Behind the Screens: sonologico
Raphael Sousa Santos is an audio-visual coder and composer, who goes by the name of sonologico. He has been interested in music and sound his whole life, and finds that being a composer has a lot in common with programming.
In this interview we’d like to talk about his practices and tools, as well as work in the community and the way he copes with the radical and drastic changes in his practice resulting from the corona crisis.
What is your first encounter with live coding and what are sources of inspiration?
My first encounter with live coding was when I was making music with Supercollider many years ago. When you’re programming in Supercollider or in certain general purpose programming languages such as Common Lisp — as I was doing at the time — you naturally program interactively. In these environments, instead of having to edit, compile and run your program as separate steps in your work process, you’re always making changes and evolving a running program as you develop. This leads to a much shorter feedback loop, which is valuable when you’re working on a piece.
So, that’s where I was at that point in time: developing programs in an interactive way, in order to make electronic music or music scores. However, I was not actually programming as a means of performance. Meeting the live coding community really opened up an avenue of exploration that was both new to me and incredibly fitting into how I liked to approach working with computers. Speaking of approaches to using computers for art, it is inspiring for me to see the diversity in tools and perspectives on that from the community.
Which platform do you use and why?
I mostly use the OCaml programming language with libraries that I have built for myself. I use Csound for sound synthesis, but I control it from OCaml. I was already using OCaml for music composition outside of live coding, so it was natural to me to also use it for that. It meant that I was able to keep using the same set of libraries in both fields with minor adjustments. The downside to my current setup is that it is not easy for others to reproduce. I experiment with small domain specific languages occasionally and I’ve been thinking about dedicating more time to one of them, that I call ‘Ode to joy’, as it is inspired by the Joy programming language, to get it to a point others could use.
How has live coding influenced your way of making things?
It made me even more adamant on the benefits of working in an interactive environment such that even if I’m writing programs for traditional music, some other fixed media or even just regular computer programs, I’ll do my best to shorten the feedback loop given the constraints of the medium. Being able to quickly generate, try and discard or approve ideas and materials is really helpful. In general, live coding has greatly influenced my perspective on programming as my interface to computing and its ergonomics.
In these times of lockdown, what can we learn from the live coding community in terms of their way of organisation?
Live coding has the slight benefit of feeling less awkward to do and share online in comparison to other forms of performance — both due to its origin and due to how the people in the community have organized themselves with streaming events and workshops. Even though it can still improve on inclusivity and its barrier to entry, you see a lot of effort from multiple groups towards openness and supporting others. What I felt when I met other live coders in the Netherlands was a general sense of mutual encouragement among the group. That’s something that I’m grateful for and that I hope becomes the norm. In these times, it’s even more important to be more political, bring others in, support each other and strengthen our communities. An openly shared practice of art can help that. It makes me happy to see people taking this perspective in live coding circles.
Did the isolation force you to make adjustments to your current practice, and can you elaborate on how these changes impact your work?
Besides the general effect that the current scenario has on an empathetic being, the isolation affected my current practice in the sense of cancelled practice sessions with others, classes, rehearsals and plans in general, but not so much on my individual practice routine. This is something stable that I am holding on to. Having said that, it is indeed harder to focus and one has to accept that one can’t always be as productive as expected.
Find more of Raphael’s work here:
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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.