Behind The Screens
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Behind The Screens

Behind The Screens: Jia Liu

An interview with composer Jia Liu.

Jia Liu is a composer of both instrumental and electronic music. Sometimes, she performs by herself, but mostly together with other musicians. In this interview, we’d like to talk about her practices and tools, as well as work in the community and the way she copes with the radical and drastic changes in their practice resulting from the corona crisis.

Jia Liu’s Behind The Screens performance

1. What was your first encounter with live coding and what are your sources of inspiration?

Without knowing that it was “live coding” live coding, it was around 2015/16 in the SuperCollider class with Juan a. Romero at the University of Music Karlsruhe. I was studying composition but often times sneaked into music informatics courses because I felt attracted to logic, mathematics, and electronic music. When showing how to create sound using SuperCollider, Juan often just naturally started to play and improvise with the sound. This always brought me joy, besides the truth that my German was too bad to understand how everything worked.

Later in 2018 when I formally started studying music informatics, Patrick Borgeat was teaching SuperCollider and Creative Coding, where he passed me his passion for feedback, aliasing, network music, live coding, and many other great things. Seminars like Cognitive Neuroscience of Music and Creativity, Art and Artificial Intelligence at the Institute also opened my mind for research and discourses on humans, music, and machines from more scientific and sociological perspectives.

Generally, everything I experience inspires me. People inspire me. From my dearest friends to those whose works have found their ways to my bookshelf and/or cd collection. And those whose names I didn’t get the chance to know, strangers, anonymous IDs on the web.

Performing Skizzenbuch II in Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, 2018

2. What are your preferred platform(s) to use and why?

My favorite platforms are pencil and paper, then SuperCollider! I can’t really explain why, I guess they are just the tools I have learned and felt most comfortable with. Around 2017 I had a fever for visual music, I also created some works using SuperCollider and Processing. Sometimes I spend time in Processing trying to figure out geometries and topological structures.

3. Are there any platforms, tools or extensions that you develop yourself and if so can you elaborate why and for what purpose?

None of those yet. I am still more of a user than a developer. But currently, I am working on a SuperCollider-based solfège practice tool for myself and my colleagues at the university. Maybe I’ll put it on GitHub if it’s good enough.

Snapshot from Study of Sine Wave, 2019

4. How has live coding influenced your practice of making and thinking about art?

The time between when we start to formalize the music until we feel the vibration in the air — for a “traditional” instrumental composer it takes hours, days or years, sometimes even forever (I can’t imagine how many unplayed scores are lying around in unknown places in this world). For improvisers, formalization is the realization or vice versa. Live coding has itself a wide spectrum but generally, it is in-between composing and improvising. The “buffer size” is not too big and not too small. It influenced me in the way that I gained the power of the machine by starting to learn how it works and how to communicate with it. I believe the communication itself, the language we use to write and to formulate, is an important influence on art and artists.

Another influence is the openness of the community. People sharing code, trying to solve problems, and developing tools together. Karlsruhe is a special place for live coding since it hosted the first live.code.festival and there is the ZKM (Center for Art and Media). Great people doing live coding in Karlsruhe nowadays like Patrick Borgeat, Michele Samarotto, Daniel Kurosch Höpfner, and lots of other people, are also absolutely influencing me.

[ _ _ _ ] performing in Hong Kong, 2021

5. In what form are randomness or other algorithms applied in your practice or performance? Do you try to pursue serendipity and how or why not?

This is an exciting question. I consider every texture or pattern I couldn’t perceive “random”, which they oftentimes not really are. So it actually turns into a question of perception and learning to me. We all know that computers couldn’t really produce “randomness” and it is just a game we designed for ourselves. A random number generator could give me so much power that I feel this power becomes so “powerless” if I am not sure how, when, or where to use it. But still, it is a good teacher for me in order to learn new patterns and gain experiences in a more abstract, “stochastic” way.

Collaborative algorithms or algorithmic collaboration is now the central idea of my network music ensemble/project [ _ _ _ ]. Together with Li Song in London and Shuoxin Tan in Cologne, we are trying to build such algorithms that could serve as interfaces for our own algorithms. Until now it has some similarities with Markov chains only the states are autonomous — they are us. We make decisions about the probabilities and write patterns on the fly that would in the end get weaved together.

Serendipity is such a gift from the world, it almost always happens after I “gave up”.

Processing sketch of a torus knot for the piece Ringstudy II/b, 2020

6. Could you share a sneak-peek into any upcoming projects or things you are currently working on?

My piece among others by young artists from the University of Music Karlsruhe is playing at ZKM as part of the installation The Morning Line from May to June. Together with Li Song and Shuoxin Tan, our network music ensemble [ _ _ _ ] just performed at Algopolis in Ljudmila on May 14th. This summer I will play live electronic music to accompany a silent film. In October I’ll present a new electronic piece using an autonomous system at the ZeitGenuss Festival Karlsruhe. More information on my site.

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.

Watch Season 1 // Watch season 2 // More interviews

The Behind The Screens series is sponsored by Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie.

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Creative Coding Utrecht

Creative Coding Utrecht

Creative Coding Utrecht is a community driven platform that stimulates digital creativity and creative coding as artistic practice. www.creativecodingutrecht.nl