In The Middle with Joanne Armitage
What is live coding? How long has it been around?
That is something that I am confused about defining presently, having recently been privy to a list of weird, wonderful and absolute smart arse responses to the same question. But for me live coding is “the performative use of programming languages.” Although it is a practice that can be applicable to any creative medium, music prevails – despite this, there are some amazing visual artists and choreographers working within the area.
Live coding as a formalised practice has been around well over a decade, but it pertains to much historical work in algorithmically driven music, and software development. TOPLAP (c. 2004) was/is a vessel to promote the practice, detailing a manifesto, which is influential, although in some need of an update (imo and others). Perhaps this is still the best first stop for those curious to explore live coding, and the website does contain loads of helpful information on languages and promo stuff like events.
How did you come to specialise in it? What sort of music were you making before doing live coding?
I am fortunate to work with Alex McLean, a live coding pioneer and all round good’un. He encouraged me to play a Leeds Algorave in July 2014. Having never live coded before, and with the gig just a matter of weeks away, I began practicing and roped in local synthesist Oliver Thurley Lacking somewhat in confidence, I used tools that were then familiar to me – SuperCollider and my trustily temperamental Roland Juno 106. The gig went bad, we haven’t played together since. Fortunately, in the following months everything began to click for me.
Outside and prior to live coding, I played in a few bands, including an empowering and formative stint in a group that blasted on (and promptly off) the Leeds scene last summer. Pre-dating my live code practice, and perhaps better contextualising it, are my endeavours as a composer. This aspect of my work has always drawn very heavily on computation and algorithmic process, but is a perspective that I have found evermore frustrating.
If it is called live coding, is it a music strictly reserved for live performance, or will we hear recorded material? How will that work?
That is a good question that can be questioned in the community. A brilliant example of recorded live coding is Yaxu’s recent Peak Cut EP that includes source code for his tracks that can be edited on a handy USB. Some live coders are broadcasting their sets at weird and wonderful times around the world via various streaming platforms.
Labels like Xylem release live coded tracks and many live coders, myself included, put their work on their SoundCloud. Maybe once it’s recorded it becomes algorithmic music… although I hope that is debatable and someone tells me I’m wrong. All my SoundCloud stuff is just the good snippets of long improvisations.
But yeah, fresh faces are continuously getting involved and ‘breaking the rules’. Some approaches would have been considered ‘cheating’ back in the early 2000s. But when cheating is so good, it’s allowed ya know. Thinking along these lines we come back to the discussion of “what is live coding” I guess.
Is Leeds a centre for live coding? What sort of stuff has been going on in the live coding community in Yorkshire?
Leeds, Sheffield – and Yorkshire in general are busy hives of live coding activity. Alex who I mentioned previously works as part of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Research in Music at Leeds, and I’m also kinda based there. During July, we hosted the first ever International Conference on Live Coding (ICLC). We had several Algoraves around Leeds’ in venues including Wharf Chambers and Left Bank (who were surprised how much the live code crowd drank haha!). In the UK much of this activity is supported and promoted by the Live Code Research Network.
I’ve started getting rather involved with the Yorkshire Sound Women Network who are really excited by the potential live coding. They held an Ixi Lang workshop a few months back. Supported by the Live Code Research Network, fellow live coding woman Shelly Knotts and I are running a workshop on 5th December. Unfortunately this booked up within a few hours, but we are hoping to sort another one soon. I’ve been involved in a few workshops recently, and also have a few gigs coming up around the general North.
Although, live coding is a worldwide practice ICLC featured work from 100 live coding researchers and practitioners from 22 different countries. So Yorkshire is just a small (albeit important) part of a thriving international live coding community. There is a famously good scene in Mexico City also.