The Interpenetrating Boundaries Between Coding and Computation During Livecoding Performance


Session Title:

  • Art, Code and Computation

Presentation Title:

  • The Interpenetrating Boundaries Between Coding and Computation During Livecoding Performance



  • Critical code studies draws heavily on a literary tradition that assimilates computer code to text. Their preferred method of analysis, the close reading of code, finds limits to cope both with the ongoing process of computation and with visual programming frameworks such as Puredata and vvvv. The aforementioned languages follow a paradigm called dataflow, which organizes algorithms as diagrams throughout which information circulates. Mechanical in themselves, these languages are impossible to be properly quoted and notated. Even the idea of writing would be insufficient to describe them, as it does not consider the necessary, reflexive engagement of the system to human operation.

    Since these frameworks are becoming increasingly popular and turning into an important standard for the creation of art pieces, it seems necessary to define a proper method for their analysis. This paper aims to indicate some preliminary references for such method. It departs from the assumption that code is a manifestation of the computing mechanism’s performance (i.e. the concrete operation of carrying something into effect), and in that sense being equivalent to the computer’s mediatic surface effects, such as aural and visual outputs.

    We test this hypothesis by comparing of the activity of computation to the very process of coding as it is enacted by the user’s performance. For that, we chose to analyse the practice of livecoding, which seem to be a particularly well-suited object because its condition of spectacle entails the most intense feedback not only between computer code and its effects, but also between the computer and the user.

    Our particular case is Dave Griffiths’ highly constrained BetaBlocker software environment/ performance. Similar to dataflow languages, BetaBlocker’s mode of input consists of position-sensitive coloured patterns. These visual mechanisms, which are code itself, are also the program’s only visual output, creating confusion between control interface and surface effects. Thus, the nature of coding is revealed as the dynamic interplay between the programmer and the machine.

    Finally, we look for a horizon to both the performances of coding and computation in Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm series, considering issues of agency, awareness and consciousness in computer operation.