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Postgraduate Seminar: Shelly Knotts

Live Coding and Failure

Tuesday 8 March 2016, 1pm; Lecture Room

Live Coding is an improvisation practice which evolved around 2002 partly as a critique of the lack of performativity in laptop music performance practice. Narratives around live coding often focus on virtuosity, but here we will offer an alternative narrative of Live Coding by exploring aspects of failure. From the live debugging of a piece of running code to the acceptance of artists and audiences alike that live coding is an error-prone practice, failure is ever present in live coded performances. We can look at live coding under the lens of wider cultural theories of failure with roots in capitalist production. Programming as a productive activity, driving modern economies, is reformed in live coding as a transitory act with no product, aim, or end point.

The paper examines the structural role of error in performances, the cultural acceptance of error as part of performances, and the role of live coders in the unfolding failure. The paper questions narratives of live coding as a virtuosic endeavour and to instead locate live coding, with its indefinite boundaries and fuzzy definitions, as a community art form with roots in free improvisation and social dissent. Failure offers social and creative freedom, so focussing on narratives of failure allows live coding to remain an inclusive, open-ended, and evolving practice.