Behind The Screens: Char Stiles
An interview with artist, educator, and programmer Char Stiles.
Char Stiles is an artist, educator, and programmer. In this interview, we’d like to talk about her practices and tools, as well as work in the community and her upcoming activities.
What is live coding, what does it mean to you and how has it influenced your practice of making and thinking about art?
Livecoding is a direct response to the laptop DJ! It says we can perform electronic music & viz live, serendipitously, we can improvise and feed off the energy of the room. Livecoding feeds the part of me that needs chaos and it’s taught me so much about DIY AV setups.
Could you tell us what your first encounter with live coding was and what are your sources of inspiration?
I was trying to remember the first livecode artist I saw, it might have been hellocatfood! Antonio Roberts was a huge inspiration to me especially since he does visuals and music at the same time, I’ve been dabbling in music, starting with writing lyrics and signing. In the performance here, my vocals are live sampled by Dan Gorelick and he livecodes with that.
Do you have any preferred platforms and/or languages, how did you come to use them and do you have a specific reason for it?
I like using GLSL. It’s closer to the metal of the machine and lets you do some pretty wacky stuff with buffers ‘n’ all. I came to using GLSL because I had this idea that livecoding assembly would be really funny so I set off the learn shaders so that I could eventually move to livecoding SPIR-V or something but I have been kinda stuck in shaderland for years. There are just too many fun things to learn in this detour!
Are there any platforms, tools, libraries or other extensions you have developed yourself and if so can you elaborate on why and for what purpose?
So I began teaching GLSL shaders during the pandemic, and it was fun and all but the most frustrating part was that the screen share frame rate for Zoom was abysmal. I would just be like, ‘Folks trust me this shader looks super sick and has all these nice movements’. Especially when it came time for students to showcase their shaders it was heartbreaking that Zoom was destroying their art so much in transit to our computers. I decided that the ultimate compression for a shader that not only reduced the information exponentially but was a pretty perfect reconstruction too was to just send the code to each other and have it rendered locally! So I made shader.place which is a website for shared shader writing.
Are you part of a (local) community? How do you organize and do you share works or collaborate often?
Yes! I am active in the local community! I even put on a show last weekend that was a Chaotic Interface Design Lab X Livecode.nyc hackathon for making visuals for an algorave. We had people make visuals in Miro, in Unity and in Zoom. I organize on Discord, mostly. I am always collaborating to light the fire under my ass.
In what forms are algorithms and randomness applied in your practice or performance? Do you try to pursue serendipity and how or why not?
My favorite algorithm I use is ray marching! Ray marching is a very contained and mathematical way to describe a 3D scene in one fragment shader. One of the reasons I love it is that it is physically based, i.e. you follow a ray the same way photons bounce around in the real world. I absolutely pursue serendipity! That’s a major strength of livecoding. I do it by practicing with a musician and really getting to know each other’s style and iterate on one thing together for a bit, so that you can really meld brains and create intune moments of serendipitous magic!
Do you have any recommendations for people who have not gotten into live/creative coding but are curious to give it a try?
I can speak to shader coding! First I can recommend The Book of Shaders! It’s an online interactive walkthrough of shaders https://thebookofshaders.com/
If you like twitch streams, watch the Twitch stream Curiously Minded!
Lastly, join a community! Look for some local communities to join, you can go here to see if there is a livecoding node in your area https://toplap.org/nodes/
Could you share a sneak-peek into an upcoming project or something you are currently working on and very excited about?
I am working with Dan Gorelick on a song called 5000 years, it’s a joke song-turned-serious about how the mundane ways the things we leave behind will rot 1000–5000 years from now. Like we know that vines will grow everywhere on the buildings & look cool but like what happens if you leave a tube of toothpaste in direct sunlight? I bet some weird chemical interactions would happen.
Is there anything we did not ask about but you would really like to share with the readers?
Join my email list: charstiles.com/email! I have been on this trip that I can convince people that email is actually cool and even metal for years now. Long story. But now I have an email list to announce workshops, things I’m up to, and maybe I’ll start making cross words again!
This article is part of the Behind The Screens series of Creative Coding Utrecht — a series of events where digital artists and live coders create a piece in ten minutes.
The Behind The Screens series is suppported by Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industries and Gemeente Utrecht.