Posted 12:22:50 AM

Laptop Ensemble callout

Note: this blog post is about the 2018 incarnation of the LENS course. For info the S1 2020 version, see the main LENS page.

The laptop1 is a legit musical/visual instrument, and the c/c/c laptop ensemble (est. 2018) exists to explore different ways to use this instrument in a group performance.

In Semester 2 2018 there’s a new chance to be part of one (or more) laptop ensembles to practice, collaborate and perform live (i.e. to do gigs). Ben is putting together a Laptop Ensemble (or, alternately an Algorave group) as a TechLauncher project. Don’t wait till the start of semester 2; the groups might be full up by then and you’ll miss out!

  • if you’re a current ANU undergrad or coursework-postgrad student (any ANU student, not just in computer science)

    1. music: hi-tech DJing (especially livecoding, live patching e.g. Max/MSP, PD, live loop manipulation e.g. Ableton), and other instrumentalists who want to perform live with the laptop ensemble are invited too

    2. visuals: VJing, especially with live code; projection mapping, 2D/3D graphics e.g. shaders, Unity, etc., and other drawers/dancers/painters/glassblowers who want to perform live with the laptop ensemble are invited too

    3. organising, managing and promoting these sorts of gigs and bands so that people actually show up and have an awesome time (because even laptop ensembles need agents

  • and you want to get together with like (and unlike!)-minded folks and play some gigs for university credit, and you have 6–12 credit points (1–2 courses) of room in your ANU degree in S2 2018 and S1 2019

  • then you need to get in touch with me (ben.swift@anu.edu.au), perhaps with a link to some of your creative work, and we can try and make this happen.

Even if you’re not sure if you’re the right person (e.g. you’re not sure how to fit it into your degree program) if you’ve always liked technology, creativity and live performance but never found the right outlet for those passions, then get in touch, there might be ways to make it happen.


Do I have to be a livecoder to take part?

No! As you can see above, it’s gonna take a diverse team to do this well. Still, if you’re in any way interested in code/technology & music and want to use this opportunity to join and build your livecoding skills in a supportive creative community, then there’s never been a better time to do it.

I wanna be a part of this—what’s the next step?

Just send Ben an email as described above.

Which livecoding language should I choose?

If you’re never done any livecoding but you’re keen to give it a try, then the TOPLAP (an global community of livecoders) has put together a list of tools which you could try out.

Here are a couple of my suggestions:

  • Sonic Pi is a friendly livecoding platform built for getting started - it’s got a thriving community and a (comparatively) low barrier to entry

  • Extempore is the livecoding language created by Andrew Sorensen which Ben also works on, and it’s the one that he uses in all his performances - it’s got a steeper learning curve than some of the others, but it’s extremely flexible and powerful (and there are lots of fun things you can do if you’re interested in doing some compiler hacking)

  • Overtone is a clojure & SuperCollider-based livecoding platform, useful for both music and visuals

  • TidalCycles is a haskell-based pattern language (it also uses SuperCollider under the hood) for composing musical patterns - if you love functional languages and enjoyed COMP1100 (or even if you didn’t!) then this might be a nice one to try out

  • afterglow is pretty cool if you’re not necessarily musical but you’re into lighting and perhaps dabbling in some hardware hacking—it’s a toolkit for controlling the club/stage lights with live code

I want to be part of the laptop ensemble in S2 2018, how can I practice?

Just pick one (or more) of the above livecoding languages and start messing around. Most of them have decent tutorials and friendly communities, so there should be plenty of support for getting started. If you’re really stuck, you can get in touch with Ben and he can probably give you some more suggestions based on your skills & interests.

Will there be jam sessions?

You betcha. Part of being in the ensemble will be participating in a weekly practice jam session (time/location TBC). So if you sign up for this, you’ll get lots of chances to jam with others and improve your performing.

I’ve got friends who are keen as well, what should I do?

Tell them about it! Post it on Schmidtposting, hire a skywriting plane, I don’t care—it’s an open call. Be creative :)

If I register my interest for the laptop ensemble am I guaranteed a place?

Assembling TechLauncher teams is a tricky business—it’s not just a matter of having any particular individual, we also have to make sure that the teams have the right balance. So it’s not possible for me to guarantee anyone a place just yet—things will only be officially locked in once you’re enrolled in the TechLauncher course.

However, if you get in touch with Ben ahead of time then he can give you an indication of whether you’ve got the right mix of skills and interests, and where you might fit in to the team. Still no guarantees at this stage, but he’ll try and give you a realistic picture of where you might (or might not) fit in.

This isn’t meant to be scary—we’re not expecting everyone to be geniuses or accomplished performers with years of experience, the point of TechLauncher is to learn things. Still, the team formation stage is about putting together a group with the right mix of skills and interests, and so we can’t make promises to anyone in particular until we know who else is interested.

I don’t have room in my program for the TechLauncher thing, can I be part of the ensemble anyway?

There are a few folks in this boat, and there will be ways to still participate. One option is that we have several ensembles, some of whom are doing the whole TechLauncher thing (getting assessed, etc.) while others are just doing it for fun. There are still some details to figure out, so make sure you’ve emailed Ben to register your interest.

  1. by “laptop” we really mean any programmable device where changing the program or configuration of the device is part of the performance 

Updated:  06 Jan 2020/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School/ Page Contact:  Ben Swift /Licence:  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0