What is Live-Coding?
Alex McLean, a pioneer of live coding begins setting up his gig in front of a blank projector screen. Where DJ decks would typically be, lies a singular black laptop. As the set begins, McLean’s hands quickly and intuitively type across the keyboard with it projecting onto the back screen for the audience to see. He types in source code on his self-created software, TidalCycles. As the code changes, the music changes and one becomes more and more drawn into the mesmerizing performance that continuously changes and intertwines words, numbers and symbols. This is a form of live coding – performative art, electronic music, and a niche community that continues to grow.
Alex McLean: The co-founder of Algarave and the creator of TidalCycles, a platform to make live coding easier.
The experimentation of algorithms in music isn’t a new thing. It can even be argued that all music follows patterns and rules to compose melodies for centuries. The concept of algorithmic composition took on a whole new meaning when computer science began to grow in the early 2000’s. This became another tool of expression and live coding within music was formed. It differentiates itself from DJ’s as this music is entirely produced and performed live by generating algorithms through source code, rather than manipulating and sampling found sound. It’s not like sitting down with a synthesizer or Albeton, but live coding creates an entirely unique sound. By watching the code get written live, it becomes an immersive visual experience for the audience and offers the audience insight into how the music is being produced. The laptop is not only the interface but the instrument as well. Perfect for techno-loving tech geeks to discover a new realm of electronic music.
When live coding meets rave culture, we are introduced to Algorave (from algorithm and rave), an event series that combines electronic music and performative art with live coding being the central focus. In 2011, Alex McLean and Nick Collins co-founded Algorave in London, UK with their first event, before it quickly took off into an international movement as more artists joined in. With live coding remaining a niche sub genre of electronic music, Algorave became the central community hub for artists alike.
Since its inception, Algorave events have taken place in over 80 cities around the world. Their website features a list of almost 100 prominent artists in the live coding community, which still feels relatively small considering the global attention it is receiving. Although their last club event was in March 2020, they have not slowed down, giving us plenty of live streams and online events.
Here is some live coding content below as a first taste of what this performative art looks like by some of the top artists amongst the Algorave community.
Benoit and the Mandelbrots: A band consisting of four artists, Juan A. Romero, Holger Ballweg, Patrick Borgeat and Matthias Schneiderbanger, formed in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Alexandra Cardenas : Berlin based artists that remains at the forefront of the Algorave scene and has played at the Transmediale Berlin Festival.
Sam Aaron: Creator of Sonic Pi, a music creation tool to develop your live coding sound and performance.
Words Gabrielle Runzer