I’ve been enjoying the idea of “research products” as opposed to “research prototypes”. Prototypes are understood as a partially working thing as a step towards an answer to a design problem. Research products on the other hand are understood as they are, rather than what they might become. Here’s how Odom et al describe it in their 2016 CHI paper “From Research Prototype to Research Product”. Unfortunately this is a closed access ACM paper, but you can find a pdf online, for now at least. Here’s the four features of research products that they highlight:
- Inquiry driven: a research product aims to drive a research inquiry through the making and experience of a design artifact. Research products are designed to ask particular research questions about potential alternative futures. In this way, they embody theoretical stances on a design issue or set of issues.
- Finish: a research product is designed such that the nature of the engagement that people have with it is predicated on what it is as opposed to what it might become. It emphasizes the actuality of the design artifact. This quality of finish is bound to the artifact’s resolution and clarity in terms of its design and subsequent perception in use.
- Fit: the aim of a research product is to be lived-with and experienced in an everyday fashion over time. Under these conditions, the nuanced dimensions of human experience can emerge. In our cases, we leveraged fit to investigate research questions related to human-technology relations, everyday practices, and temporality. Fit requires the artifact to balance the delicate threshold between being neither too familiar nor too strange.
- Independent: a research product operates effectively when it is freely deployable in the field for an extended duration. This means that from technical, material, and design perspectives an artifact can be lived with for a long duration in everyday conditions without the intervention of a researcher.
I’m finding this helpful thinking about my live loom. It’s not intended as a commercially viable product, but it’s also not intended as a step towards one. It’s intended to be a device for exploring computation, without automation and all its forced simplicity. It works very well, every time I use it I’m blown away by the generative complexities of handweaving, and it helps me see computer programming language design afresh, with a beginner’s mind. So it’s inquiry driven, and finished in that it’s ready to embody an area of inquiry and host exploration of that. In terms of fit – well its lasercut body and trailing arduino aligns it with 21st century maker culture, and solenoids align it with 20th century electromechanics, but its fundamental design is that of an ancient warp weighted loom, so it has some fit there although it has a lot to learn from the past in terms of ergonomics.
In terms of ‘independence’ it’s not quite there yet, but is designed with open hardware principles, using easy to source parts and permissive CC licensed designs. The next step is supporting others in replicating the hardware which will happen in the next few months. This is where it gets exciting for me – how will the live loom function as an ‘epistemic tool’ – will the research ideas carry with the loom, or will the replicators ‘misunderstand’ the loom and take it in a new direction? Of course the latter case would be failure in one respect, but I get the impression that designers see such failure as positive, where objects support divergent use..
In any case by thinking about the live loom as a research product, it helps me explain what it’s for. When I show it to people, they often treat it as a work-in-progress towards a fully automated loom, like one driven by the famous Jacquard mechanism. That’s the opposite of what I’m trying to do, as that mechanism is what separates humans from the mathematical basis of weaving as computational interference. As a research product, the live loom foregrounds computational augmentation rather than automation.
Research papers as research products
This leads me to think about research papers as research products too – many will have the experience of publishing a research paper, getting excited when someone has cited it, only to find that they’ve totally misunderstood what you were trying to say, even taking the opposite meaning. What if we treated papers as research products, that we deploy in the world, and then observe what they do? I just read Christopher Alexander’s foreword to Richard Gabriel’s book “Patterns of software”. Alexander is an architect (of buildings), and Gabriel is a computer scientist who has studied Alexander’s work for decades in order to try to develop a similar pattern-based approach in software. What’s interesting is that Alexander seems profoundly disappointed in the book that he’s writing a foreword for, although he’s chooses his words generously he basically asks Gabriel to write a different book, and to learn from his more recent work where he solves all the problems in his older work that Gabriel references. It is amazing that Gabriel would host such a text at the front of his book! Really Richard Gabriel is an amazing computer scientist and thinker, and I think Alexander is being a bit naive in assuming that such a comparatively young field of computer science could solve its core problems by going through his four-volume text on designing physical buildings – these are really very different domains indeed. What is more interesting is that Gabriel gives voice to the person he cites. This goes way beyond peer review to giving his text its own life in the process of being published. I’m looking forward to the rest of the book!
I really enjoyed mentoring Lizzie’s project last year as part of the ‘summer of haskell’, which is in turn part of the Google Summer of Code. Every year Google pay students to spend a couple of months over the summer contributing to a free/open source project, and Lizzie spent the time exploring automatic generation of Tidal code. It was a fun time, and sparked off a nice collaboration with Shawn and Jeremy around their awesome Cibo project (which we should really pick up again soon)..
It’s sometimes a bit lonely working on Tidal, as Haskell has the perception of being difficult to learn, especially if you’re used to another language.. But it’s also super interesting and rewarding, a great language to think deeply about representations. Over the last year or so there have been more contributors pop up though with great PRs coming in, so I think a community is slowly forming around the innards, helped by cleaner code, a more complete test suite etc.
Anyway the Summer of Haskell folks are getting ready to accept submissions, and I’ve contributed a Tidal idea to the list – to make Tidal easier to install. The reason this hasn’t been done before is because making a binary distribution of a Haskell interpreter is no mean feat.. But I think it’s possible, would have some interesting aspects and would attract the profound gratitude of a lot of people (Tidal isn’t the easiest to install). I’d be very happy to hear about other Tidal-related projects I could helpfully mentor too.
More info on the summer of haskell here.
I’m happy to be working with Antonio Roberts on this mentoring project working with early career Black artists, initially in the Birmingham/West Midlands area. The project is structured around workshop sessions exploring TidalCycles and other live coding technologies and ideas, but the idea is to support the artists involved in taking live coding somewhere new. The call is out now until 14th March. We’re working on this with Christopher Haworth, funded by UKRI as part of his Music and the Internet project. I’m really looking forward to see where the artists take the ideas. Full info including the thinking behind the programme here: algo-afro-futures.lurk.org
The Oxford Handbook of Algorithmic Music (I always have to check whether it’s of or on) is out in paperback 1st March 2021! You can (pre)order via your local bookshop, or services like hive which gives a (small) cut to your nominated bookseller. The hardback was rather expensive, but I’m happy that it’s sold well enough to go into this much cheaper print run. The cover is ace, featuring the AlgoBabez (Shelly Knotts and Joanne Armitage) with hellocatfood‘s visuals in the background, although sadly they aren’t actually featured in the book – the band wasn’t formed when the contents was drafted. You can find the table of contents here, and a good number of the chapters as open access preprints here.
Very happy to be part of this compilation fundraiser in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, with many algorithmic greats from the more northerly parts of England:
It’s inspired by the first compassion through algorithms compilation, created by Algorave Tokyo.
Here’s my contribution, ‘prelock’:
I wrote this blurb describing how I made the track:
This track is mainly made by adding numbers together and messing with time, using the free/open source TidalCycles system I made. The main melody is made from the numbers 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 and -1, with the numbers 2, -2, 3, 5 and 7 played between them, set to the notes of a minor scale. Because there are six numbers in the first list, and five in the second, they rotate around each other to create a long melody. Then another ‘voice’ comes in which jumps up by 12 notes (an octave) and is shifted forward and backward in time. The whole thing is 5 beats to the bar, including a sliced up breakbeat which is going on its own journey. There’s also a dirty kick underneath with a steady timeline, changing to the 12 beat African standard pattern right at the end, which frees everything up as it slows down.
Here’s the mess of tranklements that I made it with:
The compilation is Pay As You Feel – all donations very appreciated by the Young Minds Together group of Black girls doing performing arts in Rotherham, looking to rebuild post-pandemic.
A few choice projects coming up!
- Tidal new moon – an online stream of 72 x 20 minute performances with Tidal, to celebrate the new moon 18/19 August 2020, organised by the Tidal Club community. [More details]
- Call and response commission – an online listening workshop exploring algorithmic interference patterns (22nd August, free, book here), followed by a solo multichannel performance in October. Other commissioned artists are Hannah Catherine Jones, Robyn Steward, Beatrice Dillon, and Shabaka Hutchings. [More details]
- No Bounds Festival Sheffield, collaborating with Iris Saladino & Munshkr from Colectivo de Live Coders (CLiC) of Buenos Aires, and CNDSD of Mexico City, using the Flok web-based collaborative live coding system to create a multichannel improvised performance in a factory in Sheffield (14/15 Nov, details to follow)
- Off-site residence with Iklectik London, developing new work with Eimear O’Donovan exploring live coding and the voice, September/October
Looking forward ..
I gave a paper and performance for the New Interfaces for Musical Expression conferece last week. It was to be hosted in Birmingham UK, but went online. It seems to have been a big success and the organisers are talking about making future conferences online too, irrespective of pandemic emergencies, in the interests of making the conference more accessible and reducing damage to the planet.
My paper “Algorithmic Pattern” is here, and here is a 10 minute demo of some of the ideas in it:
Here’s my performance, demonstrating my prototype ‘feedforward’ editor. The NIME audience seemed to enjoy that I left a crash in..
Here’s my set from the Tokyo x Yorkshire show live on DOMMUNE last month:
It was a lot of fun, you can see the whole show over on the eulerroom channel featureing 2.5 hours of top performances and a two-hour bilingual chat.
Too long; didn’t read? Basically, please buy me a coffee or so by pressing this button:
I’ve been doing a lot of work on TidalCycles lately. Tidal is very much a labour of love, I’ve put a lot into it over the past decade, motivated by the fun of making music with it and of enjoying what other people are doing with it. That’s not sustainable though, so I’ve been looking for ways of asking some money in return.
I’ve looked at patreon.com, but it doesn’t sit well with me. It seems high maintenance, and doesn’t fit with my motivation to work on Tidal for the fun of it, and not turn it into ‘content’ to be delivered..
I’ve also looked at liberapay, and used it to raise money for server costs. This has actually been really successful, I raised nearly €500 which covered server costs for we.lurk.org, post.lurk.org, talk.lurk.org, algorave.com, toplap.org etc for a while (thanks!). This also made me feel much better at helping keep these things going, that people are up for chipping in some hard earned cash. That money has probably run out by now, there’s a few of us running these services and we’ll look into being a bit more organised about accepting donations.
Liberapay doesn’t feel right for tidal development either, though. It’s based on an anonymous donation model, which is great for some things, but there’s no way of directly thanking people who donate (if you’re one of them, really, thanks!).. Or doing any community building around it.
I’ve also tried crowdfunding. This has been a great experience, I met my funding ‘goal’.. But in truth, crowdfunding is more a way to get people involved in a project than fundraising.. I’ll likely end up in the red overall. Plus I’ve found it really hard to get as far as finishing the project.. People have been outstandingly patient, but it’s been a very long haul (two years late!!). I will get there, though.
Anyway, now I’m looking at ko-fi. This seems to fit much better. No stress for ‘creators’ or ‘supporters’ to detract from actually making stuff. One-off or regular payments, that go straight to me (no extra platform fees). Plus a nice coffee metaphor.. It’s going to take a lot of coffees to get Tidal 1.0 done so I’d really appreciate your support!
One last thing – one reliable way to fund tidal dev that I’ve found is by running workshops. If you’d like to host a one or two-day TidalCycles workshop next year, please get in touch! There’ll a lot of new stuff to learn + share.. Same goes for talks and performances, of course.
Also get in touch if you have ideas for other ways to make tidal happen..