First International Conference on Live Coding

Photo: Jon Harrison
Photo: Jon Harrison

ICLC 2015 is now behind us and was awesome. It was great to have so many enthusiastic people come together, and to witness how far things have come over the past 15-year life of the live coding community. It was also great to work with a great team, Thor Magnusson (co-chair), Kia Ng (scientific chair) and Shelly Knotts (performance chair). Then due to illness Kia was very sadly unable to take part in the latter part of the organisation, but Joanne Armitage stepped up to take on a large part of the local organisation as chair of Workshops and special sessions, I don’t know how we’d have coped otherwise. Ash Sagar also helped with production of off-campus events (i.e. the Algoraves), and helped keep things smooth during the day too.. Jon Harrison did a fantastic job capturing everything on film too, we’ll be uploading the fruits of that too.

Beyond thanking all these people (and there are a great deal more volunteers and collaborators to thank) I’ve been struggling to find words to summarise the conference. Part of the problem is as chair I missed a fair amount of it, while working behind the scenes. We’ve asked the attendees to share conference reports though, so hopefully I will find out what happened this way! It felt really great to get so much of the community together though, and discover that live coding is as interesting and interdisciplinary as ever, while still very much having a playful, fun spirit at its heart. For 2016, we’ve passed the baton on to David Ogborn, who’ll be hosting it in some incredible looking venues in Hamilton, can’t wait…

Thanks so much for coming everyone! An inaugural event will always be a leap of faith for everyone concerned, and we landed it together.

How to publish open access conference proceedings

I’ve just published the ICLC proceedings, a learning process, trying doing things a little differently, so thought I’d share. I’m by no means an expert on e-publishing, feedback is very much welcome in the comments.


Nothing out of the ordinary for peer review — we used easychair. This is standard in computer science but I probably wouldn’t choose it again, particularly after they made features premium while I was using them, without warning, and had very little communication about their downtime. I’ve been happy with self-hosted OCS in the past.


blogged before about how I wanted to achieve conference template utopia, by offering a paper template in markdown. This went surprisingly well, I made simple templates in both word and markdown formats, and about half the authors chose markdown. I had very few people reporting problems with the template, and with a little bit of wrangling I was able to use pandoc to generate nice PDFs via xelatex, and reasonable HTML. It would be good to push this further when academic markdown tools are more developed, but for now I think it’d be unfair to expect everyone to use pandoc, a commandline tool. I don’t see a reason to continue inflicting LaTeX on anyone, though.


Many conferences have eye-wateringly high registration fees, and it can be hard to understand why when performers have to pay them as well. I think part of the reason for this is publication costs; if you want your conference proceedings to be published by a respected publisher, you have to pay them (and then readers may well have to pay to read them as well). We decided not to go this route, at least for the first edition. Instead we decided to just share the proceedings as PDF, getting all the authors to provide their papers under a permissive Creative Commons Attribution license.

It was clear from asking authors that they would particularly value having an ISBN for the proceedings. You can register as a publisher in order to allocate ISBNs yourself, although in the UK this requires buying them in batches of 10 for some reason. After asking around the University of Leeds it turned out that someone in the Secretariat could allocate an ISBN for me straightforwardly, by filling out a simple form. I specified the format as e-book, and price as £0, which doesn’t seem to have been a problem.

The ISBN satisfies the beancounters in terms of making the proceedings an official publication in some way, but actually isn’t very useful beyond that, as far as I can tell (correct me if I’m wrong). You could use it to locate my physical address and ask for a PDF, but you’d be better off searching for the name of the conference in google.

DOIs are perhaps more useful as a way of linking to archival documents long term, even if they don’t carry the gravitas of an ISBN. I found the free Zenodo service, which archives research data for you (on CERN’s servers), providing DOIs in the process. I put all the papers in their web interface one-by-one, a bit tedious, but worth it I think. If you do the same, then it’s worth filling out both the ‘conference’ and ‘book’ sections, you then get decent BibTeX export records etc via the site. I also made a Zenodo ‘community’ for the conference, so you can see the papers collected together there.

Zenodo are also happy for videos to be uploaded, that’d be a nice way to make the peer reviewed performances in the conference citeable. We’ll see.

Aside from a small matter of very many spreadsheets, that’s it! Open and accessible  conference proceedings.  Thoughts welcome!

(We will go a more formal route as well by the way, following on from the conference, Thor is leading on a special issue of Performance Arts and Digital Media.)

Events rhino

I just had a total blast at Sonic Pattern and the Textility of Code. I wrote a little bit about it over on Weaving Codes.

It seems people still aren’t getting tired of the word ‘algorave’, now looking forward to

  • xCoAx 2015, in Glasgow. The third edition of this conference which really plugged a gap in my world.. I went to the first edition in Bergamo which was excellent, the very well conceived call for participation drew a wide range of thinkers and makers together. I couldn’t make the second one but am happy to be presenting a paper about live coding collaboration, and performing at the algorave with some greats.
  • Then much of the live coding field descending on Yorkshire for an Algorave in Sheffield and a three day conference in Leeds that I have the pleasure of organising as part of an excellent team.
  • Then thankfully things slow down for the summer, but looking forward to spending some time in Vancouver and playing the ISEA Algorave there together with fine algorave veterans both human and computational.
  • Then to Tilburg with Yee-King for the huge Incubate festival, which includes a little Algorave. It’ll be good to see Leafcutter do his first ‘official’ algorave, although he’s been bringing algorithms to actual raves for quite some time. Stalwarts Sam and Norah will also be there. It’ll be techno.

I’ve also got a load of collaborative alternative hackathons planned, including one at the ODI summit, as well as a public lecture to be announced very soon..

Beat perception

I’m collaborating with Alex Keegan on audio/visual performances drawing from research into beat perception. We’re starting by deliberately breaking the following rules in turn:

1. Any rhythm that follows a pulse formed of regular (isochronous) rhythms will itself, be regular.
2. Any section that has a regular pulse will progress to a following section which also has a regular pulse.
3. The progression of certain characteristic sections will follow each other in sequence, For example a ‘drop’ will always follow from a ‘build-up’.

The idea is to push against the edges of the perception of rhythm and meter, touching into the hallowed ground of frustration and annoyance, using two drum machines and four projectors controlled by Tidal..

Our first performance is tonight at this event at Theatre Deli in Sheffield, we’ll on be in the basement twice, around 9:40 and 11:40. There’ll also be some proper music upstairs, footwork and grime. Then we’ll try it again next week at Access Space, also in Sheffield, as part of the Sonic Pattern night programme.

2nd Workshop on Philosophy of Human+Computer Music

Happy to have the following abstract accepted for the 2nd Workshop on Philosophy of Human+Computer Music, in the University of Sheffield.

Textility of live code
Alex McLean
ICSRiM, School of Music, University of Leeds

Live coding is a practice involving live manipulation of computation via a notation (see e.g. Collins et al, 2003). While the notation is written and edited by a human, it is is continually interpreted by a computer, connecting an abstract practice with live experience. Furthermore, live coding notations are higher order, where symbols do not necessarily represent single events (e.g. notes), but compose together as formal linguistic structures which generate many events. These two elements make live code quite different from the traditional musical score; a piece is not represented within the notation, but in changes to it. Rather than a source of music, the notation becomes a live material, as one component in a feedback loop of musical activity.

There are many ways to approach live coding, but for the present discussion I take the case study of an Algorave-style performance (Collins and McLean, 2014), for its keen focus on movements of the body contrasted with abstract code and the fixed stare of the live coding performer. In this, the live coder must enter a hyper-aware state, in creative flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008). They must listen; acutely aware of the passing of time, the structure as it unfolds, literally counting down to the next point at which change is anticipated and (potentially) fulfilled via a code edit. In the dance music context this point is well defined, all in the room aware of its approach. The coder must also be aware of physical energy, the ‘shape’ of the performance (Greasley and Prior, 2013). All this is on top of the cognitive demands of the programming language, manipulating the code while maintaining syntactical correctness.

The philosophical question that this raises is how (in the spirit of Small, 1998), does this musical activity model, allow us to reflect upon and perhaps reimagine, the human relationship with technology in society? Can we include wider perspectives, by drawing upon neolithic approaches to technology such as the warp weighted loom, in this view (Cocker, 2014)?


* Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: the psychology of optimal  experience. HarperCollins.
* Cocker, E. (2014, January). Live notation – reflections on a   kairotic practice. Performance Research Journal 18 (5).
* Collins, N. and A. McLean (2014). Algorave: A survey of the history,   aesthetics and technology of live performance of algorithmic  electronic dance music. In Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression.
* Collins, N., A. McLean, J. Rohrhuber, and A. Ward (2003). Live coding in laptop performance. Organised Sound 8 (03), 321-330.
* Greasley AE; Prior HM (2013) “Mixtapes and turntablism: DJs’ perspectives on musical shape”, Empirical Musicology Review. 8.1: 23-43.
* Small, C. (1998, June). Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (Music Culture) (First ed.). Wesleyan.

Peak cut postcards

Nice to see some photos + videos of peak cut in action crop up from around the world:

#computerclub This Ep is releaaed on microSD. Yaxu – Peak Cut

A photo posted by Der Tausendkünstler (@chriak) on

Peak Cut on Bleep

bleepKind words on bleep, who have some of the remaining physical copies of Peak Cut:

“Restricted to just 100 copies, Yaxu’s debut EP comes from Computer Club on a very special USB credit card containing the 6 tracks as well as a collection of over 100 algorithmic Tidal patterns to reshape and enjoy as you wish. As well as challenging the conventional formats for releasing music, Yaxu’s polyrhythmic and hyperreal strand of techno is showcased on cuts like Public Life and Cyclic showing that he is not just testing the confines of how music can be consumed but also how genres can sound. A truly forward thinking influx of material from Yaxu and the Computer Club team.”


Just to reflect, I’m currently:

  • Finishing a project on Optical Music Recognition
  • Co-editing and writing chapters for the Oxford Handbook on Algorithmic Music, with another book on the horizon
  • Co-editing two journal special issues
  • Co-organising a symposium, international conference + algorave, and many more events on the horizon, as well as upcoming performances, talks and other events
  • Co-leading two research council funded projects
  • Learning to weave, making a language for it, developing designs for a warp weighted loom, and working towards an installation and performance in Munich in May
  • Finishing a range of chapters, journal articles and papers
  • Peer reviewing a lot of things
  • Preparing for a big series of Tidal workshops and an evening course
  • Developing a series of alternative hackathons and residencies over the Summer
  • Giving lectures and supervising student projects
  • Trying to find time to write project proposals/grant applications to try to extend my fixed term postdoc and increasingly part-time contract doing all the above (erp!)
  • Finishing tracks for my next EP, and associated software and linux distro
  • Being a Dad/Husband
  • Other things currently not on the forefront of my mind

So no time to blog, really…