Random notes from the Live Code Festival, Karlsruhe

During his talk at the live code festival Karlsruhe 2013, David Ogborn (to paraphrase from my faulty memory) said that livecoding seems a very current thing, that something about it seems to be in the air, so much of what we are doing seems to stick and thrive like a form of bacteria.

Yorgos Diapoulis talking about his minimal interface for live hardware coding.

This festival made it obvious that communities surrounding livecoding are thriving, with representation from Australia, Mexico and Canada as well as European regions and accordingly a wild variety of approaches, techniques and styles that now make up livecoding. The symposium was fundamentally a celebration of this and a chance to experience the diversity directly.

From my scrappy notes and in no particular order, Andrew Brown focused on a describing livecoding technique as an interplay between ‘complexity and succinctness’ in the context of musical research involving data mining large quantities of musical material. Here, as in many issues of creativity in livecoding, the critical decision is where to abstract away details in order to provide a usable and flexible creative environment. His approach is to look for patterns in musical data in order to provide a ground truth, and then make subjective decisions based on practice and performance to build a livecoding interface. Andrew mapped out other useful dichotomies we battle with such as the tension between modelling and simulations of creative understanding vs inspiration, which can come from many places.

A rare appearance of Click Nilson (the British tabloid press was unfair to him.)

Catching up with the rapid development of the phenomenon that is Benoit and the Mandelbrots, their side project “Delbots and the man” is a doomcore livecoding band involving a live drummer – a promising new sonic direction for livecoding. Also on a more technical level their drop function provides a means to allow code to be executed simultaneously in all performers machines, used as a way to accelerate or amplify ‘from scratch’ livecoding techniques in groups.

Propelling livecoding into the chaotic world of web development, Chad McKinney‘s project Lich.js is a new general purpose programming language for browser based livecoding, built on top of javascript. The recent explosion of programming languages based on/built with javascript is due to the fact that it’s interpreter is available everywhere, and this will be (IMHO) increasingly be where livecoding happens in the future.

Section 9 live coded both progressive and recursive house, simultaneously.

In contrast, Andrew Sorenson demonstrated the potential to provide liveness and ‘hot swapping’ of code down to the lowest computing levels with Extempore, which can now run on a large number of architectures and levels of concurrency, and now generates code approaching the efficiency of C compilation in many situations.

More reports on the festival, and associated Algorave events to follow.

/* vivo */ musings

So much to think about after the /* vivo */ festival, how livecoding is moving on, becoming more self critical as well as gender balanced. The first signs of this was the focus of the festival being almost entirely philosophical rather than technical. Previous meetings of this nature have involved a fair dose of tech minutiae – here these things hardly entered the conversations.

Show us your screens

One of the significant topics for discussions was put under the spotlight by Iohannes Zm̦lnig Рwho are the livecoding audience, what do they expect and how far do we need to go in order to be understood by them? Do we consider the act of code projection as a spectacle (as in VJing) or is it Рas Alex McLean asserts Рmore about authenticity, showing people what you are doing, what you are interacting with, and an honest invitation? Julian Rohrhuber and Alberto De Campo discussed how livecoding impacts on our school education conditioning, audiences thinking they are expected to understand what is projected in a particular didactic, limited manner (code projection as blackboard). Livecoding could be used to explore creative ways of compounding these expectations to invite changes to the many anti-intellectual biases in our society.

Luis Navarro Del Angel presented another important way of thinking about the potential of livecoding – as a new kind of mass creativity and participation, providing artistic methods to wider groups than can be achieved by traditional means. This is quite close to my own experience with livecoding music, and yet I’m much more used to thinking about what programming offers those who are already artists in some form, and familiar with other material. Luis’s approach was more focused on livecoding’s potential for people who haven’t found a form of expression, and making new languages aimed at this user group.

After some introductory workshops the later ones followed this philosophical thread by considering livecoding approaches rather than tools. Alex and I provided a kind of slub workshop, with examples of the small experimental languages we’ve made like texture, scheme bricks and lazybots, encouraging participants to consider how their ideal personal creative programming language would work. This provides interesting possibilities and I think, a more promising direction than convergence on one or two monolithic systems.

This festival was also a reminder of the importance of free software, it’s role to provide opportunities in places where for whatever reasons education has not provided the tools to work with software. Access to source code, and in the particular case of livecoding, it’s celebration and use as material, breeds independence, and helps in the formation of groups such as the scene in Mexico City.