Live coding as an exploration of our relationship with technology
Above: A piano duet between Andrew Brown (on a physical piano) and Andrew Sorensen (live coding Extempore, generating piano tones)
A fascinating take on live code from artist Holly Herndon: Why is generating music with technology a different relationship for humans than with traditional instruments? Isn’t our relationship with our computing technology (consider people with their smart phones) even more intimate?
“I’m trying to […] get at the crux of the intimacy we have with our technology, because so many people really cast it in this light of the laptop being cold. I really think it’s a fallacy the way people cast technology in this light and then cast acoustic or even analogue instruments in this warm, human light, because I don’t understand what would be more human between a block of wood and something that was also created by humans, for humans. […] People see code as this crazy, otherworldly thing, but it’s just people writing text. It’s a very idiosyncratic, human language.”
Like Holly, the field of educational technology sees no distinction between technology made of silicon and those made of other materials. The educational technology that had the fastest adoption in the United States was the blackboard — that was a technology, and it made a significant impact on education. Adopters talked about how blackboards democratized education, because all students in the class could see the same content at once. Computing is yet another technology that could have a positive impact on education. The traditional musical instruments are technologies built by humans for other humans, and so are the live coding systems. Live coding systems are earlier in the evolution than traditional instruments, but the goals are the same.
My colleague Jason Freeman has an interesting take that merges technology with traditional instruments, in an even more collaborative setting. His live coders generate traditional music notation from which musicians with traditional instruments then play.
Jason’s take is that a human musician will always generate a more expressive performance than will a machine. His take on live coding combines the programmers listening to one another and improvising, and musicians interpreting and expressing the live coders intentions. There we have a rich exploration of our relationship with technology, both computing and analogue.