AlgoBabez. Photo by Antonio Roberts

Algoraves Put Live Performance Into Programming

Live coding events create new type of social gatherings

Let’s start with a basic question… What is Algorave?

“Algorave is a stupid term. It’s a funny term. It’s a silly term. Algorithm is a term that just is intimidating by its nature. People think algorithms are complicated things, but sometimes they are simple things, like basic mathematics. Algorave makes algorithm as a term a bit more silly, maybe ironic,” explains Joanne Armitage. Armitage is a coder, musician, and lecturer in digital technology at the University of Leeds — and half of the duo, Algobabez, along with fellow SXSW panelist Shelly Knotts.

Algorave is an aural-visual experience built upon the practice of live coding, which is writing and editing code live in front of an audience. Alex McLean, a live coding pioneer, and his friend Nick Collins christened Algorave in 2012.

Armitage explains further: “It’s a variation on this — you show up at a club, art gallery, or someone’s living room. There are usually two people hovering over laptops — a musician and a visual artist. A projector or two throw light on a wall. The performers begin coding, and their code is projected so everyone can see it in real time. A beat starts. An image emerges. People start cheering and swaying to the music as it’s coded piece by sonic piece.”

Algorave. Photo by Antonio Roberts

Algorave. Photo by Antonio Roberts


Armitage recalls her first attempt at participating after Maclean invited her into Algorave’s epicenter in 2014. “I just gave it a bash, and it was really terrible,” she laughs. “But I sort of pursued it and kept going. I’m quite interested in seeing code as something that is glitchy … something made by humans, something that can break.”

Visual artist Antonio Roberts was also pulled into the U.K. Algorave community in 2014. “If you’ve ever tried to type when someone is watching you … it’s like, ‘how do I spell my own name?’ Imagine one hundred or two hundred people watching you,” he explains. “I think it’s fortunate that people can see our screens … For me, at least, it helps connect us [the performers] to them [the audience]. They’re seeing this very human way of working, they’re seeing us make mistakes and then correct them.”

“We’re just opening it all up to people to see more of what’s happening, to take part, and to help build the community.”

When asked to expand on Algorave’s improvisational component, Roberts offers, “Of course, most people have their own style of music and their own style of visuals … but we’re just improvising within what we know, and we’re starting it from scratch.”

“Live coding can create a space to fail in, technologically, and that is something that should be celebrated,” Armitage said at a recent conference on digital technology.

Algorave. Photo by Antonio Roberts

Algorave. Photo by Antonio Roberts


Algorave communities have cropped up all over the globe. New York City and Tokyo have strong groups that are branching out to other cities in their respective countries. Different locations in Europe, Mexico and South America are dotted with Algorave communities as well.

When asked about this expansion, Roberts doesn’t hesitate: “I’d say the key word here is ‘open.’ We’re just opening it all up to people to see more of what’s happening, to take part, and to help build the community.”

Armitage has made her own inquiry on the subject: “I did this empirical study on the live coding scene in Europe and the women working in it. The one thing that was made super clear by everyone is that it’s the social element of live coding that keeps people involved.”

Roberts, whose research interests include copyright and open source technology, has seen Algorave become an entrance for many to build their own tools for their Live Coding performances. “I went to a conference in Madrid two weeks ago, The International Conference on Live Coding …” he relates. “I was in one workshop on how to make visuals, and there were about 15 people and 12 of them had made their own tools … We’ll have new interfaces for performances. They’re making new instruments, essentially … and it will leak out into other music genres.”

Algorave. Photo by Antonio Roberts

Algorave. Photo by Antonio Roberts


Armitage is struck by Algorave’s impact on approaches to live performance: “Diversity pushes Algorave to be a space of experimentation and to forge collaborations with people in different mediums … And trying to use Algorave and its openness and its reconfigurability to form new ways of working with each other.”

For Armitage, live coding provides a chance to see code as a living entity rather than something we just ignore: “We’re constantly interacting with code in our everyday lives, but it’s always behind the interface. It’s all around us, and it’s becoming more a part of how we understand ourselves, yet so often we don’t see code.”

Roberts sums up Algorave’s potential: “We’re not the future of anything. We’re current practices … informing things and being informed by things. We’re creating these new instruments, which will give new approaches to making music, and making visuals, and making live performances.”

The “Dancing to Algorithms: How to Algorave” workshop is part of the Coding & Development Track. Lush Presents Algorave: Live Coding Party is at the Main II on Tuesday, March 12 and is open to all badges, as well as Music Festival wristbands.

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