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Game Changers in Tech: Creativity

In just a few short years, the advent of digital technology has heralded a complete transformation of our culture. A shift in consumer entertainment systems, from DVD players to smartphones and latterly, streaming services, VR, and augmented reality has led to a whole host of new creative mediums for companies, artists, and designers to create cutting-edge creative works of art.

A new generation of creators have taken these technologies and ran with them, producing a whole gamut of experiences and installations never before thought possible. In some cases, creative tech innovations have come not from Silicon Valley, but from the open source community.

Live coded concerts, or ‘algoraves’, see people compose live electronic music through nothing more than writing lines of code (often Python) on-stage and in real-time. Using open-source software accessible to anybody, these DJs are able to create awe-inspiring and occasionally messy pieces of extended experimental music that can delve into a range of musical genres, from hardcore rave to grime and ambient.

Take Sonic Pi, a free code-based music and performance tool. Taking inspiration from less user-friendly live coding interfaces, it’s designed to enable anybody to pick up and play. This cover of Daft Punk was live-coded using solely the Sonic Pi interface, and there are many other examples of entirely new sounds and genres being developed by this movement’s legion of programmers.

Live coding is constantly seeing new technologies introduced, thereby transforming the possibilities of this new musical movement. The MIMIC Project combines machine learning and machine listening tools with an online coding environment. Funded by the universities of Goldsmiths, Sussex, Durham and UAL, it not only teaches people how to live code music using machine learning techniques, but also integrate external machine learning systems into the platform for collaborative exploration.

The fact anybody is able to pick up live coding and become a musician is testament to the incredible democratising powers of new creative technologies, and prior to the coronavirus pandemic, so-called ‘algoraves’ were becoming increasingly popular in cities across the world. A programmer would create a single, experimental piece of music using code while another coder sits by coding a live visual accompaniment (a whole other kettle of fish).

Of course, in an era when concerts are off the cards, performers and artists of all kinds have had to adapt to the ‘new normal’. Streaming has exploded in popularity. In March 2020 alone, during the height of the lockdown, Amazon’s online streaming service Twitch set an all-time record of 22.7 million daily active users. While Twitch used to be the remit of eSports, it’s increasingly being adopted by DJs, musicians, and performance artists as a way of reaching entirely new audiences. A great example is SUAT, a London-based DJ who, throughout lockdown, has performed regular livestreamed sets while walking around London and giving viewers facts about the city typical of a tour guide.

While the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenging time for all, it is having particular ramifications on the arts and culture sector in Britain. It’s still unclear whether many of the galleries, museums, venues, and concert halls we love will survive the pandemic – but what is clear is that, thanks to accessible technology, we are going through a boom in DIY, homemade art and culture which will change the way we see the world for years to come.

June 2020


June 2021