Could I Hear That on YouCode?

Curator's Note

The basic idea of this video is to display a series of very short C programs and JavaScript expressions that produce music. This is the third video of this sort by Viznut; the first was posted on September 26.

Given a succinct programming language designed for sound, it may be no surprise that people can write short, interesting music-generating programs. An album with 22 tracks by different artist/programmers was created in SuperCollider; each program fits in 140 characters. The code featured in this video is different in that it is written in general-purpose programming languages that do not have frameworks for music built in.

Four important links follow this video on YouTube: more info, a more in-depth analysis, experiment online at Wurstcaptures, and experiment online at Entropedia.

The first two posts explain more about this practice, one that arises in the context of the demoscene, where programmers keep and use knowledge of platforms and (often) assembly-language programming to produce pleasing audiovisuals. There are connections to various sorts of "recreational computing" and to one-line programming in BASIC and APL.

But, consider the presentation of this code on YouTube. For all the earnest, explanatory drive that Viznut exhibits - providing a visualization, offering the code itself and textual comments - there’s something absurd about this media object. An extremely simple computer program is being viewed after being rendered as a video and delivered in a browser using Flash, with time, effort, and computation spent on both ends. Instead of tiny, flexible programs, we have a huge streaming video, difficult to download and very limited. No modification, no freedom to run a program indefinitely.

Of course, there are ways to play around with code, to modify and write new sound-generating programs, even without compiling C, as the third and fourth links show - links that would not be visible when viewing the embedded video by itself.

YouTube is ascendant. We lack YouCode. Even if you can tweet SuperCollider programs, the prevalent, popular systems today are designed to show controlled media fragments and to keep the user from using her computer as a computer in the way that Viznut and other cultural workers are so effectively doing. In Media Res, which allows videos and images but not running computer programs as objects of discussion, could innovate here.

Comments

Eric LeMay's picture

Generating Generators

Nick, thanks for this interesting post.  I confess that on seeing its title earlier this week, I immediately Googled “YouCode,” expecting to find some thriving, code-centric, social network.  I suppose my knee-jerk turn to Google makes your point: the ways we interact digitally are being more and more circumscribed by Google, YouTube, Facebook, and similar systems, and these looming Tigers, Leopards, Snow Leopards, and Lions not only limit what we imagine we can do, but also obscure the nature of the machines on which we’re doing it.  Apple and Microsoft certainly aren’t designing operating systems that encourage the creation of generative music or literature.  (For those readers who might not know, some of Nick’s work does with words what Viznut’s codes do with music.  Check out, for example, “ppg256,” which generates an endless poem from a code that’s 256 characters long.)  I do wonder how the literary possibilities of the demoscene can open up, in a more influential way, the work we’re creating and reading?  Which I suppose is a way of asking a question about all of the pieces from this week: to what extent should coding, audio editing, and video production be skills a 21st century writer should master?  Born Magazine, with its emphasis on collaboration, offers one possible model for bringing a variety of expertise from various artists to one piece, but I like the idea of poets learning prosody and Perl.  Here’s a thought: how about a generative poem that scans, with variables for rhythm and meter?                

Nick Montfort's picture

Computation, Collaboration

Eric, I didn’t Google "YouCode" myself, so I’m relieved to see that the top results aren’t porn sites or something like that.

I do a good deal of computational work and a good deal of collaborative work. I’m glad my practice invovles both, but I don’t think either of these are absolutely required for interesting electronic literature. I certainly teach my students to work with language computationally, and I arrange for them to collaborate, but there are plenty of other interesting capabilities of the computer (and the network) to learn about.

I do think that if there are institutional biases against computation or collaboration, they should be removed. If a literary magazine that you otherwise liked prohibited multi-author contributions, wouldn’t you want to see that ban lifted? As a reader of interesting texts, that is, even if collaboration isn’t your thing? I think the way popular systems and certain other systems foreclose on computation is a problem. When people download my Python programs to run them, they get warning messages about how they might harm the computer. I can discuss a video here, but (unless I cleverly pick a video of a program running) I can’t discuss a program. I see computation frequently being pushed aside or into ghettos. And so, quite apart from the issue of whether everyone needs to learn how to program, I would like to remedy that and let us talk about programs, as we use our computers, as fluidly as we talk about conventional media forms.

John Bresland's picture

Bit Depth

Circa mid-Nineties Daft Punk were the first artists to shake me out of the prohibitively close association I drew between 8-bit sound and video games… and perhaps, too, the Commodore Vic-20 I first typed "goto" commands into. To this day, that sawtooth aural texture puts me right back in the arcade, an association viznut, with his side-scrolling visual sensibility, seems to encourage. What I found most compelling, Nick, was the experience of listening to these sounds, here and at SuperCollider. Thanks for the introduction.

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