The mu­sic you’re danc­ing to might be code

DJs Take Stage With A Lap­top, Open Up A Cod­ing In­ter­face And Com­pose Melodies In Real Time

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Trends - Luke Winkie

On a com­puter, Sonic Pi looks like any other cod­ing lan­guage. It’s a mess of num­bers, par­en­thet­i­cals, punc­tu­a­tion marks and key­words, splat­tered over an LCD screen. But off­screen — and through a set of qual­ity speak­ers — those key­strokes pro­duce mu­sic you might dance to on a Fri­day night.

Some artists have es­chewed tra­di­tional acous­tic and elec­tronic in­stru­ments to com­pose with com­puter code. Col­lo­qui­ally, this is called “live cod­ing” — a DJ takes the stage with a lap­top, opens up a cod­ing in­ter­face and con­structs melodies in real time. To­day, there are live cod­ing shows (some­times called “al­go­raves”)

HI-TECH BEATS: al­most ev­ery week­end in New York City, Moscow, Mex­ico City and In­dia. Sonic Pi — which can find mid­dle C, sum­mon the Amen Break and play dozens of dif­fer­ent synth sounds with just a few com­mands — has be­come a favoured soft­ware among the DJs at these events.

Orig­i­nally, Sonic Pi was built to be a teach­ing aid. Sam Aaron, a soft­ware de­signer, was work­ing at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge and wanted to com­bine the toils of pro­gram­ming with the joy of mu­sic. The goal was to in­vent a cod­ing en­vi­ron­ment that func­tioned as an in­stru­ment, al­low­ing chil­dren to type out rhythm and melody. “The ques­tion was how do we teach kids com­puter sci­ence,” Aaron said. Rather than teach­ing them sourc­ing al­go­rithms or bi­nary arith­metic, he had an idea: “Let’s give them some synths and beats.”

To­day, Aaron hap­pily ad­mits that his pro­jec­tion was off. Sonic Pi hasn’t in­fil­trated class­rooms, but it has be­come a use­ful tool for ex­per­i­men­tal com­posers. That was what drew 29-year-old Melody Love­less, who is clas­si­cally trained as a per­cus­sion­ist, into the scene. She has been mak­ing ethe­real, down­beat com­po­si­tions with code for close to two years now, of­fload­ing some of the heavy lift­ing of rhythm to a set of scripts. That is to say, her arms no longer hold her back. In­stead she’s found a new muse in “hav­ing my brain sucked into the com­puter,” she said.

“Some­thing about live cod­ing al­le­vi­ated a lot of stress. If I’m ner­vous, the com­puter can stay on, and I can take my time mak­ing a de­ci­sion,” Love­less said. With per­cus­sion, she said, “I had to be on at ev­ery mea­sure, I had to be per­fect.” Ja­son Levine, 38, a founder of the pro­gram­ming collective Live­code.NYC, re­ports a sim­i­lar sen­sa­tion. He makes mu­sic with May Che­ung, 31, who im­pro­vises vo­cals over Levine’s com­mands.

What drew him to cod­ing was the free­dom and flex­i­bil­ity it of­fered, and the ways it seemed to favour in­ge­nu­ity over tech­ni­cal mu­si­cian­ship. “You can write, ‘I want this to hap­pen,’ and it hap­pens,” Levine said. “Com­pared to tra­di­tional in­stru­ments, you’re not con­strained by your body. It’s your mind go­ing di­rectly into mu­sic.” At live shows, those strands of code are also pro­jected at a mas­sive scale for mem­bers of the au­di­ence to see.

Sonic Pi, like the vast ma­jor­ity of mu­sic-fo­cused cod­ing en­vi­ron­ments, is free to down­load and open source. “With live cod­ing, you type in a few lines and hit com­pile and you’re play­ing mu­sic,” says Evan Raskob, a live coder who makes mu­sic with a 3-D prin­ter. An aerial footage of a glacier in western Europe is shot by a cam­era at­tached to an ea­gle be­tween its wings. The ea­gle was to em­bark upon a series of flights over the Alps and its once-mag­nif­i­cent glaciers, which are now crum­bling be­cause of global warm­ing. How­ever, bad weather has grounded the ea­gle for some time. Or­gan­is­ers hope that this ea­gle’s-view footage will help jolt the world out of its cli­mat­e­change ap­a­thy and to­ward swifter ac­tion to com­bat its ef­fects


At live shows, those strands of code are also pro­jected at a mas­sive scale for mem­bers of the au­di­ence to see

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