Sonic Pattern and the Textility of Code

Really excited to be involved with this dream event in London next month:

Sonic Pattern and the Textility of Code

11am to 6pm, 13th May 2014
Limewharf, Vyner St, London E2 9DJ
£20/£15
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/sonic-pattern-and-the-textility-of-code-tickets-11330352389

An event that brings together diverse viewpoints on weaving, knitting, live coding, dyadic mathematics, generative music and digital making, in order to see how patterned sound and threads allow us to both sense the abstract and conceptualise the tactile. We will look for a rich view of technology as a meeting point of craft, culture and live experience.

The invited speakers will explore aspects of making, process, language, material and output in the relation to their own practice and related contexts.

The discussion will be lead by Bronac Ferran, Janis Jefferies, and David Toop, and practitioners include Alessandro Altavilla, Sarah Angliss, Felicity Ford, Berit Greinke, Ellen Harlizius-Klück, Alex McLean and Becky Stewart.

There will be audio-visual interludes through the day, including a screening of Ismini Samanidou and Scanner’s film Weave Waves, commissioned for the Sound Matters exhibition in 2013 by Craft Council, and a short performance by Felicity Ford.

The event will close with a live music performance from Leafcutter John, Matthew Yee-King and Alex McLean, exploring code, pattern and sound.

Curated by Karen Gaskill, Crafts Council

A collaboration between the Craft Council, ICSRiM (School of Music, University of Leeds), the Thursday Club (Goldsmiths), V&A Digital Futures and the Live Coding Research Network.

Made possible through funding and support by the Craft Council, Sound and Music, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Centre for Creative Collaboration.

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
    methods.

  * 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:

    workshop2014@functional-art.org

KEY DATES:

    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

SUBMISSION

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:

        http://functional-art.org

PUBLICATION

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
http://authors.acm.org/main.cfm 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 ORGANISATION

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:
        http://functional-art.org

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!

Hack circus

Hack circus is a great new quarterly magazine about all the ideas between art and technology. I wrote an article for the first issue, and have an interview between me and Kate Sicchio in the upcoming second one. It seems each issue has a live event attached to it, and Kate and I will be doing a performance at the next one, on the 15th March in Site gallery Sheffield.

Here’s the unedited version of my piece in the first issue. It’s about time travel and computer programming.

A performative utterance is where you say something that *does* something. Classic performative utterances are “Guilty as charged”, “I forgive you”, or “I promise”. Computer programming is when you type something that does something in the future, when the program is run, a kind of promissory performative. Programmers are basically future typists, making promises which get fulfilled more than once, maybe a million times, toying with the lives of different kinds of people, sensing whatever the future state of the world is and doing different things in response. Einstein described the wire telegraph (a prototypical Internet) as a very, very long cat, where you pull its tail in New York and its head meows in Los Angeles. Programming is like that but in between pulling the tail and the cat meowing, its front half might have moved somewhere else, maybe even Sittingbourne, or maybe splitting into a million catty tendrils across the four-dimensional space-time of Kent.  These are the kinds of problems that programmers have to deal with all the time. Worse, programmers don’t get to actually travel with their code into these multiple futures, there are many sad stories where programmers do not see their work being used, and the users might not register that their software was made by a person at all.

Programmers rarely get to travel backwards through time either. The reason for this is that programmers have been trapped in a capitalistic ideal of linear progress towards an idealistic future which doesn’t arrive. The overiding metaphor of time in software engineering is of a tree of development, with its roots in the past, its trunk in the present and branches into the future. The metaphor falls down because what programmers want is for the branches to reconverge back to a new trunk, with all feature and bug requests fulfilled. The point isn’t to blossom into a million different possibilities of the future, but to clump all the branches back into a single woody stump.

When computer programmers finally give up on the future, we could rethink programming around the idea of cyclic time. Instead of writing code to engineer some future design, programmers could write code to try to get software to work as well as it did a few years ago. So far the “revision control” systems which look after these branches of code development do not support merging a branch back to a past version of itself. You can “backport” critical bugfixes, but not twist a branch round to connect the future with the past. If this was better supported, all sorts of interesting applications could appear. The coming apocalypse is one obvious application, requiring current strands of development to connect back to previous ways of life.

Südthüringer-Wald-Institut is a research institute working exactly on this kind of “technocratic doomsday fetishism”, developing technology to support post-apocolyptic research in a cave 200m below the Southern Thuringian Forest in the former East Germany. With a large percentage of technological research ultimately targetting military purposes, programmers and other technologists should certainly bear in mind the possibility that their future may involve a jump back to the past.

So far so gloomy, lets move on to talk about socks. We knit socks and other tubes by using circular needles, not back and forth but around and around in a loop. Programming can feel this way too, particularly when programming while drunk, at night, with a couple of hundred people dancing to the code you’re writing. This kind of activity is known as “live coding”, and is live in a number of different ways. Firstly there’s a live feedback loop between the programmer and their code, sometimes helped along by live data visualisation. Then there’s the feedback loop between the programmer and the music; writing some code, which generates music, which the programmer hears, and responds to by changing the code. Then there’s another between the programmer and the live audience, the audience responding to the music, and the programmer responding to their movements.

But in some sense, programming cannot be live at all. Programmers don’t program *in* time, they program *with* it. Back to that knitting analogy; programmers work with the thread of execution, or the timeline, by working on the higher-order level of the knitting pattern. The thread of time does not run through their fingers, but it does run through their ears, and their computers. Their fingers are instead working on the knitting pattern which are working outside of time, controlling the whole process, composing and manipulating patterns for present and future iterations.

No wonder then that live coders rarely look present at all in the performances they give. Their audience experience the music now, but the live programmers step out of time, abstracted out into an amodal, ungrounded timeless void. In a strange reversal the audience create all the spectacle, and the performers sit quietly in the corner, completely still apart from flurried typing and the occasional sip of mezcal. Maybe the next step for programmers is to learn to work with time while being in it.

This article was written during a residency at Hangar Barcelona as part of the European Culture ADDICTED2RANDOM project.

You can subscribe to hack circus over here.

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.