In 2011 the duo Alex McLean of Slub and Nick Collins delivered the first “live coding” music festival, that became known by the new coined word “algorave” (from an algorithm and rave). The event was the first of its kind in London, UK, and in a way it was a technological evolution of the Rave subculture, during which people danced to music generated from algorithms. Djs projected their computer screens and used lived coding techniques, so that the audience could dance, while watching the code being manipulated.
What was this exactly, a performing art or an evolution of technological music making?
Alex McLean is the creator of Tidal Cycles, the main program live coders use to make music. Djs report that the focus was on people enjoying dancing and listening to the music, however, it takes a software engineering knowledge to type the code, while the audience isn’t required to understand what is displayed on screen.
Is there something missing here? Are we heading toward a misinterpretation of the language of music itself or, on the contrary, this could be seen as a natural consequence of a more digitalized approach to our daily life, that is slowly shaping the culture of tomorrow?
The English musician, Brian Eno, who is world-wide renewed for his pioneering contribution to music, and self-describes himself as a “non-musician”, in 1970 established a randomized approach to musical practice, which was rather conceptual and involved generating electronic dance music with algorithms. Eno influenced the techno culture of the ‘90s, which evolved and turned into a political protest, when the Government prohibited raves describing them as gatherings where music, (defined as a succession of repetitive beats) is played. The Anti EP, and more precisely the track “flutter”, was, therefore, a protest against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Hence, in the same year, two designers at Microsoft contacted Brian Eno, asking to compose music for the Windows 95 project. Mark Malamud and Erik Gavriluk commissioned Eno the “The Microsoft Sound”, that had to be 3 1⁄4 seconds long, and as they said, in an interview with Joel Selvin in the San Francisco Chronicle: “a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional”.
When comparing the Algorave to a more traditional culture of popular music, many are the elements that seem to be left out from the artistic production. No education of instrument play is required, as well as a previous knowledge of music composition. Still, this conceptual approach to music making embraces contemporary culture.
“Do you think that media-rich technology is the answer for music education, whether in a curricular sense or in self-directed, informal learning? Or do you think that technology is developing so fast that we should be more conservative in our uptake of it – and even then, what technology do you think is worth investing in, if any?
In 2017 an article published on the British journal “The Guardian” titles: ‘We could build something revolutionary’: how tech set underground music free.
A provocative reflection may then consider the cultural role played by Institutes such as the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul, as opposed to Computers Companies. Furthermore, the very same performances of both Afghanistan National Institute of Music and the Algorave Festival may be considered as two forms of social action, using the language of music to pursue freedom.
As Director of A.N.I.M., Ahmad Sarmas, says in his interview with Sydney University Dr. James Humberstone: “without cultural diversity, we shouldn’t say that all right, we’re building a civil society. What kind of civil society are we building if an Afghan child or an Afghan will be deprived of learning Western classical music or playing jazz or not being allowed to learn its own musical culture. Or not being allowed or unable to get engaged in cultural dialogue to any means that can be understandable to the wider community.”
What are the opportunities and perils of artist devoting their work intentionally to a humanitarian cause, for instance, or to addressing political oppression in the context of the wider education?
Hence, Francis Xavier, founder member of the Motorik record label, when interviewed by Dr Humberstone, said he didn’t get influenced by a guitar first, instead he was intrigued by the engineering side of the musical composition, being a reader of UK Magazine Music Technology. Francis was also influenced by “synthetic drums and synthetic machines, and just the creation of noises to make a pop song” underling how there is an EQ component, when learning music, and that the language must resonates with oneself, in order to be engaging and attract the student’s interest. He also pointed out how the role of a Dj is often misinterpreted, leading to the wrong assumption that the person qualifies only in changing songs for the audience.
And then again, as Lecturer of Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Western Sydney University andmusic educator Dr. Wendy Brooks quiet rightly pinpointed in her PhD study, there is a wrong age associated with the initial use of technologies, that is internationally agreed. So, how can we “free” music of whatever genre, if we are constrained by a wise use of media technology? Moreover, how may traditional studies for composition equally coexist with a conceptual improvisation within academic institutes?
In Francis Xavier’s opinion, “to disregard electronic music, to do that would be quite a sin, because it’s so, you could use a technology to be more immediate, and you want people to just grab hold of it straight away, and have interest. And I think that’s where music should head, I mean, I think teachers should be more open to the current use of technology to teach people in music.”
As long as music is performed and conduits the transmission of social values, I guess both “languages” can be presented as 2 faces, that complete each-other by tracing a solid fil-rouge between cultural heritage and innovation. And perhaps the notion that, the act of imagining a different reality is the precursor of positive social change.