It’s Ada Lovelace day today, and it turns out my main influences lately have been two women.
One is Sherry Turkle, via her book The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, and her work on Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete together with Seymour Papert. Two decades on, some aspects of this work are dated, but the main drive reads like a message from the future; to fully accept computer programming in our creative lives we should consider the feminine, do away with purity and black boxes and work within our code rather than upon it. Computer programming languages and culture is biased towards abstract approaches and against anthropomorphism.
Perhaps live coding is a swing back towards a more feminine approach, where humans are immersed in the same time flow as algorithms, fully engage their perceptual and aesthetic faculties while writing code, and have their whole program before them ready to be manipulated, rather than abstracting parts in black boxes according to grand designs.
Here’s a choice quote from the epistemological pluralism paper:
The conventional route into formal systems, through the manipulation of abstract symbols, closes doors that the computer can open. The computer, with its graphics, its sounds, its text and animation, can provide a port of entry for people whose chief ways of relating to the world are through movement, intuition, visual impression, the power of words and associations. And it can provide a privileged point of entry for people whose mode of approach is through a close, bodily identification with the world of ideas or those who appropriate through anthropomorphization. The computational object, on the border between the idea and a physical object, offers new possibilities.
My other recent influence is Laurie Spiegel, in particular her writing on the manipulation of musical patterns. I’d already found myself making a pattern language when I found her paper, and found it a great inspiration. In this 1981 paper she recognises computation as pattern transformation (which after all is all that it is, a Jacquard loom head that transforms), and applies this insight directly to music; computation then becomes music pattern transformation, the structure of computation forming the structure of music. There’s much more inspiration for musician-programmers to be gained from her other writings.