Joanne Armitage and SIREN talk us through a new night championing safe spaces.
This Saturday sees the first collaboration of SIREN and Intervention, two initiatives that focus on making dance floors and dance music more welcoming spaces for marginalised people; a joint fascination with tech and sci-fi futurism led to RECURSION, a day and night event of workshops, film screenings and music.
The inspiration for the event’s title comes from the process in computer programming where “the solution to a problem depends on solutions to smaller instances of the same problem.” Fittingly, tomorrow’s event focuses on fusing together the collective’s interests in bringing women and non-binary people more inclusive parties and technical music education. As well as a nighttime line-up boasting DJ sets from Lil Mofo (NTS Radio), Ifeoluwa (Intervention) and SIREN DJs, there will also be a live set from Joanne Armitage (also of ALGOBABEZ fame) – who creates music via live coding, and a performance from Witchy Cyber Femme Goddess Maria Bruxxxa.
On the theme of technological creativity and resistance, Joanne will also run a live coding workshop in the day: both as an opportunity for women and non-binary people to learn these skills, and to breakdown the voyeur/artist dichotomy of the performance. Screenings of Indigo Zoom, a dystopian short by London based artist Ayesha Tan Jones and sci-fi erotica Neurosex Pornoia will likewise take place, while the evening event kicks off with open decks, in which all women and non-binary people who don’t usually have the chance to play will be encouraged to have a go.
Below SIREN and Joanne talk live coding, the Algorave scene in Leeds, and how to get started yourself.
SIREN: Can you explain the basics of what live coding is to someone who has never heard of it?
Joanne: Live coding is a performance practice where code is typed live to generate, control and explore some sort of creative output: people live code music, but also visuals (see Dan Hett, Antonio Roberts, Coral Manton and Chez Sargent) and choreography (see Kate Sicchio). My knowledge is in music and there are a number of different languages that people use to make sound using code including SuperCollider (Shelly and I use this), Tidal, Ixi Lang, Foxdot and Gibber. When I am live coding I start with a simple pattern then grow and layer it to cause changes in sounds. I do this by editing values that effect pitch and frequency, but also by editing parameters of the synthesisers that I use i.e. filters, envelopes, oscillators etc.. Other people live code by manipulating samples, both and any other approaches are valid!
How did you get into making music this way?
I had a bad experience trying to get work and ended up in a really difficult job after I finished school—I grew up very rurally. So yeah, I went to uni and literally never left so my journey is quite academic. I studied electronic engineering and music because I was into the idea of exploring the relationships between science/technology and sound. I found my degree really frustrating as it didn’t really do it effectively, it treated the two things really discretely, so I began to look at other communities of electronics/creativity. I pretty much got swept into postgraduate study, which I have almost finished. It was supposed to be in composition, but I couldn’t find my place within that world.
Whilst at the recently defunct Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Research in Music, I
worked across the hall from Alex McLean and went to a few early Algorave gigs he
was organising. He suggested I should play and I just started coding my crusty old
Juno 106 (now retired). I played my first gig in July 2014 and was shit then practiced
loads. I spent hours in my room, scraped together a wider range of instruments and
sounds. I used to map out my performances on notes and then improvise the
structures pinned up next to me; things were quiet for ages then picked up in late
2015. I didn’t really do anything other than practice and have some
friends put me on, but stuff kind of grew. I started playing with Shelly Knotts mid-2016
and that was a hoot.
Can you tell us about the Algorave movement, the live coding scene in Leeds and how you came to be involved?
The term “Algorave” first came into usage around 2012 (via Nick Collins and Alex McLean)—it started as a joke—but now there have been over 100 parties across the world in places including Mexico (which has a very vibrant scene), Japan, USA and across Europe. Yorkshire and the North have an excellent Algorave community, much of which has grown from there being a pretty strong Northern contingent that connects Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. There’s a lot of interest in Leeds at the moment and myself and other Leeds artists and experimental electronic musically inclined people are trying to work out how to channel it into parties over the summer.
Who are your favourite artists in the scene?
OooooOooOoooo I can’t pick favourites—we are too small of a small scene. I would
suggest that people definitely check out: Belisha Beacon, coï¿¥ï¾¡pt, Calum Gunn and Heavy Lifting. Also QIRKY has been playing some cracking sets recently. A comprehensive list of artists is here.
What else influences you?
I am influenced by the moment and environment of the performance—what is the space, how are people in it and how it feels collectively. That’s what drives me to play and structures how I approach a performance. If people just want to dance, you just gotta give it a moment then hit them with the kick. Other people you need to warm up a bit.
Your music, I suppose by the nature of how it is made, is what some would call experimental, yet when I saw you play live (as Algobabez with Shelly Knotts) I was surprised by how danceable it was; the whole room came alive in a way I rarely see at evening gigs of live electronic music. Does dance music influence you, or is the danceability of what you make a bi-product of the live coding process?
ALGOBABEZ are actively making dance music—we enjoy taking our experimental sounds to the club and aligning them to a danceable grid. Algorave is intended to be a dance party and our collaboration grew from that. We are both influenced by texture, when I play I enjoy seeing how I can add complexity to and resolve texture. Generally when we play together, I take low-end and percussion and Shelly fills and colours the sound with her SuperCollider synthesis excellence.
How do you find live performance differs from your recorded work?
I hate recording (as you can see from my lack of releases) I find it arduous, frustrating and painful. It’s so fixed and I don’t work like that. The ALGOBABEZ tape I made with Shelly for Fractal Meat is two contrasting live recordings one in my bedroom studio and one at the Liverpool Philharmonic. I’m enjoying live less at the moment, I’ve got some issues with my tech setup which is just making everything less slick (and interesting ha). Also, my ALGOBABE collaborator Shelly is moving to Australia at the end of the month which changes things quite a lot (even though I have started practicing with someone else..)
And any tips for those starting out?
Getting started particularly in languages like Ixi Lang, is really easy. You can be Algoraving in an hour. When you try other things it can be a little harder. It’s easy to say embrace error, but when you’re learning that’s really hard. If you are stuck, there are loads of bored Algoravers lurking round the Internet in the day time who can give you help.
Any long term dreams – for yourself or the scene?
In terms of my hopes for the scene, I dream that it remains an open community of practice and doesn’t get infiltrated by tech bros and/or corporate folks with different agendas. I hope to see new Algorave artists coming through and existing ones keep challenging their practice to keep the scene fresh and the sound interesting. But at the same time, I don’t hold on to it too tightly: it could be nice for it to be liminal, I’m interested in what’s next. I don’t know how you balance Algorave being a true form with the point at which it gets distorted with people making studio work and just running code. Or even if you need to do that. But to me, Algorave performances must alway remain imperfect. I want to see people crash. I hope Algorave continues being an enabler of people; an opportunity to give coding a go, to explore music in a new way or to play your first live gig. I can align myself with it so long as it keeps (sensitively) probing unexpected places and working to promote diversity.
In terms of my own performance work, my dream when I first started was to play Golden Cabinet (night in Shipley), but that happened quite early on so anything else is a bonus. I hope to keep meeting interesting people that are exploring sound in different ways and collaborating with them. When you’re playing out a lot you get exposed to work by loads of different artists and meet some really fun people. It’s probably the best bit. I’ve managed to replace all my mates that moved from Leeds to London through this haha.
Recursion takes place on Saturday 27th May from 4pm.
Please note that the day time event is open to women and non-binary people only. Everyone is welcome to the party, but we ask that you respect that it is a queer safe space, where women, non-binary people and PoC take priority.