Live coding: Music of the algorithms, networked jams and fruity loops

Posted on July 11, 2014


Network Music Festival
Live coding music performance is the new jazz. Electronic beats meet mathematical algorithms and improvised programming in a soundclash of what one performer calls ‘livecode techno gabba skiffle’. It is music but not as we know it.

Livecoders like Alex Maclean believe in making the live coding music movement as accessible as possible. Founder of Toplap, an organisation dedicated to promoting ‘algorave‘, Alex was at the Maker Faire 2014 event at Newcastle’s Centre For Life to publicise the organisation and some of the many spin-off projects created by an obsession with improvised music coding.

Slub is just one algorave collective that Alex has formed with fellow live coders Ade Ward and Dave Griffiths in 2005. It has led to performances at music festivals like Sonar and the Secret Garden Party, but a lot of the software available to make live coded music and visuals is open source and freely available to all.

Open and inclusive
Music live coding is an inclusive movement, says Alex. Popular software can be downloaded and used for free with documentation and examples to get you started. Friendly online communities can help you if you get stuck and the list of freely available programs includes ChucK, fluxus, supercollider, overtone, impromptu and extempore. There are also web-based live coding environments such as gibber and livecodelab. Alex’s and the group page are a great place to start as they contain loads of links and wikis to explain how to get started. has a list of upcoming live performances if you want to see what others in the scene are up to and discover new artists, or go to the collective page. Watch the short doc below to see how deep the algorave rabbit hole goes…



Network Festival
All manner of live coded music performances will be on show at the Network Music Festival in Birmingham, 26-28 July. Organisers promise “a hi-tech musical weekender” with collaborative live performance, sound installations and home-made musical gadgets. Follow on Twitter @netmusicfest for more information and updates.

Fruit Loops
Any mention of home-made musical gadgets has to include the incredible Ototo board. At Maker Faire 2014 Newcastle the London-based collective Dentaku presented Ototo, which can hook up everyday domestic objects such as pots and pans, a bowl of water and a colourful array of fruit and vegetables to make music. Ototo is an electronic synthesizer where you connect different types of sensors (touch, rotation, light and movement) to make sound.

It uses open source software and has an on-board monophonic speaker with an amplitude envelope, a modulation envelope, LFO and a low pass filter. A sampler plays back short samples such as drum sounds from flash memory and players have the ability to change the pitch of each sample. At MF2014 Ototo powered broccoli, carrots, apples and a drainpipe saxophone.

Sound designer Yuri Suzuki drew on his previous experience as a developer at Teenage Engineering (whose OP-1 portable synth is a thing of beauty) to come up with the Ototo concept. Check it out…