Taking stock of the new and fast-developing projects I’m involved with.
Sound Choreography <> Body Code
A performance which creates a feedback loop through code, music, choreography, dance and
back through code, in collaboration with Kate Sicchio. First performance is this Friday at Audio:Visual:Motion in Manchester. The sourcecode for the sound choreographer component is already available, which choreographs using a shifting, sound-reactive diagram. I’m working on my visual programming language Texture as part of this too, which Kate will be disrupting via computer vision..
Collaborating with other live coders and other musicians/video artists using algorithms, creating events which shift focus back on the audience having a seriously good time. A work in progress, but upcoming events are already planned in Brighton, London (onboard the MS Stubnitz!), Karlsruhe and Sydney. More info
Working with world music band Rafiki Jazz, making a new Kriole based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I’ll be working with a puppeteer, giving a puppet a live coded voice which sings in this new language. The puppet will hopefully become a new member of the band, created through interaction within the band. First recording session soon, with live performances to follow fairly soon after. One of the more ambitious projects I’ve been involved with!
Working with EunJoo Shin on a new version of the Microphone. Our previous version got accepted to a couple of big international festivals, but they turned out to be too big to ship! So the next iteration will have a new body, and more of a visual focus.
Slub world is a on-line commission from the Arnolfini: “You are invited to join a new, on-line, sonic world co-inhabited by beatboxing robots. Participants will be able to make music together by reprogramming their environment in a specially invented language, based on state-of-the-art intarsia, campanology and canntaireachd technology. The result will be a cross between a sound poetry slam, yarn bombing, and a live coded algorave, experienced entirely through text and sound.” All for launch in May.. Another ambitious project then.
Dagstuhl seminar: Collaboration and Learning through Live Coding
Co-organising a Dagstuhl seminar bringing together leading thinkers in programming experience design, computing education and live coding.
(An earlier version of this post was directed at some other events in addition to mine, but these references turned out to be factually incorrect and more upsetting for the people involved than I could have imagined, partly because they have been working tirelessly and successfully to address the below concerns. Sincere apologies.)
Here’s an interesting looking event: Algorave.
This event has some things in common with many events in UK electronic music; it has fine organisers and performers who are among my friends, it involves performance of computer music, and has a long list of performers,
nonefew of whom are women. I feel able to criticise this latter aspect because I am one of the organisers, I am male and so cannot be accused of sour grapes for not being invited, and because I think it’s in everyone’s interests for this situation to be put in the spotlight — we should be open to ridicule.
I went to a live coding event in Mexico City recently, they’ve built a truly vibrant live coding scene over the past two years, and gender balance seems to be a non-issue, in terms of performers, audience and atmosphere. It may have been the mezcal, but compared to the often boarish atmosphere around UK computer music events, it felt refreshingly healthy.
What can be done about it? In software engineering, if you release an all-male invited conference line-up, you will probably be quickly ridiculed and maybe shut down. While this is disasterous for the people involved, to me it signals a healthy improvement. This is not really about positive discrimination, but more about not having the same old safe line-ups built from the regular circuit of white middle class men, and doing some outreach. Note that this is a recent problem, the UK electronic music scene was in large part founded by women, who through recent efforts are only now being recognised.
I really want to organise events showcasing people writing software to make music for crowds to dance to, but I can’t find female producers in the UK or nearby who are doing this kind of thing (please let me know of any you know!). I don’t know why this is – maybe because of a general higher education music technology focus on electroacoustic music? There are fine people such as Holly Herndon further afield, but I don’t think I can afford to bring her over. There are plenty of female computer musicians, but for some reason I don’t know any making repetitive dance music. This seems a peculiar problem to the narrow focus of algorave — I was recently involved in a fairly large performance technology conference which did seem reasonably balanced across organisers, presenters, performers and audience.
For my next step, I’m looking for funding to work with experts on making generative/live coded electronic dance music more accessible to female musicians (any help with that also appreciated!). The algoraves could also have an ambient/illbient stage, which would be massively easier to programme, but I’m not sure if we’ve got the audience for two stages at this point. I’d also like to lend support for guidelines to electronic/computer music organisers to follow to improve this situation, Sarah Angliss raised this as a possible move forward. Lets see how that goes, but in the meantime feel free to ridicule any male-only line-ups I’m involved with, for the retrogressive sausage parties they are. I think that ultimately, the pressure for reform is positive.
Looking forward to 2013, some things I’m up to so far:
- 15th Feb: talk and solo performance at the Node symposium, Frankfurt
- Late Feb (date tbc): slub at the Bartlett nexus, London
- 22-24th Feb: slub at the network music festival, Birmingham
5th March: Talk at the Leeds Psychogeography Group– my sister is doing this one now!
- 14-15th March (tbc): Talk + performance at audio:visual:motion, Manchester
- 19-21st Apr: talk and slub performance, live.code.festival, Karlsruhe
- 19-21 Jul – slub performance at the deer shed festival, Yorkshire
+ more on the cards..
That was fun..
First, full slub (Dave, Ade and I) at the Mozilla party. The most interested crowd we’ve had, it was hard to get any live coding done between all the questions! Dave collected some photos from the many that appeared online..
Then to Mexico City for the week-long /* vivo */ live coding festival. They have a really great scene there, so many great accomplished performances, philosophical talks and fun workshops. They also have great food and mezcal. A festival report will hopefully appear on the TOPLAP website soon but here is some video from the 2/3 slub performance (Dave and I) there (check out the 3D and HD options..):
Then back to London for the AHRC Digital Transformations Moot, where Hester Reeve and I made an experimental, and (fairly) durational live code/art performance work, where I made marks by live coding, and Hester made marks on a blackboard-painted pole.
I’m hoping to keep October clear for getting things done, but November is looking fun:
- 10th November, full Slub performance at the Mozilla party in at the National Film Museum, London.
- 12-17th November, off to the /* vivo */ International Live Coding Symposium in Mexico City. I’ll be giving a talk called “Is live coding really live?” (spoiler: yes), running a workshop with Dave called “Time as functions in space”, and doing a two-thirds Slub performance with him too.
- 19th November, I need to confirm this 100%, but very likely I will be performing again in London, some exciting new work with Hester Reeve at a major national event.
- 21-23rd November, back in London again for PPIG, it looks likely that there will be a live coding workshop, a performance or two and panel session during the conference.
7/8th September 2012, Leeds – Live Interfaces
As my first act as research fellow at ICSRiM, I’m chairing this conference on live interaction in performance technology, two days of papers and performances, including a (free) club night. The quality of submissions has been fantastic, and we have people coming from 11 different countries outside the UK, can’t wait!
10th September, Slovenia – ICMC 2012
Then I’m off to give a paper on Live notation at the International Computer Music Conference with Hester Reeve. Looking forward to hanging out in Ljubljana, hope to spend some time in the kiberpapa while I’m there (Sunday-Thursday).
16th September, Germany – Documenta festival
This isn’t 100% confirmed, but the book Speaking Code will be launched at Documenta festival, and while I can’t be there, I will still be live coding there. More on this once it’s done..
17th September, Goldsmiths – Graduation
Although I was done with this back in November 2011, this is the final step where I get to wear the stupid clothes. Hoo.
25th September, Leeds – Psychogeography Pecha Kucha
I’ll be trying to argue for computer programming being a form of psychogeography in 20 slides over 6.66 minutes. Drop me a line if you’re interested and I’ll pass on the room info once I know.. The event is organised by Tina Richardson.
29th September, Sheffield – Do It Thissen
Happy to be performing in the exhibition about post-punk Sheffield, I’ll be somehow re-interpreting a wall of 7″ record sleeve cover art. Neil Webb and Ron Wright will be playing too, and Sensoria will be launching their musical map. Register here for a free beer!
Fresh back from holiday, with a lot of things coming up:
- Thursday 21st June, Ruskin Gallery, Cambridge
Live coding at the opening of the Poetry, Language, Code exhibition
- Friday 22nd June, BEAM Festival, Brunel University, Uxbridge
Talking about live coding during the day and performing in the evening
- Friday 29th June, InterFace2012, Birmingham City University
Lunchtime live coding performance, and afternoon live coding workshop
- 27th July, Live Notation Unit, Arnolfini gallery, Bristol
Presenting Speaking code with Geoff Cox, and live coding with Dave Griffiths and Hester Reeve
- 1st August
Starting a two year university Research Fellowship on Human/ Technology Interface at ICSRiM
- 7-8th September, ICSRiM, Leeds
Chairing the Live Interfaces conference on performance technology
- 9-15th September, ICMC, Ljubljana
Presenting Live Notation paper with Hester Reeve
By the way, the paper/performance proposal deadline for the Live Interfaces conference is the end of this Sunday 17th June!
I’m really excited to be working with Hester Reeve on a project funded by the AHRC digital transformations call, bringing together live artists and live coders for a dialogue, hopefully leading to new ideas and approaches within both fields. Live artists work with their body as a medium, and live coders work with abstract symbols, and it will be fascinating to see how these seemingly completely different practices approach one another.
The project is called Live Notation: Transforming Matters of Performance, and the first event will be a performance involving Hester and I on Thursday 22nd March as part of the soon-to-be-announced LoveBytes festival (more on that in my next post). We are not sure what we will do yet, except it will be in a large cinema and involve sound-based dialogue in some way. It will be an experimental performance (as in risky and prone to failure) and we’ll learn something whatever happens.
Later on we will be holding workshops leading to a big conference/performance event around June/July.
Last month was a bit crazy, lots of grant applications in the air and amongst it all my PhD examination with Alan Blackwell and Matthew Fuller. Both are leaders in different fields, it was a real privilege for me to have time with them. It turned out to be a really enjoyable discussion, and they identified only minor corrections which should take me a couple of days to fix.. So a pass!
November also included a fine trip to Piksel festival, where I performed as “Silicone Bake” with Jake Harries. Here’s our blurb:
A new collaboration between singer/guitarist Jake Harries and live coder Alex McLean, a bridge between semi-improvised pop and live coded techno, brought to life with unsolicited tales of sex, death and capitalism.
With live coding increasingly widespread in arts festival calls, live coders must confront the new normality of their practice. Live coders have always argued for focus on the human role in the algorithm, but now they leave the comfort zone of the radical, they find themselves at last on equal terms with traditional musicians who can touch and resonate with their instruments rather than try to weave their music from the functional compositions of computer language.
Through this collaboration ‘Silicone bake’, Jake and Alex explore the algorithmic limits of the 3.5 minute pop song, distracting themselves from the task with the constraints of spam, ignoring the question of the human in the algorithm to celebrate love, death and counterfeit watches.
All lyrics will be taken from spam emails and sung live. All guitars will be plucked and strummed live. All generative algorithms will be edited live. Nobody will die.
It turned out nicely and was a lot of fun, here’s a write-up from pixelache:
“Silicone Bake” -performance ended the saturday evening at USF with a wonderful contrast from the predominant “corporeal volume” of the previous performances with singing, acoustic guitar & live-coded beats & bases. Live coder Alex McLean with his Tidal music improvisation software collaborated with singer/guitarrist (&FLOSS advocate) Jake Harries. The lyrics of the “3.5 minutes pop-songs”, sung beautifully by Jake Harris, were all from spam emails, with themes of love, death and counterfeit watches. Reading the projected Alex’s coding on Tidal was surprisingly effortless and entertaining. The low light & mellow sounds carried us back in time to the intimate small-club-feel of the best MTV Unplugged gigs in mid 90′s, only to be interrupted by frequent and hysterical bursts of laughter from the spam lyrics.
We also improvised a cover version of the Free Software Song with Jag, a spooky, late night cafe performance fuelled by fine Norwegian pancakes..
Then on the 23rd November there’s the second dorkbotsheffield, a great line-up.
So, plenty to take my mind off the viva..