Alan F. Blackwell, Emma Cocker, Geoff Cox, Alex McLean, and Thor Magnusson – Live Coding, A User’s Manual


The MIT Press, ISBN 978-0262544818, English, 336 pages, 2022, USA

During the historic ReadMe Software Art Festival in Aarhus in 2004, there was a final performance night in a small club (Musikcafeen ) where it was possible to witness one of the very first “live coding” events with Slub (a.k.a. Adrian Ward and Alex McLean). The act of live-editing lines of code projected onto the screen was mesmerising, in an evolving dialogue between the artist-programmers, the machine, the sounds produced and the audience. Almost twenty years later, the idea of a live code-based intervention has become a format popularly known as ‘Algorave’, making the machine more transparent – almost naked. This book is an anomalous manual consisting of two parts. The first part is more historical, with nodal events and a chapter on various approaches over the years from a community of practitioners, including poetry and choreography. The interventions explored go beyond the best known Max/MSP, PureData, CSound and SuperCollider software. Three subsequent chapters address crucial notation and all its semantic implications; liveness and its consequences for performativity; and time, analysing the real-time temporality of humans and machines. The conditions, agency and knowledge that make live coding possible are explored in the final two chapters, making live coding a research system all its own.