Category Archives: misc

24 hours nonstop digithon – some highlights

24hr-Digithon-EFlyerIt’s been a really great month, going back to Goldsmiths for the astounding NIME, including fine memories playing to a great crowd with Matthew Yee-King as Canute at Corsica Studios (including an encore), then enjoying the fine Brighton Algorave as a (slightly tired) punter, then the excellent discussions at the Live Coding and the Body symposium, and joining fantastic live coders for massively fun algoraves in Sheffield and Manchester.

Most recently though was the 24 hour Access Space Digithon. Last Saturday we spent all day and all night hosting performances in Access Space and remotely around the world (Ontario, New York, Mexico City, Minneapolis, Germany, Italy, plus Birmingham, Cardiff, and London). It was an intense 24 hours (ashamedly I stayed awake only for around the first 22 hours), but really rewarding, and we made over £1500 towards the Access Space.

Access Space is a really great community free media lab, which a helps lot of people who have highly challenging backgrounds and problems. They are the longest running lab of its kind in the UK, and are in need of funds to help stay open and expand their programme. If you have some spare cash, please donate – they have very low overheads and do great work.

This was 24 hours of many highlights, but here’s a few of them that you can enjoy in return for your donation:

Well it was all good, go and check the full listing. And please donate :) We’ll leave the free gifts up for a couple of days longer, so you could get yourself an algorave tshirt or stickers in return…

Making space for research

I’ve been putting extra effort into the janitorial task of community building over the last couple of years.. For example chairing the first “Live Interfaces” conference, and the 2nd FARM workshop, co-organising the Dagstuhl workshop on live coding, co-editing special issues, getting funding, organising events and establishing a presence for the live coding research network and TOPLAP, and helping make space for algorithmic dance music culture to grow and spread and maybe someday free discussion to flourish.

I love this stuff, but it’s been a distraction from what I probably “should” have been doing — writing my back catalogue of theses and papers up into journal articles, and establishing next steps, as a basis for my next fellowship application. I haven’t directly benefited from a lot of this work, being unsure about the morals of submitting to your own journals and programming yourself into your own academic conferences. It has been massively rewarding though, and I’ve tended to dislike career mindedness, and avoided thinking about measurement and end-points, rather than the substance of the journey.

I’ve been far from alone in all of this, and these activities have grown their own life. Live coding communities are popping up everywhere, the 2nd Live Interfaces conference is being taken in a new direction by Adriana Sa in sunny Lisbon, and Algorave has gone crazy. Now that this exists, and my postdoc fellowship is coming to an end, it’s probably time to think more locally.

So I’m really happy to be starting the Weaving Codes, Coding Weaves project, stepping into a new direction with really inspiring collaborators. I’ll be working on that three days a week (it says here), which does leave me some time for other things, but I’ll be focussing more on local activities around Yorkshire, especially my home town of Sheffield. There’s still four or so more live coding research network events to collaborate on, including a conference which I hope will be really fun, but after that I think I’ll have paid my dues, and will be trying to explore some of the space we’ve created.

Just a shift in focus though, nothing major.. Maybe a reminder-to-self to carry on making things.


I’ve had an incredible couple of weeks, too much to blog.. So here’s a brief recap.

Maker Faire UK was incredible, so many stalls, huge robots, so much enthusiasm, and surprisingly diverse, my 6 year old Son loved it.. I joined some other TOPLAP representatives (Shelly Knotts, Holger Ballweg, Chad McKinney) to run some live coding activity there and did a live coding performance outdoors which was invaded by a clown making explosions. Shelly did a performance as well and was given the same clown treatment apparently. Something to be explored further, I think. We also took part in an algorave that weekend, late in the Old Police House in Gateshead.. Good times.

Torque in Liverpool FACT was mind-blowing in a similar way. The keynote from Lambros Malafouris, introducing his Material Engagement Theory rang a lot of bells, unifying many approaches while taking a long view on culture. There were a lot of great talks that day, and I enjoyed doing my bit on live coding. There’ll be a Torque performance evening in London on the 6th June, I’ll be performing there with Kate Sicchio.

Then Sonic Pattern and the Textility of Code in London. I had the pleasure of working with Karen Gaskill on this, curator with the Craft Council, and I think this is up there as amongst the best events I’ve had the pleasure of co-organising. A full day of excellent talks and discussion exploring the correspondences between code, craft and sound. It was an all day event, on a Tuesday, but was sold out with many people travelling from afar.. Really can’t wait to get started with the Weaving Codes project now.

Then I gave a talk at a British Academy event “External Engagement in the Arts and Humanities”. It was good to be in a room with a lot of other early career researchers, and share my view of engagement as something that should take place throughout all stages of research, in order to breathe meaning into the work. As I’ve been reading a lot of Tim Ingold lately, I argued against the word “external”, and that we should think about research as a strand running through life, rather than in terms being a separate space.

Then back up to Newcastle for Thinking Digital Arts, which was excellent and part of the huge Thinking Digital conference, always good to see these vibrant activities in the North. Although our Slub performance was slightly compromised by problems with the sound, Dave went on to do a well received talk at the conference and I sneaked off to meet with the Newcastle culturelab folks, to distract them from the show they were installing for thinking digital arts. Great people!

I haven’t done any of these activities justice above, each could easily be its own blog post, but I wanted to get something down for a change. In the coming months I’ve resolved to travel less (although you wouldn’t know it), so I might have time to think about and document what I do more..

2nd ACM SIGPLAN International Workshop on Functional Art, Music, Modelling and Design

I’m chairing this year’s FARM workshop on functional art, music, modelling and design, which is part of the International Conference on Functional Programming. The deadline is approaching, but there’s still time to put pen to paper.. Here’s the (updated) call for papers and demos:

2nd ACM SIGPLAN International Workshop on
Functional Art, Music, Modelling and Design

  Gothenburg, Sweden; 6 September, 2014

The ACM SIGPLAN International Workshop on Functional Art,
Music, Modelling and Design (FARM) gathers together people
who are harnessing functional techniques in the pursuit of
creativity and expression.

Functional Programming has emerged as a mainstream software
development paradigm, and its artistic and creative use is
booming. A growing number of software toolkits, frameworks
and environments for art, music and design now employ
functional programming languages and techniques. FARM is a
forum for exploration and critical evaluation of these
developments, for example to consider potential benefits of
greater consistency, tersity, and closer mapping to a
problem domain.

FARM encourages submissions from across art, craft and
design, including textiles, visual art, music, 3D sculpture,
animation, GUIs, video games, 3D printing and architectural
models, choreography, poetry, and even VLSI layouts, GPU
configurations, or mechanical engineering designs. The
language used need not be purely functional (“mostly
functional” is fine), and may be manifested as a domain
specific language or tool. Theoretical foundations, language
design, implementation issues, and applications in industry
or the arts are all within the scope of the workshop.

Submissions are invited in two categories:

  * Full papers

    5 to 12 pages using the ACM SIGPLAN template. FARM 2014
    is an interdisciplinary conference, so a wide range of
    approaches are encouraged and we recognize that the
    appropriate length of a paper may vary considerably
    depending on the approach. However, all submissions must
    propose an original contribution to the FARM theme, cite
    relevant previous work, and apply appropriate research

  * Demo abstracts

    Demo abstracts should describe the demonstration and its
    context, connecting it with the themes of FARM. A demo
    could be in the form of a short (10-20 minute) tutorial,
    presentation of work-in-progress, an exhibition of some
    work, or even a performance. Abstracts should be no
    longer than 2 pages, using the ACM SIGPLAN template and
    will be subject to a light-touch peer review.

If you have any questions about what type of contributions
that might be suitable, or anything else regarding
submission or the workshop itself, please contact the
organisers at:


    Abstract (for Full Papers) submission deadline: 7 May
    Full Paper and Demo Abstract submission Deadline: 11 May
    Author Notification: 30 May
    Camera Ready: 18 June
    Workshop: 6 September


All papers and demo abstracts must be in portable document
format (PDF), using the ACM SIGPLAN style guidelines. The
text should be in a 9-point font in two columns. The
submission itself will be via EasyChair. See the FARM
website for further details:


Accepted papers will be included in the formal proceedings
published by ACM Press and will also be made available
through the the ACM Digital Library; see for information on the
options available to authors. Authors are encouraged to
submit auxiliary material for publication along with their
paper (source code, data, videos, images, etc.); authors
retain all rights to the auxiliary material.


Workshop Chair: Alex McLean, University of Leeds

Program Chair: Henrik Nilsson, University of Nottingham

Publicity Chair: Michael Sperber, Active Group GmbH

Program Committee:
Sam Aaron, Cambridge University
David Duke, University of Leeds
Kathleen Fisher, Tufts University
Julie Greensmith, University of Nottingham
Bas de Haas, Universiteit Utrecht
Paul Hudak, Yale University
David Janin, Université de Bordeaux
Richard Lewis, Goldsmiths, University of London
Louis Mandel, Collège de France
Alex McLean, University of Leeds
Carin Meier, Neo Innovation Inc
Rob Myers, Furtherfield
Henrik Nilsson, University of Nottingham (chair)
Dan Piponi, Google Inc
Andrew Sorensen, Queensland University of Technology
Michael Sperber, Active Group GmbH

For further details, see the FARM website:

Weaving codes, coding weaves

Very happy to share the news that “Weaving Codes – Coding Weaves”, a collaborative project with Ellen Harlizius-Klück, Dave Griffiths, Kia Ng, Emma Cocker, Lovebytes + many others has been funded, by an AHRC Digital Transformations Amplification award. It starts September 2014 and runs for 18 months. Here’s a snippet from the synopsis:

What are the historical and theoretical points at which the practice of weaving and computer programming connect? What insights can be gained if we bring these activities together, through live shared experience? How do digital technologies influence our ways of making, and what new digital technologies can we create to explore their social use in creative collaboration?

Our research challenge is to unravel industrial and contemporary technological developments in weaving and computer programming, in order to expose and challenge assumptions, and make the human processes involved visible. In particular, to explore and communicate the nature of mathematical thinking in ancient weaving, and creative thinking in contemporary computer programming, bringing key contributions to discussion of making in the humanities.

This is going to be a lot of fun!

Weaving code: learning computer programming through pattern and craft

I’m leading a new collaborative project, “Weaving code:learning computer programming through pattern and craft”, with Becky Parry, Kia Ng, and the good folks from LoveBytes and ArtBoat. Ellen Harlizius-Klück and Dave Griffiths are advising as project partners, and Chris Carr will advise on progress too. Here’s the introduction from the proposal:

There is national policy drive to teach computer programming in schools. However, there is a disconnect between programming, and socially-situated learning through play. Our research will bridge this gap, recognising the needs of people, particularly of children, to engage with the social and tangible in order to understand the abstract. Our core aim is to bring pattern making in weaving, together with pattern making in live coding of music, in a pedagogic context. This will ground abstract thinking in social activities, as a springboard for learning. We will reconnect computer programming with its origins in craft, drawing from the inspiration which Babbage and Lovelace took from the Jacquard loom, as well as the development of formal mathematics in Greek antiquity using loom metaphors.

Our first step will be a visit to Masson Mills working textile museum, should be an inspiring trip. This ignite funding came through the Cultural and Creative Industries Exchange in the University of Leeds, and will hopefully feed into bigger things.

Extending human ability

I don’t always enjoy praise, but it’s really great when commentators see through the cold reality of live coding or algorave and get at the promise that motivates what we’re doing.

Here’s a comment by a reddit user called Tekmo from a few months back, which I think is about the promise of a more embodied approach to the practice of programming:

I think the entire premise of this project is really brilliant. Right now it’s probably not immediately inspiring because it takes a minute or so to switch between patterns for an average user, but imagine somebody getting REALLY good at improving on this, with their own custom library of one or two-letter function names and performing by constantly improvising patterns every few seconds while programming at lightning speed.

But the real reason I think this is brilliant is because this is sort of what I always imagined programming was about: extending human ability. I feel like the super-heroes of the future will be programmers that command an impressive array of remote machinery as if it were an extension of their own body.

Here’s an excerpt from a nice blog post by DuBose Cole which to me hints at a cultural tipping point when more people start programming:

Events like Algorave highlight that by making more people creators through programming, we don’t just get new technical creations, but social and cultural ones as well. Algorave features electronic music created by algorithms programmed on the fly for a crowd. Revellers seem to attend due to either an interest in how the music is created, a particular love of electronic music, or just to have a party. An idea like Algorave takes the image of coding as a solitary experience and moves it forward, making the programmer a collaborative and immediate creator, as well as bit of a rock star.

What the idea highlights however, is that learning to create with code is less about the skill itself and more about what you do with it. Pushing coding literacy is only the beginning. Coders are creating an ever expanding culture of creation, which anyone with a basic appreciation or skill for programming can join in with. The increasing simplicity with which people can learn coding has not only changed who can create, but also the scope of what’s being created.

Brilliant stuff.

Texture version 2.0 pre alpha

During my residency period, I’m rewriting “Texture”, the visual front-end for Tidal I started making way back in the closing moments of my PhD. The first step is to re-implement Texture in Haskell — before it was written in C, and spat out code that was then piped into the Haskell interpreter, which was a bit nuts. I’m taking a bricolage approach so don’t have a clear plan, but have a rudimentary interface starting to work:

As before, the idea is that values are applied to the closest function with a compatible type signature. I’ve still had to ‘reimplement’ the Haskell type system in itself to some extent. While I could get Haskell to tell me whether a value could be type-compatible with a function, it seems that this is not enough. This is because in practice, it is very likely that things will be type compatible, and the real constraints come with the presence of type class instances. Or something like that.

My next step is where the real point of this rewriting exercise comes in – visualisation of patterns as they are passed through a tree of transformations. I’m not sure exactly how this is going to look, but because this is all about visualising higher order functions of time and not streams of data, it’s going to be something quite a bit different from dataflow; it’ll be able to include past and future values in the visualisation without any buffering.

The (currently useless) code is available here, under the GPLv3 license.