The ICLC2015 That Was
Last week, July 13-15 2015, was the first International Conference on Live Coding in Leeds, UK. I had an amazing time and I returned refreshed and inspired to continue pushing the limits of my code-based performances and compositions. The conference was filled with an array of unique performances and engaging presentations. Perhaps the biggest things I took from the conference was all of the new friendships that I made and feeling welcome in the live coding community.
First off, the performances at the conference were creative and inspiring. There was everything from solo electronica, to laptop ensembles producing minimal ambience, to poetry generation, to spoken-word audio processing, to live coders controlling dancers and other instrumentalists through code instructions.
Of course, things got noisy at night as well.
Many performances challenged traditional notions of what live coding is, and also showcased new technologies doing very cool things. I was amazed to see how far Sonic Pi had come during Sam Aaron’s performances. In particular, how Sonic Pi can process incoming audio and its ability to produce more irregular rhythms; I’m eager to dive in to Sonic Pi a bit since I last gave it a look many months ago. I also look forward to pushing more limits of Tidal, after watching Alex Mclean sling Tidal code in new ways I haven’t thought of and also being inspired by rhythmic performances in Supercollider (Calum’s set in particular).
ICLC was the first academic conference I’ve ever attended, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Most of my conference-attending experience has been business-, industry-, trade-, or technology-related. While I was most interested in learning about things that I could apply practically to my musical practice, the philosophical presentations at ICLC were engaging.
Many presentations concerned themselves with definitions of live coding and qualities of a live-coded artistic performance. One of the cornerstones of these discussions was improvisation: live coders continuously make changes to a running program to change its execution, and improvise either deliberately or in response to unexpected results (mistakes and errors, in particular). I’m interested in challenging this notion; are live coding and improvisation mutually exclusive? Can’t I write code live to produce a repeatable performance that doesn’t change from gig to gig?1 I’m a newcomer to the world of live coding research and academia, so maybe I’m naive and there’s already research that argues against this idea, but I felt like this was a gap in the week’s conversations. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to do some of my own research for next year’s ICLC 2016.
Related: Paul Wolinski just wrote a ICLC 2015 post that includes a comparison of live coded art performance to public speaking. I think it’s a very good analogy: http://www.paulwolinski.co.uk/?p=357.
By far the biggest things I took away from the conference were new friendships and feeling very much a part of the live-coding artistic community. It’s a strong community that is passionate about creating original art using code in a live way.
I’ve been a member of the live coding community from afar for almost two years2, and have referenced, studied, and shared much of their work, art, and recorded performances during that time. It was a world I’d only experienced virtually for so long; I knew the community and its members well but had never met them in person. Then on the first day of the conference I met everybody at once! I met so many new friends too. It was difficult to leave the conference after sharing such a great three-day experience with them.
Thank you to all the event organizers - Alex, Shelly, Kia, Thor, Joanne, and Ash - for making it such a successful and fun event! Looking forward to ICLC 2016 in Hamilton, ON next year!
1 While I’ve attempted to execute precise, repeatable performances using live-coding techniques, they’ve never gone according to plan and I’ve always improvised to some extent - whether that’s to fix minor errors, get back on track after a major disruption, or just decide to change course.
2 The heart of live-coded music is in the UK, with more strong representation throughout the rest of Europe, Mexico City, Australia, and a few other corners. There are few of us scattered across the U.S.