(Algo|Afro) Futures programme - interview

( Algo | Afro ) Futures is an innovative mentoring programme for Black artists to explore the creative potential of live coding. Led by Antonio Roberts and hosted by VIVID Projects in Birmingham, it’s supported by Alex McLean and Gary Stewart. We interviewed Antonio, and VIVID Director Yasmeen Baig-Clifford. Photos by Jodi Cunningham.

melissandre varin - Photo Jodi Cunningham

(Algo|Afro) Futures and defining live coding

The exciting ( Algo | Afro ) Futures project is aimed at early career Black artists. It’s supported by Alex McLean who played a key role in creating live coding music, and created the Tidal Cycles live-coding environment used on the programme, and also by Gary Stewart of experimental sound and visual artists Dubmorphology.

For anyone new to live coding, used in Algorave, the team has done a short summary.

“Live coding is a performative practice where artists and musicians use code to create live music and live visuals. This is often done at electronic dance music events called Algoraves, but live coding is a technique rather than a genre, and has also been applied to noise music, choreography, live cinema, and many other time-based artforms.”

We asked Antonio Roberts (AR) and Yasmeen Baig-Clifford (YBC) about the programme.

What’s your vision for ( Algo | Afro ) Futures

(Algo|Afro) Futures started in part in response to the killing of George Floyd, and wanting to address the lack of ethnic diversity within the UK Algorave community. We want to provide early career artists with the time and resources to explore live coding and algorithmic music/art, and take it in whatever directions they want to (or not!). In the process we can learn about what barriers they face and what opportunities might be created.

The first edition of the programme focused exclusively on live coding. The second edition also had a strong emphasis on live coding, but we also had a session led by Gary Stewart, where participants could try out hardware such as MPC sequencers, modular synthesisers and other hardware. We recognise that a lot of the hardware-based audio and visuals technology has a high barrier to entry and so, for future editions of the programme, we want to ensure participants have the opportunity to experiment with it.

Antonio Roberts - Photo Jodi Cunningham

What kind of artists were part of it this year

Every year has had a wide mixture of artists and practices. In general everyone is in some way creative and have practices ranging from musician, poet, performing artist, digital artist and more.

In terms of technical abilities, it’s fair to say that all the participants had experience in using computers creatively but only a few had dome any creative coding. To accommodate for this range of knowledge we made sure there was a lot of support on offer. In addition to the in-person workshops we had out-of-hours online support on discord from both myself (Antonio) and Alex McLean.

Did they come with particular ambitions and ideas for working with live coding and digital tools, or develop those as they went along

To a degree, yes. We asked all applicants to explain what their interest in live coding was, but of course as the programme progresses we expected their ideas to change.
The participants were aware from the application stage that the project would culminate in a live showcase event - this may have informed the way they approached the project.

Antonio Roberts and Meesha Fones - Photo Jodi Cunningham

What were the key tools you all used

TidalCycles and Hydra.

Participants could use them on their own or could combine them with other software such as OBS or Ableton.

How did the artists find the learning process

AR: We’re still in the evaluation process and so wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of the participants, but in the workshops they were really quite engaged and had lots of questions.

I think that the fact that the participants were able to produce a public performance in such a relatively short space of time speaks to the effectiveness of the programme.

YBC: Observing the workshops, there was a really warm, generous atmosphere.

melissandre varin - Photo Jodi Cunningham

Can you share some tips for live coding

AR: Both TidalCycles and Hydra have plenty of examples to learn from. I think the best advice would be to get the code from those examples, change them, and see what happens!

We also have the Eulerroom Youtube channel where you can see plenty of live and live streamed performances. If there’s any sounds or visuals that you particularly like just copy the code and modify it! This actually speaks to one of the bonus benefits of live coding.

Tell us about the results of the programme, and the final showcase

YBC: Artists from both the small pilot project in 2021, and this year, have already gone on to use their new skills.

AR: The showcase events from both years of the programme can be seen on the website:
Following the conclusion of the programme several of the participants have gone on to use their newly acquired skills for new opportunities:

Samiir Saunders, Rosa Francesca, and Tyger have all gone on to have their work shown at No Bounds Festival and Corridor of Light

Emily Mulenga created an audio/visual piece for a commission from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

2201 Showcase

2022 Showcase

Do you think the programme has expanded the kinds or genres of music and visuals people make using live coding

AR: We’re only in the second edition of the programme so it’s hard to tell!

YBC: Rather than expanding the genre we’ve looked to increasing knowledge and creating visibility. The AAF programme validates existing processes and creative practices that aren’t necessarily on the radar or fully understood and acknowledged within the visual arts sector. For instance, this year we introduced participants to the pioneering practice of Gary Stewart, a really important Black artist and collaborator who brought not just his skills but a really inspiring overview of a history of digital practice with Black artists - people like Donald Rodney and Trevor Mathieson.

The reason Vivid Projects is supporting AAF is because we know how crucial a programme like this can be to early career artists - particularly those from backgrounds that aren’t well represented in the visual and media arts. So, in developing the project, Antonio and Alex we directly addressing and acknowledged gap and we are working with them to help build visibility and validation for these practices.

Alex McLean and Japhet Dinganga - Photo Jodi Cunningham

Are you planning on bringing the programme to other areas

AR: Geographically, the programme was focused on Birmingham and West Midlands in the first edition due to it being a pilot project, and in the second edition due to funding requirements from Birmingham 2022 Cultural Festival.

In future editions we hope to welcome participants from the rest of the UK. People have a curiosity to develop ideas outside of the laptop.

YBC: We want to make these opportunities available to the widest group of people. We’ve applied to Arts Council England to support a future programme.

Tyger Blue - Photo Jodi Cunningham

How can people find out more about live coding and where to learn it

AR: In the first instance check out the Algorave website to see if there’s any local events taking place near you.

There’s many live coding languages out there but a good starting place might be to check out TidalCycles or Hydra and then expand from there.

There’s also a feature on The Coding Train where I give an overview of live coding, and a great video The Guardian did in 2017.

What are you working on next

AR : I’m working on completing my residency with Vivid Projects where I am building on the Heavyweight Champ artwork that I made for the Cut & Mix exhibition last year at New Art Exchange

I’m also working on releasing an EP in 2023.

Antonio Roberts - Photo Jodi Cunningham

Photo Jodi Cunningham