Decoding Algoraves: Live Coded Audio coming to Minneapolis

Will Minneapolis be the first US city to advance the algorave genre? One man hopes so…

“Live coders don’t rely on someone else’s pre-packaged software or manufactured device to be creative. They instead take complete responsibility for the music they are making.” – Mike Hodnick

GarageBand software may have helped actual garage bands more easily record and produce their music, but the availability and affordability of sound machines, plug and play software and free streaming distribution sites are diluting the electronic music genre. In songwriting, sometimes accessibility, popular culture and an abundance of time are not our friends.

There’s no doubt electronic music’s influence is spreading beyond the grandfathers of electronica and Girl Talk-mashup DJs — for good and bad. Skrillex may be toxic, but Daft Punk did win the Grammy for Album of the Year. Meanwhile, Wikipedia lists 208 sub-genres of electronic music, and there is probably something there for everyone. As for me, I absolutely love electronic rock and have graduated shifted my music blog’s focus from indie to electro-rock over time. And in the spirit of seeking out what’s new and different, I’m pretty psyched about this find…

Live Coded Audio, performed at Algoraves

One of the newest electronic music sub-genres is called Live Coded Audio, which is sometimes performed at things called Algoraves — where music fans make and dance to music using algorithms. This form of music started with a small group in the UK and is just starting to get some traction in the states — and in all places, here in Minneapolis.

“Live coded audio is live, improvised, electronic music created using programming languages in real time,” says Mike Hodnick, a Minneapolis-based musician and software developer who has been working to bring algorave to the States. “Live coders often project their code onto a large screen for the audience to see, allowing for a very transparent performance. It has strong roots in the UK and other pockets of the world, and is starting to make its way into the US.”

This kind of music can’t be pre-planned

The exact opposite of the “set it and forget it” electronic music drivel that’s filling clubs with mindless partygoers and radio waves with garbage, live coded audio can’t be pre-planned, must be hand-programmed on the fly, and it isn’t the most accessible music to get into. And that’s a good thing.

“While a live coding sound might borrow from other electronic genres, it is really unique in the way it is performed,” says Hodnick, who is maintaining a 365 song-a-day Tumblr where he posts a new live coded audio work each day.

“Rather than using software, pushing buttons, or dragging and dropping with a mouse, live coders use a language to express their thoughts and give computer instructions to produce sound. Live coders don’t rely on someone else’s pre-packaged software or manufactured device to be creative. They instead take complete responsibility for the music they are making. Live coding languages can be algorithmic in nature, which can result in a very algorithmic sound. Live coders have the power to change those algorithms and change the rules of their performance.”

Different strokes for different folks

Live coders use software, such as Gibber and Tidal, to write these algorithms in real-time while an audience looks on. Someone hearing live coding for the first time might be hearing a techno beat, a pleasant melody, algorithmic polyrhythms or experimental noise.

According to Hodnick, some people’s eyes light up with excitement while others grimace. Developers have an immediate appreciation for the technical inner-workings of live coding (and writing code live on screen), while non-technical folks find it interesting because they’ve never heard of this type of performance before and can “see” the music being written in real-time.

And while live coding results aren’t always pitch-perfect or the most listener-accessible, but the rules forbidding pre-writing of code (nor copy and paste), ensure everything is genuine, raw and written in real-time.

Will Minneapolis be the city that puts live coded audio on the map?

Albeit targeting a geeky niche of electronic music culture, we haven’t seen our first Algorave in the states — yet.

“Live coding is in its infancy in the states right now,” says Hodnick. “If there are other electronic music live coders performing in the US, I have yet to hear about them. There are some programmers who have used live coding tools with other traditional instruments or bands, but not in a pure live coding sense.”

Hodnick thinks this community is primed to help the genre break out big in the States. The Twin Cities is an arts and music hub. Home to the Guthrie Theater, the Walker Art Center, Art-A-Whirl and second only to New York City in live theater seats per capita, Twin Citizens appreciate and seek out new music, art and experiences.

When you partner the consistent electro-rock and electro-punk scene in the cities with the strong interactive and software development scene, you have a recipe (algorithm?) for innovation.

“Live coding is gaining a little momentum here Minneapolis,” says Hodnick. “My goal is to keep up with regular, local performances and to eventually help organize the first Algorave in Minneapolis… whenever that will be. I think it would be really cool for live coding styles to evolve in different parts of the US (and the world, for that matter). Imagine a Minneapols sound, a Chicago sound, a San Francisco sound, etcetera.”

The sound for a new generation

As the public school system adds more computer programming courses in K-12 and the world’s biggest industries continue transitioning traditional labor positions to white collar software jobs, Hodnick thinks this type of songwriting is primed for success.

“It’s only a matter of time before live coding takes off in the US,” he says. “We are educating the next generation to be much more computer- and technology-literate and there is an increased emphasis on software development in schools these days. The next generation will be an appreciative live coding audience (as well as capable live coders).”

Mike Hodnick co-organizes the Twin Cities Computer Music Interest Group and will be performing live coded audio at the JavaScriptMN Meetup at Dev Jam this Thursday, May 29 at 6:30 p.m.