(Algo|Afro) Futures

I’m happy to launch (Algo|Afro) Futures, a mentoring programme for early career Black artists in the West Midlands who want to explore the creative potential of live coding.

Live coding is a performative practice where artists and musicians use code to create live music and live visuals. This is often done at electronic dance music events called Algoraves, but live coding is a technique rather than a genre, and has also been applied to noise music, choreography, live cinema, and many other time-based artforms.

(Algo|Afro) Futures will take place between April – June online and at Vivid Projects and will consist of four sessions. Dates will be confirmed in response to lockdown restrictions and participant availability.

Algorave Birmingham

Four participants will receive mentorship from myself and Alex McLean on all things live coding. Each participant will receive a fee of £100 per mentoring session attended plus reasonable travel expenses.

This opportunity is open for Black West Midlands-based artists only. The call is open now until 23:59 GMT on 14th March . Further information about the programme, FAQs and the application form can be found at the (Algo|Afro) Futures website.

Late at the Library: Algorave

(Algo|Afro) Futures is organised with FoAM Kernow and Vivid Projects, in collaboration with and funded by the UKRI research project “Music and the Internet: Towards a Digital Sociology of Music

windows.exe has stopped working

windows.exe has stopped working is about that moment of uncertainty when software begins exhibiting signs of an impending malfunction. The software stutters, glitches, begins acting erratically, sometimes altogether freezing with no indication of when normality will return. When faced with this hopeless situation the illusion of flawless technology is shattered and we’re reminded that technology is imbued with the flaws and imperfections of its creators.

windows.exe has stopped working was commissioned by Phoneix for The Idle Index

<2021>

</2020>

2020 was definitely a hard year, which feels a pretty repetitive and redundant thing to say at this point. I did try to stay creative, and did create things, but sometimes I just felt like staying still and watching the world crumble around me. At times just getting out of bed before 12:00 felt like enough of an achievement for one day.

When exhibitions or performances did eventually happen, albiet online, it all felt a bit anticlimactic. Sometimes months of work would go into preparing for an online exhibition or performance. After the adrenaline of the event wore off there was no release, no celebration, no friends around to hug or high five. Just a sudden comedown, get your pajamas on and realise that you’ve not travelled more than 50 metres from the kitchen in days. Oh, and the world is still falling apart.

So, with that cheery start here’s most of the things that I got up to in 2020.

January

As usual not much happened in January. Imagine that, an uneventful month. How I’d wish for that right now…

February

In early February I made my way to Limerick to attend ICLC and perform at an Algorave with Maria Witek (mxwx). I feel that the academic side of live coding sometimes passes me by, but what I do like about events like these is the critical reflection on the practice and the gathering of artists from all parts of the world. It helps to remind me that live coding is a global thing, not just UK/western world.

I really enjoyed performing with Maria. You can see a bit of our performance from around 03:09:00.

Shortly after that I was in Norwich share some new work for Love Light Norwich. I shared a new video work, Let’s Never Meet.

I did a couple of blog posts detailing how I made both the audio and some of the visuals.

March

On 5th March I had the honour of performing at the Algorave at Cafe Oto. I was really nervous as I was making music, not visuals. By this stage I had performed music live a handful of times in venues and online. To then perform at this prestigious venue was daunting but in the end it pushed me to learn and practice more. Here’s a recording of the performance.

Little did I know that this would be my last performance in a venue this year.

On 19th March the year of live streams started. The Eulerroom Equinox took place over three days and featured performances from myself and Alex McLean and one of my favourite performances from myself and mxwx:

This event had been in planning since late 2019 but I think it took on new relevance with the whole world now moving online.

Also in this month I did live streams with Echo Juliet and published a lot of blog posts on (mis)using FFmpeg’s motion interpolation commands. To gather all of the findings together I melted a cat:

April

Online group exhibitions and performances dominate my activities from April onward. On of the first was the Well Now WTF? exhibition which launched on April 4th. This exhibition featured over 140 exhibiting gifs and videos that raised the question of what should/can we do now that everything is cancelled. I contributed a gif in the “Wash Your Fucking Hands” room reflecting on the collective loneliness that comes from online parties.

I did a couple more online live coding events, including a performance with Yaxu for Graham Dunning’s Noise Quest series and a performance for Open Data Institute where we got cut off half way through, possibly for copyright violation! Another sign of things to come.

Also In April I did an overview of the Design Yourself project I ran with Barbican is 2019. Working with a select group of their Young Creatives we created artwork that asked what it meant to be human in an age of technology. One of the participants, Tice Cin, wrote a really good summary of the programme. Here’s one of my favourite videos:

May

Live streams this month included performances with Yaxu on a Cyberyacht(!) (from 32:00) and a performance for Github (better quality version here).

As part of the Well Now WTF? exhibition I presented Gifhouseparty, a lockdown party for all the gifs stuck at home. The music was all live coded and features music/code from me and mxwx, and also gifs of people you may recognise.

Perhaps the biggest event of this month was the opening of the Copy Paste exhibition on 22nd May at Piksel in Bergen, Norway. As Curator I had been planning this exhibition for over a year. I had fully expected this exhibition to not go ahead but the lockdown situation in Bergen at the time allowed for events to still go ahead and so it went along, just without me there. A carefully curated online component was added to allow some of the works to be enjoyed online.

I’m of course thankful to Piksel for their work in allowing the exhibition to go ahead, but I still can’t help but feel sad that I wasn’t able to be there to see it in person!

Other events this month include another performance with Yaxu for the Copy Paste exhibition, a presentation and discussion about copyright/copyleft at Photographer’s Gallery and a performance and presentation at Art Meets Radical Openness. The presentation, called Sorry About That, was about the role that copyright plays in online streaming.

You can watch the presentation here (from 01:40:00), or listen to a rebroadcast of the talk that happened on Radio FRO in July (from around 21:20).

June

This month was kinda quiet. The Copy Paste exhibition continued with events including a presentation from Constant and a workshop from Duncan Poulton. With my skills in audio production getting better I decided to revisit the Wonderland video I made for the Wonder exhibition in 2019 and add a soundtrack.

July

I did visuals for a mix from Reprezent Radio for Late at Tate Online on 17th July. The video’s no longer online so have a couple of gifs!

On 18th July I did two performances in one day! The first was for Oxidize Global and then later me and mxwx collaborated again for a performance at Network Music Festival. Sadly there’s no recordings of either performance but there will hopefully be rerecordings of the music at some point.

Elsewhere in this month I was interviewed by Thisandthatzine and also did a self portrait for it.

Click for larger version

August

The collaboration between me and mxwx finally got a name! We’re now known as Bad Circulation and you can find our music here. At the moment it’s just live recordings and rehearsals. We’re working on an EP. In the meantime here’s one of my favourite recordings.

I was also on the selection panel for Hyperlink from Test Card. Congrats to those that were successful!

September

The online component of Copy Paste was included in Ars Electronica. This included the online exhibition as well as a Curator’s tour, an rebroadcast of Constant’s presentation and the performance from me and Yaxu.

I also published a blog post about it being 10 years since the first GLI.TC/H happened in Chicago. It had quite an impact on me in many ways so I felt it right to mark the occasion somehow.

I was also on the selection panel for the Jerwood Arts / FACT Digital Fellowship. I’m intrigued to see what the three selected artists will create next year!

All the way back in February I was on the selection panel for Ten Acres of Sound, “a festival of noise, sound, sonic art, music, performance, whatever located within Stirchley, Birmingham”. I’m glad it managed to happen as it was postponed from earlier in the year.

October

Back in July I was undertaking a “Stay at Home” residency with New Art Gallery Walsall:

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, The New Art Gallery Walsall initiated a series of remote residencies to support artists to produce work from their homes. Departing from the Gallery’s usual emphasis on making and sharing work within the context of the Gallery’s purpose-built studio space, artists were encouraged to find creative approaches to developing their practice amid imposed national restrictions and, in particular, to explore the benefits and possibilities of engaging with an online audience.

I challenged myself to learn more about film making and make a video using only what I already have at home. Here’s my video called Windows Explorer:

It was a big challenge and I wrote three blog posts detailing each challenge.

I took part in another online group exhibition (this time featuring 50 artists) called The Archive to Come. For this I made a gif/video reflecting on the tearing down of statues and the Black Lives Matter protests. Here’s a lower resolution gif version:

A better quality video can be seen here and you should check out all of the works in the exhibition.

I also (finally) took part in DA Z. This event was cancelled back in March as was a related event in September, and though I wasn’t able to be physically present in Switzerland I was still happy to be part of it.

November

November was unusually busy. Since July I was working behind the scenes with Open Data Institute to curate Rules of Engagement, an online programme of artworks that make a case for ethical practices when working with data.

The commissioned artists were Nick Briz, Everest Pipkin, and A.M. Darke. The artworks were launched at ODI’s annual Summit and are still available online to view now. It was a lot of work to get the programme together but it was a pleasure to commission new work from some great artists!

You can hear myself, Nick Briz and ODI’s Hannah Redler-Hawes talk about the programme on the TECHnique podcast.

The next day on 11th November I presented new work as part of the Peer to Peer online exhibition. I was one of the three UK commissioned artists and created a piece called Nodes.

It’s the first time I’ve been commissioned to make a piece of music (I did make the visuals as well though) and I really enjoyed making it.

Sticking with music, in November the Compassion Through Algorithms Vol. II compilation was released. The compilation is raising funds for Young Minds Together and was created in response the Black Lives Matter protests, and the general recognition that live coding/electronic music is still heavily dominated by White men. I made a track for it called Pulse.

I also did a short blog post about how I made it. It’s still on sale so go buy it!

I provided a screensaver for the The Idle Index online exhibition from Phoenix Leicester. It’s delivered via a browser extension which you can install in Chrome.

I also took part in Abuja Art Week‘s digital exhibition with two existing videos, Visually Similar and Abundant Antiques.

Back in September I was a judge for the second year running for the Koestler Arts Digital Art category. In November their annual exhibition, this time called No Lockdown of the Imagination launched. Lockdown prevented me from seeing the works in London in person but they have an app you can use to view all of the works.

In other selection panel/judging activities, I was on the selection panel for the MADE IT graduate exhibition which features around 50 artists. The selection process took place between September – October but the online exhibition launched in November. Congrats to all those selected!

December

A fairly quiet month. From 7th – I did a takeover of the Minorities in STEM twitter account. Each week on that account a different person talks about their experiences of being, well, a minority working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). Though my work does use all of those there’s also the Art side (sometimes called STEAM) so I used some of 3700 words to talk about how al of these overlap. I also talked about how in my experiences of learning about digital art there was never any talk of Black people or anyone other than mainly White men. Things have gotten better since I was in education but there’s still so much work to do to recognise the contributions of Black people in (digital) art. You can read each of the daily threads here:

  • Monday – how I got into working in art+tech, with a focus on setting up the fizzPOP makerspace
  • Tuesday – glitch art and early experiments in making generative art using code
  • Wednesday – realising that the history of Black people working in art + technology is often overlooked
  • Thursday – demonstrated live coding and talked about Algorave
  • Friday – covered a handful of the organisations in the UK that are helping to make art and technology more diverse

I ended the year with a performance at the Eulerroom Winter Solstice. I combined live coding using Tidal Cycles with a couple of Korg Volca synths. No video yet but I’ll update when it becomes available.

end

And so ends a crappy year. That sense of community from being part of group exhibitions and performances definitely helped keep me sane and connected but I really need human contact again. Anything that isn’t a Zoom window… I of course hope that 2021 will be better, but I think we’ll need to fight to keep our galleries, museums, venues and other institutions open. Time and time again our government has shown that they don’t value the arts, and I fear that so many of the places I love will be lost next year. Did I also mention that there’s a pandemic still going on?

Laters 2020!

Submerged

Edward Colston was an English merchant, philanthropist and politician whose involvement in the slave trade was often overlooked. In June 2020 his statue in Bristol was toppled and thrown into the harbour during Black Lives Matter protests.

Through tearing down statutes we don’t rewrite or erase history but instead reveal more about it. It is increasingly important that we learn more about the history of our country and its leaders and face the full reality of its past.

Nodes

Nodes is a new commission created for the Peer to Peer: UK/HK online festival which ran from 11th – 14th November, created as a reflection on the interconnectedness of the global live coding community.

Live coding is a performative practice where artists make music and visual art live using programming. This happens primarily at events such as Algoraves, but there is an equally active online community which organises regular performances, conferences, workshops and more.

Moving beyond e-mail and social media platforms, people within the community have built their own tools which allow for real time communication and collaboration across borders and time zones. In this way the local nodes the global live coding community are able to stay connected.

Many thanks to Dr Charlotte Frost from Furtherfield for the nomination. Nodes was commissioned on the occasion of Peer to Peer: UK/HK online Festival 2020 by Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Open Eye Gallery and University of Salford Art Collection.

Making Pulse

On November 6th the Compassion Through Algorithms Vol. II compilation was released, raising money for Young Minds Together . The compilation is still available, and of course you can donate directly to Young Minds Together if you prefer.

In this blog post I’ll be going over how I made my track, Pulse.

I’m two years into making music and I’ve recently become more comfortable and confident in my processes. I’ve gotten over the technological hurdles and, having experimented in making music/sounds of different styles both in private and at Algoraves, I feel I’ve found a range of styles that I like making music in. In the live coding music world some of my biggest influences have been eye measure, Miri Kat, Yaxu, and Heavy Lifting. Their work spans many genres but what I’m drawn to in their music is the more sparse, ambient and even sometimes aggressive sounds. I tried to keep this in mind when making Pulse.

As with most things I make I started first by just experimenting. I can’t fully remember my thought process but at some point I landed on turning a kick drum (“bd” in Tidal) sound from a percussive to a pitched instrument. I achieved this by triggering the sample many times in quick succession and playing with the speed in which it was played back.

setcps (135/60/4)

d1 
$ sound "bd*4"

d7
$ loopAt "0.75 0.25"
$ chunk 4 (slow "2 4")
$ sound "bd*<32 16> kick*32"
# speed (fast "0.25 1" $ range 4 "<0.25 0.75 0.5>" $ saw)
# accelerate "3 2 0"
# gain 0.75
# pan (slow 1.2 $ sine)

I like the piercing buzzing nature of the sound and so decided to focus on building the track around this. Next I had to get the tempo right. By default Tidal runs at 135 bpm (0.5625 cps). Running that code at 135 bpm felt way too fast and so I tried bringing it down to 99 bpm.

It’s no longer at a speed to dance to but makes for better listening. It also meant I could more accurately identify what note the buzzing sound was at. The loopAt command affects the pitch of the samples and it is itself affected by the tempo that Tidal is running at, so setting it at 99 bpm (setcps (135/60/4)) revealed that the buzzing sound was at a G-sharp. It’s probably still a little bit out of tune but it’s close enough!

In late August I bought + was given the Volca Bass and the Volca FM synths. By this time I had been using bass samples in this track but saw this as an opportunity to give these newly acquired synths a try! The Tidal website has instructions on setting up midi, which worked well. One issue was that I was using two of the same usb-to-midi adaptors. On the surface this isn’t an issue, but, at least according to the midi Tidal instructions, when adding a midi device it does so by name and not by any sort of unique ID. Running MidiClient.init: with both adaptors connected gave me this:

MIDIEndPoint("USB MIDI Interface", "USB MIDI Interface MIDI 1")
MIDIEndPoint("USB MIDI Interface", "USB MIDI Interface MIDI 1")

I didn’t know which of the two adaptors Tidal was going to send midi messages to and so no idea which synth would be triggered! Fortunately Alex McLean was on hand to provide a (linux-specific) solution. The dummy Midi Through Port-0 port exists by default and so Alex suggested adding another one. I’ll quote from Alex from the Toplat chat:

if you add options snd-seq-dummy ports=2 (or more) to /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf
you’ll get two of them
the other being
Midi Through Port-1
obvs
then you can tell supercollider/superdirt to connect to them
then go into qjackctl and the alsa tab under ‘connect’ to connect from the midi through ports to the hardware ports you want
then you can make them connect automatically with the qjackctl patchbay or session thingie
I like doing it this way because it means I can just start supercollider+superdirt then change round which midi device I’m using super easily.. plugging/unplugging without having to restart superdirt
I don’t know if this will solve the problem of having two devices with the same name but hopefully..

With that all fixed I recorded my track! Here’s a live recording of me, um, recording it. It is made using Tidal, the code is just on a screen out of shot.

As you may have noticed there’s some latency on the Volca bass. I should have adjusted the latency in Jack to account for this but at the time didn’t realise that I could do this or even how to do it. However, I was recording the Volca Bass and FM onto separate tracks in Ardour so I was able to compensate for the latency afterwards.

On reflection I should have recorded each orbit (d1, d2 etc) into separate tracks. At the time I didn’t realise I could do this but it’s pretty simple withclear instructions located on the Tidal website, and there’s friendly people on the Toplap chat who helped me. This would allow me to do additional mixing once it was recorded (my Tidal stuff is typically way too loud). Aside from those observations I’m really happy with how it sounds! I’ve shared my code below, which may be useful to study but of course you’ll need Volca’s/midi devices to fully reproduce it.

setcps (99/60/4)

d1 -- volca fm
$ off 0.25 ((fast "2") . (|+ note "12 7"))
$ note "gs4'maj'7 ~"
# s "midi1"

d6
$ stack [
sound "kick:12(5,8) kick:12(3,<8 4>)",
sound "sd:2",
stutWith 2 (1/8) ((fast 2) . (# gain 0.75)) $ sound "hh9*4",
sound "bd*16" # speed 2 # vowel "i"
]

d4 -- volca bass
$ fast 2
$ stutWith 2 (1/4) ((|+ note "24") . (slow 2))
$ note "~ ~ ~ gs2*2"
# s "midi2"

d7
$ loopAt "0.75 0.25"
$ chunk 4 (slow "2 4")
$ sound "bd*<32 16> kick*32"
# speed (fast "0.25 1" $ range 4 "<0.25 0.75 0.5>" $ saw)
# accelerate "3 2 0"
# gain 0.75
# pan (slow 1.2 $ sine)

d2 -- transpose volca fm
$ segment 32
$ ccv 50
$ ccv (range 10 (irand 10+60) $ slow "8 3 7 3 1" $ sine )
# ccn "40"
# s "midi1"

If you enjoyed my track or any of the others on the compilation please consider buying the compilation or making a donation to Young Minds Together and help the fight against racial injustice.

Rules of Engagement – 10th November

Happy to announce that I’m curating a new programme called Rules of Engagement for the Open Data Institute’s annual Summit on November 10th. The programme features new commissions from Nick Briz, A.M. Darke and Everest Pipkin. By seeing people as more than just data points, Rules of Engagement asks those with power to reimagine how we engage with data, advocating for an ethical data future for everyone.

The Open Data Institute (ODI) arts programme Data as Culture harnesses the critical and unexpected voices of artists in response to ODI’s research. The current research and development programme looks at sustainable data access and building trust through certification, and creating data infrastructure for common challenges.

Rules of Engagement is curated by guest curator Antonio Roberts who was inspired by the numerous scandals involving data towards the end of the 2010s. The artist’s work will be integrated throughout the ODI Summit 2020 – Data | Futures and online.

Commissioned artists Nick Briz, A.M. Darke and Everest Pipkin interrogate the systems that have allowed unethical use of data. Through their work, the artists ask important questions that all of us should be considering, such as why could there be mistrust in current data practices or should data collection even be considered in the first place and who are the people or communities impacted by data misuse.

The artists have taken a very open approach, exposing ‘black-box’ AI systems, showing what technology says about us; challenging people who work with data and those who are subjects of systems that use data to reflect on their own biases, which may influence how data is used and collected.

Nick Briz – howthey.watch/you

Nick Briz’s commission, howthey.watch/you exposes the tracking technology built into our everyday experience of internet browsing. In this online work, the artist discusses this technology and asks important questions about its uses beyond fingerprinting and, ultimately, tracking.

A.M. Darke – ODI R&D Artist in Residence

As Research & Development artist-in-residence, A.M. Darke is researching a new work which will confront us with the biases and prejudices embedded into algorithmic systems which govern everything from credit ratings to criminal convictions. The artist is seeking to create a system imbued with their own biases, to expose how algorithms are extensions of its programmers. They want to reveal the uncomfortable truths surrounding algorithms’ far-reaching consequences, particularly for people from marginalised communities. During the Summit, they will take part in an in-conversation with curator Antonio Roberts discussing the challenges of creating such work while consistently working within a data ethics framework themself.

Everest Pipkin – Shell Song

Everest Pipkin’s Shell Song is an interactive audio narrative game about corporate deep-fake voice technologies and the datasets that go into their construction. The game explores physical and digital bodies and voices, asking what a voice is worth, who can own a human sound, and how it feels to come face to face with a ghost of your body that may yet come to outlive you.

All of the commissions and residency details can be found on the ODI’s Data as Culture website.

All of the commissions and residency will launch at the Summit on 10th November and will then be available to the public by 11th November. Check back here on 11th November or follow me on Twitter/Instagram for links to the artworks.

Thanks to Hannah Redler-Hawes and the ODI for the invitation to curate this programme, I’m really happy with the artworks!

Compassion Through Algorithms Vol. II

I have a new track coming out on November 6th as part of the Compassion Through Algorithms Vol. II compilation, which is raising funds for Young Minds Together.

We’re a group of people from England’s North (from Birmingham up) making music and art from algorithms, shared here in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

We join calls for justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but also reflect on the situation here in the UK, including the lack of justice for Stephen Lawrence, for Christopher Alder, for the people lost in the New Cross and Grenfell fires, for the Windrush deportees and all suffering under our government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy.

We want educational reform, so that the next generation can open their eyes to Black British history. Stating that ‘Black Lives Matter’ should not be difficult, but right now it’s not enough to be non-racist. We need to be anti-racist.

We share this compilation on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis, but please give generously if you can. All proceeds will go to Young Minds Together, a group of Black girls making music and dance in Rotherham UK, in need of your help to rebuild post-pandemic.

The compilation features tracks from 65daysofstatic, TYPE, Michael-Jon Mizra, Anna Xambo, Yaxu, Shelly Knotts, 0001, Antonio Roberts (that’s meee), Leafcutter John, and features awesome artwork from Rosa Francesca. November 6th is Bandcamp Friday, so if you buy it then Bandcamp will waive their fees and so more funds can be donated. Of course, you can always donate to Young Minds Together directly.

Black Lives Matter.

Peer to Peer: UK/HK – 11th – 14th November 2020

From 11th – 1th Novemebr I’ll be presenting new commissioned work as part of the Peer to Peer UK/HK programme.

Peer to Peer: UK/HK is a digital programme and platform encouraging meaningful cultural exchange and forging enduring partnerships between the UK and Hong Kong’s visual arts sectors.

The programme launches with an online festival of international exchange and collaboration taking place 11-14 November.

The Festival will include an online exhibition of digital artworks from UK and Hong Kong based artists, including 5 new commissions by artists nominated by UK and Hong Kong based partners. There will also be a series of digital residencies taking place across partner organisation’s social media channels as well as a set of curated panel discussions.

The Festival is led by Ying Kwok (Festival Director and independent curator, HK), with Lindsay Taylor,  (University of Salford Art Collection), Open Eye Gallery and Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), supported by a project team.

In the spirit of exchange and collaboration the Festival is piloting a distributed leadership model, involving co-curation and co-production with partner organisations.

The project has been generously supported by funding from Arts Council England and the GREAT campaign.

I’m one of the five commissioned artists, alongside Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Hetain Patel, Lee Kai Chung and Sharon Lee Cheuk Wan. My commission will be a live coded audio/visual work which will then enter the University of Salford Art Collection as a permanent legacy of the project. Many thanks to Charlotte Frost from Furtherfield for the nomination!