“Live-coding” parties such as this—where revelers show up as much for the if-thens and variables as the beer and snacks—are a recent phenomenon in underground electronic music culture. And here in the Bay Area, where the Venn diagram of the Silicon Valley and DJ scenes finds its overlap, shows like Bell’s are right at home. Yet they’re not just more of the tech-meets-techno same. Whereas a traditional EDM show might feature a performer cueing up sounds or samples on a laptop, DJs at live-coding shows use computers to play music in a wholly different way, and to make all new sounds.
The code on display is used to control software algorithms. The musician synthesizes individual noises (snare hits, bass blobs) on their computer, then instructs the software to string those instrumental sounds together based on a set of predefined rules. What comes out bears the fingerprint of the artist but is shaped entirely by the algorithms. Run the same routine a second time and the song will sound familiar and contain all the same elements, but the composition will have a different structure. This is the apotheosis of electronic creation—half human, half machine. The events that have sprung up to celebrate this form of generative composition have already been given a delightful portmanteau: algoraves.
Renick Bell’s performance was part of Algorithmic Art Assembly, a recent two-day festival in San Francisco dedicated to algorithmic music and art. The afternoons were filled with talks and demonstrations; the nights were filled with music.
Some of the talks were heavy on mathematics and computer science—music code on the screen is one thing, but Euclidean formulas are something else—but all of them were informative.
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