Posted 10:57:00 AM

Calling all Laptop Ensemble participants for S1 2019

Attention 2019 LENS hopefuls: something’s come up, and the LENS is no longer running as a for-credit course in S1 2019 😭. We will still have a Laptop Ensemble in some form, but not for credit this semester at least. If you’re still interested in being kept in the loop, see instructions below.

The laptop1 is a legit musical/visual instrument, and LENS: the ANU Laptop Ensemble (est. 2018) exists to explore different ways to use this instrument in a group performance. You may have seen LENS perform last year—here’s one example, but you should check out the LENS homepage for videos & other links to their gigs in 2018.

What does it take to be involved? Here’s a conditional (i.e. an if-then) expression:

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

    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

  • 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 S1–S2 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, if you’ve always liked technology, creativity and live performance but never found the right outlet for those passions, then see the instructions below for registering your interest.


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

As noted in the info box above, the LENS is not running as a for-credit course in S1 2019.

However, there is still going to be creative LENS-y stuff going on, and there will be opportunities to be part of it—but the details haven’t been figured out yet.

So, if you’re interested, send us an email and we’ll add you to a mailing list where we can keep you informed of any LENS stuff that happens in the future.

But I got all excited—what should I do now?

You don’t need our permission to make cool arty-codey things 😉. If you’re looking for ideas, then you could experiment with the livecoding languages listed on this page. Perhaps you have a few friends who are interested in similar things—why not get together and start your own mini-LENS?

Then, when information comes through about the official LENS activities you’ll be ready to go.

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.

However, like any TechLauncher course, you need to want to participate in the project to get the most out of it. You’ll have support, but you will be required to figure stuff out for yourself at times as well.

Here’s one way to think about it: do you wanna make creative work (music or visuals) with computers? Are you motivated to learn to use new software (or even make your own if you need to), to practice and to record the results, to organise gigs? Are you happy to deal with the challenge of figuring out for yourself what you need to create, rather than having it specified for you in on the assignment page? If so, then get involved—I think you’ll really enjoy it.

What year level is the TechLauncher course available to?

In general, it’s for third-year students and later (including coursework masters students). There some more info on the TechLauncher site.

As with all things enrolment, if you’re unsure you need to talk to your program convenor.

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 ruby-based livecoding platform built for getting started—it’s got a thriving community and a (comparatively) low barrier to entry

  • ORCA is a bit different (watch the videos to see what I mean) but is super cool, and a legit option for LENS

  • 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)

  • gibberwocky is browser-based, and a good option if you love javascript and want to leverage your skills

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

  • FoxDot is Python-powered if that’s your jam (also uses SuperCollider under the hood)

  • 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

I want to be part of the laptop ensemble, 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.

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.

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

Updated:  11 Sep 2019/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School/ Page Contact:  Ben Swift /Licence:  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0