Behind the Screens: Sabrina Verhage
An interview with Sabrina Verhage, a live coder and co-founder of Creative Coding Amsterdam.
Sabrina Verhage is a live coder and co-founder of Creative Coding Amsterdam and Live Coding Sessions. Her art consists of interactive graphics, created using code. She likes to make her graphics interactive or responsive to audio and/or data.
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 her practice resulting from the corona crisis.
What is your first encounter with live coding and what are sources of inspiration?
My very first encounter with live coding was at the first Algorave in Amsterdam organized by FIBER. I remember thinking it was a strange party but liking it a lot. It reminded me of cut and paste tournament I once attended at Paradiso. Cut and paste tournaments are people doing their graphic design stuff on stage in a club with club music and beers. The combination of nerding out on computers in a club environment gets me really excited and wondering why not more clubs got into more experimental stuff like that. I believe there is a lot of space for improvement there, the club experience always feels so uninspiring to me.
My first time live coding myself was at Creative Coding Utrecht, being pushed by my dear friends Carolien Teunisse and Timo Hoogland. Sort of like ‘Oh come on you can do it, just try it’, and I did, and it was more fun than I expected.
A large part of the fun is the fact that it’s a performance. You have to perform and keep going even if your code isn’t running perfectly. You have to stand up there in front of an audience and everyone is looking at you, it’s hard to not be influenced by that.
My source of inspiration for live coding are the people from the live coding community. It’s a great bunch and they are all super supportive of each other. Of course there are some points of improvement, like the community’s diversity, but they don’t shy away from acknowledging that.
Actually me and my friends Saskia Freeke and Klasien van de Zandschulp have been so inspired by the community that we decided to contribute by hosting live coding events ourselves. We founded ‘Live Coding Sessions’ in Amsterdam and are happy to be offering a live coding summer school next month! We’re hoping to contribute to a broader and more diverse range of performers in The Netherlands. And of course we’re hoping to amplify the audience, get more people interested and create a solid platform for performers.
Which platform do you use and why?
I am very familiar with Processing as a language, it was actually the first language I started coding in. P5LIVE, as does p5.js, leans on the structure of Processing, and thus P5LIVE was the most straightforward choice for me. I also really appreciate all the effort that Ted Davis has put into P5LIVE and I’m happy to promote his platform by using it.
How has live coding influenced your way of making things?
Coding has been my way of making visuals for a while. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem to be honest. I learned to code by making visuals — and I learned to make visuals by using code. They come hand in hand and I think that’s also why a lot of these coded visuals have a distinct aesthetic; they fit with the medium.
The fact that it’s ‘live’ however did influence the way I approach the work. Usually when I code for graphics I work more explorative and take my time. I implement complex algorithms, reflect on them and build on them. With live coding, however, there is a time constraint. I take the live coding constraints very seriously by the way. I really enjoy starting entirely from scratch as I start a live coding performance. Anyway, the live coding constraints got me to focus on ‘quick results’; the simpler solutions that have the biggest effect. So during live coding I tend to use a lot more simplified effects so that I can create more exciting work within the constraints.
In these times of lockdown, what can we learn from the live coding community in terms of their way of organisation?
Well unpopular opinion, I actually think a lot of the qualities of the live coding community were missing during the lockdown. Of course the community was holding up and the community was supporting each other on online platforms and organizing online gatherings. However, the biggest quality of the live coding community to me, is that it takes place in physical space. It’s a community that is bound to gathering physically and practicing together in real life. There is of course a very important reason for the community to come together, namely the performances. And the performances feed and shape the community.
Live coding performances show how the community supports each other e.g. by supporting each other on stage. They also show how the community thrives off collaborations and sharing. Most live coding performances are collaborations, sometimes planned and sometimes completely improvised. They also show how open the community is to new members, as they always leave some open spots for walk-in performers who want to take a chance on stage. So when the lockdown is over, I recommend you all to attend a live coding performance once and experience it yourself.
Did the isolation force you to make adjustments to your current practice, and can you elaborate on how these changes impact your work?
I only live code as a hobby next to my full time job as a Technologist at Tellart.
At Tellart we design and produce interactive experiences for instance for museums and brand experiences and as a Technologist I get to make and code them.
The isolation totally changed my life. I now work from home instead of from the office. I get to organize my days more freely but almost never get to see my colleagues anymore.
As a response to Corona me and my colleagues started a little internal research project which we called ‘Panacea’. We haven’t properly documented it yet, but if you look at Tellart’s social media you will find some of the results. Our research revolved around interactions in video calls. That’s our lives now, we find ourselves in video calls. all. the. time. So how would we change these video calls to feel less tedious and more natural? That’s what we asked ourselves. Anyway, it’s worth checking out if that sounds interesting to you.
Besides our personal lives, the isolution also very much influenced our practice. We design and produce interactive experiences, a lot of them taking place in physical space, which need to be prototyped and tested in physical space. Unfortunately, that meant some of our projects had to be postponed.
Find more of Sabrina’s work here:
— — —
This article is part of the 10 Minute Livecoding Challenge by Creative Coding Utrecht and Netherlands Coding Live — a series of events where digital artists and live coders create a piece in ten minutes.
The 10 Minute Live Coding Challenge is sponsored by Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie.