(a thought in progress..)

Like many I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts about the writing of Mark Fisher, and his untimely death. As Nathan Jones put it, “Mark Fisher was a giant. Such a cruel irony that the man who so eloquently and honestly articulated the links between mental health, politics and economics would be taken from us like this, at this time.”

It’s OK to be unsatisfied with the way things are going, culturally, politically.

I’m starting to think about the next AlgoMech festival, and Peter Rollings got in touch about his Experimental Sonic Machines. He doesn’t have a website, but intrigued, I searched out this documentary someone had made about his machines and street performances:

I can’t really summarise this, it has to be watched. The work with found materials, the open, reflective approach to creativity, the machines, the self-deprecation against the startling, edgy music.. I love it.

There’s more videos on youtube, footage of some pretty amazing looking performances and constructions.. and also Rollings appearing on Britain’s got talent. From the start it’s stomach churning, childish playground bullying, mocking someone because they don’t fit with sickly, oppressive norms. After the previous video, it’s a miserable experience. Adds something to the classically-Guardian headline “Is Simon Cowell to blame for the end of western civilisation?

How can we strip away this awful, retrogressive misery, and make space for genuinely new culture+ideas to emerge? On this tip, it’s good to hear that Alexandra Cardenas is taking her live coding to street performances, like Rollings, finding public space to try new things out.

I’ll leave you with this from Fisher:

Algorave article on MixMag.net w/ yaxu mix

Here’s a thing, a lovely article on Algorave on mixmag.net, by Steph Kretowicz..

Among interviews with a range of nice folks it includes some words by me as well as this mix that I mentioned in an earlier post:

I really enjoyed making the mix – a real pleasure to get close to the music, and although I am very rusty (and last time was mixing vinyl), it still felt like a different way of listening, I’ve missed it. It was good also to bring such nice music together, looking forward to doing more of these.

Read the full article here: http://mixmag.net/feature/algorave/

Yaxu + Rituals @ Idle Chatter

Another video I forgot to post here, this one from Idle Chatter back in October 2016, with RITUALS aka Dan Hett on visuals

Live coding

I’m starting to blog on Medium, here’s a crosspost of an introductory post:

Live coding

From around the year 2000, musicians, visual artists and choreographers have been popping up around the world to form a community of live coders. This community uses programming languages to create live work, predominantly in the performing arts. This idea appeared from different places in various flavours, such as just-in-time programming and on-the-fly programming, although the term live coding has became standard.

Patchwork portrait of seminal live coding band Powerbooks Unplugged (2004-),
film by Jonas Hummel (2010)

But, liveness and code form an unlikely friendship. On one side, liveness is about direct, unmediated connection, in the moment. On the other, code is about abstraction, generalisation, procedures to be replayed across different timespans and media. From this perspective live coding is almost oxmoronic — liveness is about now, code is about whenever. It is no wonder that many live coders purposefully embrace error and failure — their practice runs against our understanding of what code is for.

ALGOBABEZ at Algorave Leeds, 2016

But when we write code not to make reuseable software, but to create in the moment, it takes on a very different quality, something closer to the embodied experience of speech. Live coders can work across networks or across disciplinary boundaries, pushing against the distinction between natural and computer languages.

Shared Buffer (Alexandra Cardenas, David Ogborn, Eldad Tsabary, Alex McLean)
@ Pikselfest Norway, 2014

Live coding has developed and grown over the past 17 years into a thriving, international community, meeting to create symposia [1,2], festivals [1,2], conferences, concerts and long nights of techno. All these performances involve the act of computer programming as performance: instructions are written and modified by a human while a computer executes them. Proclaiming “show us your screens”, live coders open up the developing structure and movement behind their work by projecting their screens, so the audience can experience the code grow alongside the development of its output.

Study in Keith, Andrew Sorensen

The experience of live coding is a strange one. Locked in a state of creative flow, working in a world made entirely of symbols, words and text, while simultaneously hyper-aware of the passing of time, and of the sound generated from the composition of those symbols. Hearing is a sense of touch, a way to feel the code. This is amplified further by the presence of others in the room, whose expectations you play with and respond to.

Kindohm @ ICLC 2016, Hamilton

Live coding isn’t a genre, or a set of tools, but a community of diverse practices, rolling back history to look for paths not taken — stripping back the graphical user interface to find the language machine underneath. Then, not using the language to describe already-made designs but to explore live thought, externalised through language.

REPL Electric — The Stars

Deactivating facebook

I’ve ‘deactivated’ my facebook page, for the usual reasons – the inability to actually share things with people without being filtered out, privacy concerns, general lack of transparancy and annoyance. It’s a pretty strange process, a bit like changing your ADSL provider, where the site proposes various arguments for why you should stay, puts you on guilt trips about the people who will miss you, etc.

Then when it’s finally done it turns out that all you’ve really done is the equivalent to blocking all your friends. If they go to your page it will pretty much look like you’ve blocked them, harsh! There’s no way of leaving a ‘I’m taking a break’ message or anything like that. So this is the main reason for this (fairly boring, sorry) blog post, to let you know that I haven’t blocked you on facebook!

It’s also extemely easy to re-activate your account – you just log back in and you’re insta-restored.. So quite a lot of friction to leave, and none whatsoever to return.

There are alternative ways of deactivation, as kindohm pointed out on the twitter, you can just unfollow everyone and everything. I found some tips here that make this easy, it’s a nice way of deactivating on your own terms, not facebook’s.. But still it wasn’t quite enough for me, so I’ve gone the official route.

I haven’t decided whether I’ll return or not, but in the meantime you can find me on the TOPLAP slack, twitter, send me an email, or drop by to chat in person either at Access Space labs on Fitzalan Square in Sheffield UK, or Deutsches Museum in Munich DE, or somewhere between..

Update – started getting people asking why I’d unfriended them so reverted to the Hodnick method, reactivated but not following anything. Harumph.

Cyclic visualiser

Something I did ages ago on a residency, made a video a while back but forgot to put it here, here it is:


On xmas eve I made a bot

The source is here. It’s been a little unstable (any tips for running the jack audio subsystem on a virtual server?) but generally works well. There have been some nice patterns coming up, a random selection:

Then some mystery person (or bot) made a bot called tidalbotbot that is generating patterns for tidalbot, e.g.:

We’ve been meaning to include examples in the tidalcycles docs for a while, should get around to this.. Also planning on a tidal pattern sharing website, which could interface nicely with tidalbot. More soon!

Musicbox controller

For upcoming collaborations with musicbox maestro David Littler, and to explore data input to Tidal as part of my ODI residency, I wanted to use one of these paper tape-driven mechanical music boxes as a controller interface:

You can see from the photo that I have quite a messy kitchen. Also that I’ve screwed the musicbox onto a handmade box (laser cut at the ever-wondrous Access Space). The cable coming out of it leads to a webcam mounted inside the box, that is peeking up through a hole underneath the paper as it emerges from the music box. With a spot of hacked-together python opencv code, here is the view from the webcam and the notes it sees:

Now I just need to feed the notes into Tidal, and use them to feed into live coded patterns. Should be good enough for upcoming performances with David tonight at a semi-private “Digital Folk” event at Access Space and another tomorrow in London at the ODI lunchtime lecture.

By the way the music in the above was made by my Son and I clipping out holes more or less at random. The resulting tune has really grown on me, though!

UPDATE – first live coding experiment:

Algorithmic and Mechanical Movement

flyerI’ve been working on the Festival of Algorithmic and Mechanical Movement (AlgoMech for short) lately, curating it with Lovebytes and funded by Sheffield Year of Making and Arts Council England. It’s going to be a big week for me, bringing together lots of strands into one festival featuring concerts, a day symposium, hands-on workshops and an algorave. It’s diverse enough to be a bit hard to sell but is exploring a bit of a different take on technology in performance, a long view on algorithms and machines, with focus on the people involved. If it gets good audience support then we’ll be doing our best to make it an annual event, and so I’d absolutely love it if you came along, and/or helped spread the word via twitter, facebook or by sharing the algomech.com website, this nice write-up, or the video below or by telling someone nice about it who you think might be interested. Thanks a lot!


get_image.phpI’ve been reminiscing about the early days of live coding, living in London UK around the year 2000 and taking part in experimental electronic music events there. There is some kickback for the phrase “experimental music”, it doesn’t make sense as a genre label (once it’s a genre, is it still an experiment?) or an institutional alignment (could/should institutions experiment on culture?), but I think it makes sense to talk about experimental events where new ideas and software are tried out, which might result in failure.

One place was the Foundry, a pub on Old Street/Great Eastern Street where I spent a lot of time. You never knew what you were walking into, from full-on digital noise to (actually, more often than not), a lady reciting poetry about worms, uncontrolled explosions in the vaults.. If you wanted to do something yourself you just spoke to Gimpo and would get a date in the diary.

The pub was closely associated to the KLF, and a framed poster by Bill Drummond was on display titled “I COULD FUCKIN’ DO BETTER THAN THAT”. On reflection I think my life would have been very different if I hadn’t read it. We organised quite a few VXSLAB events here, even a generative art exhibition in the basement (old bank vaults). The ethos of doing stuff without looking for permission or funding, just doing it is something we took into many dorkbotlondon and other free events.. Making things happen felt easy.

Another place was Public Life, an underground toilet squatted by Siraj Izhar and turned into another amazing space for experimentation. It’s rules for operation were similar to the Foundry:

  1. not to solicit activity, all activity had to be self initiated, volunteered or uninvited
  2. not to say no to anything, reject anything but attempt accommodation in some way

Slub played here regularly, at events like the Sunday Deriver, and Plug and Play. The space had a projector (they were starting to become affordable), so we were able to start projecting our screens..

With venues like Fabric closing in London, lets not forget the other end of the spectrum – venues created for open experimentation, existing for art outside of funded institutions and commercial venues. They open up where artists can move in, before property developers push them out. Without these spaces, I wouldn’t be making music or events now. Do they still exist in London? Sheffield has Audacious, Access Space, DINA etc, long may they continue..