happy to be introducing live coding to the Off Me Nut records halloween special, a proper Sheffield warehouse party on 27th Oct 2017. They made me this months “five star spooky recommendation”, putting the pressure on..
2. I had a great time playing the Haptic Somatic night at Unsound Archives festival, and the following morning was interviewed by Elsa Ferreira for the french edition of Vice’s Noisey. You can read the results here if you know French, or otherwise enjoy the google translation.
3. Lastly, had fun times in a live code duet with Joanne at the No Bounds Algorave last weekend, here’s the video:
I’ve had a couple of things on UK radio
Also on BBC Radio 3 late junction last night, available to listen again here for the next 29 days, but only if you’re in the UK sorry.
- 28th Sept, Haptic Somatic @ Unconcious Archives festival London – playing solo at Corsica Studios, awesome festival to be part of and one of my most favourite venues.
- 14th Oct, Algorave @ No Bounds Festival Sheffield – teaming up with Dr Joanne in Access Space as part of a stellar no bounds line-up, will get heavy
- 20th Oct, Picture House Social Sheffield – live coding solo, joining the support for Marie Davidson
- 9-12th Nov, then the big one, AlgoMech festival Sheffield – I’m organising four days of algorithmic and mechanical music + art, with 65daysofstatic headlining an incredible line-up, if I say so myself.
AlgoMech – the festival of Algorithmic and Mechanical Movement is back for its second year. At one point I had strong doubts about doing a second edition of the festival (would it be AlgoMeh?) but it’s come together into something that I’m really excited about.
It will have an exhibition, with a nice mixture of machinery, textiles, projections and software art. Putting an exhibition together is way out of my comfort zone but with the artists involved I’m not worried. There’ll also be Open Platform performance art event within the exhibition, always revelatory events with performances about technology, but without technology. More to be announced, including work from Ellen Harlizius-Klück and FoAM Kernow.
The least likely performances will be from two bands bridging the divide between guitar+drums and techno. Amazingly 65daysofstatic (a band from South Yorkshire who want you to be happy) are going to headline, performing brand new work Decomposition Theory, three times. It’s unclear what they’re up to but it looks like it’s going to involve algorithms and maybe live coding (they’ve been known to dabble with gibber and also Tidal already).
Two of the 65dos shows will have the strongest support I could imagine in this context – aggrobeat band Blood Sport teaming up with live coder Heavy Lifting aka Lucy Cheesman. Blood Sport already make a kind of repetitive post-punk techno, with Lucy involved (as Heavy Bleeding) it’s going to be intense.
Then there’ll be the Algorave. It shows how far this scene has come that last year there were 12 top notch acts, and that they’ll be around the same again this year (more TBA) without repeats. Graham Dunning’s mechanical techno went down really well last year, so I’ve mixed in some more mechanisms this year. Firstly Faubel and Schreiber making minimal techno-generating robots, projected using an overhead projector. Also goto80 + Remin, where goto80 will do live tracking on a commodore 64, and Remin will provide a robotic hand, typing music on a commodore 64. The live coders I’ve booked have been doing amazing stuff lately. If last year is anything to go by, this is going to go off.. As a resident I’m happy to be collaborating with Dave Griffiths and Alexandra Cardenas as Slub as well..
The final day will be more relaxed and reflective. A longer form kinetic sound art performance from Ryoko Akama and Anne F, I’m hoping to find a special venue for that.. Then in the evening a Sonic Pattern event with five amazing mechanical music acts packed in – Leafcutter John, Sarah Kenchington, Naomi Kashiwagi, Camilla Barratt-Due and Alexandra Cardenas, and Peter K. Rollings. I’m trying to put my finger on this feeling I get from this group of people. It reminds me of my days organising dorkbot, it’s not a case of artists being happy to step out of their comfort zone. They are totally comfortable, they just cheerfully disregard all technological boundaries on their search for sounds and ideas, and just make amazing stuff.
A really nice symposium line-up is starting to emerge too, but that won’t be announced for a few days. Plus some hands-on workshops. .. and probably some more to come..
Anyway my hope is that by bringing these human artists together, working with algorithms and mechanisms, we’ll have the opportunity to really feel the connections between physical and abstract systems, and get a richer, longer (into the past and future) + human-centric view of what technology can be.
I’ve had a busy summer of performances, this one last Friday went well, live coding at Sheffield algorave, here’s the desk recording (a collab with Miri Kat on visuals, although sadly you can’t really hear that here).
*Update* OK you can see some of Miri’s top visuals here:
I was really happy to be interviewed by Dean Honer (of I Monster fame among others) as part of an article in the excellent Electronic Sound magazine, which you should immediately go and subscribe to. The article gets to “There’s also Alex McLean …” via an unlikely route of superheroes, I spent a few minutes out of my mind with hubris when I read it. Great to be featured also alongside Chris of CPU/Computer Club, Heavy Lifting and Blood Sport who are all putting a lot into Sheffield’s music scene.. The next issue is out now so hopefully no-one minds if I share these scans of the article.. It was a Sheffield special with loads of good stuff, still available on back issue although be quick if you want one as they do sell out!