Algorithmic approaches to music involve working with music as language, and vice-versa, in fact music and language become inseparable. This allows a musician to describe many layers of patterns as text, in an explicit way that is not possible by other means. By this I mean that musical behaviours are given names, allowing them to then be combined with other musical behaviours to create new behaviours. This process of making language for music is not one of cold specification, but of creative exploration. People make new language to describe things all the time, but there’s something astonishing about making languages for computers to make music, and it’s something I want to share.
Here’s a recording of one of the live streams I’ve been doing while working on my solo album Spicule from my home studio:
I start with nothing, but in the last few minutes everything comes together and I have a couple of different parts that start feeling like a whole track. There isn’t really a musical structure to the session apart from the slow building of parts, and a sudden cut when everything comes together. The macro structure of the track will come later, but by a process of trying rough ideas, and listening to see where they go, the music emerges from the words.
I generally go through much the same process when I’m doing improvised performances, making music from nothing, but this feels very different.. Instead of being tied to the structure of a performance, making continual changes to work with the audience’s expectations, I’m dealing with repetitions even more than usual. I’ve started experimenting with lights, at first to try accentuating the sound but I think now more to help focus, to get inside the repetition and maintain flow. Unfortunately doesn’t quite work in the video because the sound and video are slightly out of sync.. But the left/right light channels map to the left/right speakers, and each sound has a different colour.
As live coding develops, I still really enjoy improvisation, but am finding myself doing polished performances more often, involving prepared tracks, with risk low, and the original making processes behind them hidden. This is probably for the best, but then it feels important to share the behind-the-scene improvisation and development that goes on.. My pledgemusic crowdfund is a great way to do this, thanks to the generous critical feedback, encouragement and (gulp) hard deadline.. If you haven’t joined it yet, you can do it here!
I collaborated with xname on a performance as xynaaxmue on Saturday, audio+video up soon I hope.. xname performs with circuits that turn light into sound, improvising noise using stroboscopic lights. I was live coding with tidalcycles, as ever.
In the past I’ve created flashing patterns on an external monitor for xname’s circuits to feed off, check here for a recording of that one. This time I wanted to control a pair of RGB flash panels over DMX.. I used a tinkerit DMX hat for the arduino, officially retired but you can still find them online and the library is downloadable on github.
I hacked together a Tidal interface the night + morning before the conference, and it worked pretty well.. The Haskell and Arduino code is here.
With everything loaded up, Tidal code like this triggers flashes of light as well as sound:
x2 $ every 2 (slow 2) $ (jux (rev) $ foldEvery [5,7] (slow 2) $ (slowspread (chop) [64,128,32] $ sound "bd*2 [arpy:2 arpy] [mt claus*3] [voodoo ind]")) # dur "0.02" # nudge (slow 4 sine1) The basic features:
- sound – (sample name) is translated into colour in a semi-arbitrary way (a mapping which falls back on some crypto hashing)
- pan – (kind of) pans between the two lights
- dur – controls the duration of the flash
- the flashes have a linear fade, which works across chop and striate
Will update with documentation of the performance itself when it’s up.
Not much time to reflect right now, but taking some time to think about ongoing and upcoming activities at least..
Making Spicule LP is going pretty well, the crowdfund is past the halfway mark, the graphic and hardware design coming together with ace collaborators I’m hardly worthy of working with, and I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time in my studio over the summer.
My Open Data Institute sound art residency isn’t going too badly either, I’ve been working on an exhibition there called Thinking Out Loud with curator in residence Hannah Redler which opens soon. It’ll include great work by Felicity Ford, David Griffiths and Julian Rohrhuber, Ellen Harlizius-Klück, Dan Hett, David Littler, Antonio Roberts, Sam Meech, and Amy Twigger-Holroyd, and a ‘looking screen’ where I’ll be able to make my activities during the residency public, as I move from a research phase to making some strange things. I’ve also brought my 2002 “forkbomb.pl” software artwork out of retirement.
A few writing projects wrapping up – the Oxford Handbook on Algorithmic Music coming out of its formal review stage, a special issue of Textile journal coming together, polishing off an article in a special issue of Contemporary Theatre review with Kate Sicchio about our Sound Choreographer <> Body Code collaboration (deadline tonight, erp).. Plus a collaborative book project on live coding emerging nicely.
Quite a few events coming up, including organising an euleroom event, an Algorave tent at EMFCamp, and looming on the horizon — a new festival on Algorithmic and Mechanical Movement (AlgoMech for short) in November. AlgoMech will be a big focus really, but I’m on the way I’m looking forward to some collaborative performances, an audio/visual noise performance with xname (interleaved as xynaaxmue) at the third iteration of Live Interfaces, and a performance at computer club in Sheffield with Alexandra Cardenas. Hoping to play again with Matthew Yee-King as Canute soon, and maybe Slub will burst out on the scene again as well.
I’m also finding more time to contribute to TidalCycles, which is starting to feel like a proper free/open source project now, with quite a few exciting developments and side-projects spinning off it.
I’ve had a great time there, but am wrapping up my research and teaching work in the University of Leeds, just a spot of supervision to do now and I’m done. All being well, I’ll be joining a new five-year project in a research institution, starting in a couple of months time, lead by Ellen Harlizius-Klück and working also with FoAM Kernow.
That’s about it I think.. It seems like a lot, but it actually feels like everything is coming together and becoming easier to think about.. Especially the AlgoMech festival which brings together just about everything I’ve been doing and interested in since.. forever, really.. and can’t wait to get stuck into a new strand of research.
Part of the reason I might have been a bit slow the past year or so – the draft table of contents (subject to change) for the Oxford Handbook on Algorithmic Music that I’ve been editing with Roger Dean. Amazing work by amazing people including many superheroes of mine. Still some work to do, but hopefully out this year!
Section 1: Grounding algorithmic music
1/ Algorithmic music: an introduction to the field (Alex McLean and Roger Dean)
2/ Algorithmic music and the philosophy of time (Julian Rohrhuber)
3/ Action and perception: embodying algorithms and the extended mind (Palle Dahlstedt)
4/ Origins of algorithmic thinking in music (Nick Collins)
5/ Algorithmic Thinking and Central Javanese Gamelan (Charles Matthews)
Perspectives on Practice A
6/ Thoughts on Composing with Algorithms (Laurie Spiegel)
7/ Mexico and India: diversifying and expanding the live coding community (Alexandra Cárdenas)
8/ Deautomatization of Breakfast Perceptions (Renate Wieser)
9/ Why do we want our computers to improvise? (George Lewis)
Section 2: What can algorithms in music do?
10/ Compositions Created with Constraint Programming (Torsten Anders)
11/ Linking sonic aesthetics with mathematical theories (Andy Milne)
12/ The Machine Learning Algorithm As Creative Musical Tool (Rebecca Fiebrink and Baptiste Caramiaux)
13/ Biologically-Inspired and Agent-Based Algorithms for Music (Alice Eldridge and Ollie Bown)
14/ Performing with Patterns of Time (Thor Magnusson, Alex McLean)
15/ Computational Creativity and Live Algorithms (Geraint Wiggins and Jamie Forth)
16/ Tensions and Techniques in Live Coding Performance (Charlie Roberts and Graham Wakefield)
Perspectives on Practice B
17/ When Algorithms Meet Machines (Sarah Angliss)
18/ Notes on Pattern Synthesis (Mark Fell)
19/ Algorithms and music (Kristin Erickson)
Section 3: Purposes of algorithms for the music maker
20/ Network music and the algorithmic ensemble (David Ogborn)
21/ Sonification != music (Carla Scaletti)
22/ Color is the Keyboard: Transcoding from Visual to Sonic (Margaret Schedel)
23/ Designing interfaces for musical algorithms (Jamie Bullock)
24/ Ecooperatic Music Game Theory (David Kanaga)
25/ Algorithmic Spatialisation (Jan C Schacher)
Perspectives on Practice C
26/ Form, chaos and the nuance of beauty (Mileece I’Anson)
27/ Beyond Me (Kaffe Matthews)
28/ Mathematical theory in music practice (Jan Beran)
29/ Thoughts on algorithmic practice (Warren Burt)
Section 4: Algorithmic Culture
30/ The audience reception of algorithmic music (Mary Simoni)
31/ The sociology of algorithmic music (Christopher Haworth)
32/ Algorithms across music and computing education (Andrew Brown)
33/ Towards a Tactical Media Archaeology of Algorithmic Music (Geoff Cox and Morten Riis)
34/ Algorithmic music for mass consumption and universal production (Yuli Levtov)
Here’s a video from sonic pattern last year, working with Alex Keegan on a two-date project playing with beat perception in dance music that I wrote about here. This collaboration was brought together by Nick Hughes, they are both part of the ace agrobeat band Blood Sport. This was a really nice experiment, hoping to work with them more this year.
A quick algorave track for you:
Another quick cyclic extension,
it’s the weather for dnb
My new year’s resolution was not to start any new collaborations.
Here’s a new collaboration with Ash Sagar aka section_9 (among others):
First live date is at the Newcastle Gateshead Algorave on the 26th April. Judging by this first jam session it should be a blinder..
Here’s a new work in progress, I am happy with how things are going with Tidal at the moment
(redone, less quiet..)