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Articles Workshop "Music programming in TidalCycles" in Cuba Workshop "Music programming in TidalCycles" in Cuba

Live coding in Cuba: from code to metric

At the beginning of the 20th century Lévi-Strauss applied the principles of linguistic structuralism to study cultural patterns and define them algorithmically, and Chomsky tried to do the same with human language due to his generative grammar.
Decades later, through the doors of the millennium, programming languages are still seen by non-practitioners as characters summoned in dark rooms. 

But we have arrived at another era of innovation, one in which new roles emerge at the expense of technology. Among these we find a very particular type of musical production, in which tempos, rhythms and scales are ordered by a line of code. The live coding has ushered in an era for the generation of live and studio music. At this point, the idea of turning programmers into DJs and seeing them throwing waves on a console is not so far-fetched.  

Art + programming = live coding

The international live coding is a form of performing arts and creativity technique focused on real-time writing of source code from interactive programming. Born with the air of electroacoustic music in universities in the United Kingdom, this practice, which includes a language to describe flexible sequences (polyphonic, polyrhythmic or generative), has in crescendo.

In the prehistory of live coding, the sound they generated was obtuse and abstract; without bars or notes (and with ear-shattering frequencies). Difficult songs to dance and interpret. But, tricks through, the skills with programming improved and the musical projects of the live coders began to be a fact.

Thus we arrive at top lab, which in 2004 opened a chapter in this saga by becoming the first organization in the world created with the express mission of exploring and promoting live coding. TidalCycles (known as “tidal”) is a popular open source programming language created in 2009 by Alex McLean that allows you to do live coding based on patterns, whether it's live music on algoraves or composing in the studio. It is based on Haskell, multipurpose standardized programming language, it is compatible with any operating system, and allows you to trigger sequences and connect them to a sample bank (via the OSC protocol). To use tidal it is also necessary to master Super Collider (program for making music with a free license code) and a plugin that links the text editor with the software. 

In 2012, in the UK, a group of coders led by Alex McLean and Nick Collins began to run a series of events called algorave. At these intersections between algorithm and raves, the intention was to remove the live coding from the academy to make music for dancing, very much in tune with the scene techno. In a algorave, as a general rule, the code must be projected in order to make an activity transparent to the attendees, within the sharing logic of the open source, while another coder accompanies the performance with visual representations.

In this field, another acquaintance is Sonic Pi, Ruby-based live coding environment, originally designed for music lessons in schools. 

In all these languages, and as happens in an orchestra, whoever creates the sequence of characters is the one who is in charge of the melody.

Eduardo Pujol. Photo: María Lucía Expósito.

Eduardo Pujol. Photo: María Lucía Expósito.

Cuba also has live coders

Havana. 26 degrees. The Lisa at more than 75 decibels. Eduardo Pujol sits down to compose on his fifth floor. It comes from the world of zeros and ones. your resume is summed up to three weeks using tidal and a year and a half experimenting with Sonic Pi and thousands of lines of code. It all started with a recommended video on YouTube. 

“I like it as a way of making music and because it's easier to use than other mixing and generation software. Right now, as hobby, I produce electronic music, although only a couple of friends have heard what I do. 

“I have sound files that are mine, but most of them I download. I don't think much when I compose, it's ethereal; I try to get carried away and make it sound interesting. 

“As a way of composition, in this system you can make rapid changes in the march, you are not tied to a single thing, the same sample can modify it to the point where it becomes something completely new. As a result, an accumulation of infinite possibilities opens up. 

“The DJs here have the skills to adapt to technology and make it their own,” reflects Eduardo. “Who knows if tomorrow a more specific interest in the live coding made in Cuba".

Malitzin Cortés and Iván Abreu during the Workshop in Havana. Photo: María Lucía Expósito

Malitzin Cortés and Iván Abreu during the Workshop in Havana. Photo: María Lucía Expósito

Show me your screens

In parallel, virtual communities are winning the bet. Collaborative work within musical productions marks another terrain for this kind of guild or sound society. From the perspective of a live coder, this practice would be an antonym of the development that considers software as a commercial product and not as a means of interaction, exchange and edition of environments. Hence one of his catchphrases: Show us your screens (show us your screens).  

A few weeks ago, the programmer, architect and live coder Mexican Malitzin Cortés and Cuban-Mexican multimedia artist Iván Abreu came to Cuba. The workshop “Music programming in TidalCycles” gave the Cuban participants a good excuse to lose sleep. Cuban key and guaguancó purely coded. Tracks techno based on improvisation in real time. Instruments at the mercy of the fingers on the keyboard. Malitzin trusts that there is a desire in several generations to produce and listen to different things and other forms of sound. 

“We met a lot of people in the workshop that is innovating despite access difficulties. We detect nodes of people who are super informed. There really is a small community that is beginning to form and wants to produce with this technology. ”

In addition to the executive lines in the visual field of tidal, these new players in creative programming also explained how in the algorithmic music communities and the live coding communicate and share knowledge and how daily is the sound generated under these methods.

“In Cuba, a phenomenon partially similar to what happened in Mexico can happen. All Latin American countries share certain instances regarding technology: how we consume it, implement it and how we adopt it for music, visual arts, artistic or commercial production. 

“We would like to go back with all the tools ready and do a voice to voice to share them offline with new attendees, and have more days to meet more people who make sound art. The community space of Copincha, Fanguito Estudio and the Ludwig Foundation were the places with which we agreed to return and disseminate content.

“The only difficulty we detected was Internet access, which is still expensive and not affordable in relation to salaries. Many of the tools we share are free to use, but require downloads from the web. In communities around the world, festivals in streaming with live coders from England, Colombia, Australia, Mexico, but here uploading data to the network becomes one of the most complicated things.

“Cubans have quite a strong and important history as creators of rhythms and music. We seek to move culture on the Island maker in pursuit of the visual arts and make possible a couple of events to work on sound improvisation. There is a very eager audience to experience this phenomenon”.

The encounter between DJs, new media artists and code lovers in the workshop made a thesis clear: the migration to other production routines could become more than a patch against proprietary software in music and programming, in that equation, it could be a common factor that banishes certain myths about nerds and social aliens. 

Cuba has an advanced group of followers of free software and an army of supporters of musical experimentation. Compared to the predefined formulas, the live coding it will be (or not) the common factor where the algorithms serve to explore unusual spaces and the DJs take their matrix to other sonorities. 

Maria Lucia Exposito More posts

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