Behind the Screens: t.mo
An interview with livecoder and electronic musician Timo Hoogland (t.mo).
Timo Hoogland, otherwise known as t.mo, is a livecoder who uses code to make interactive visuals for live performances, interactive installations and algorithmic audio-visual compositions.
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 was your first encounter with livecoding and what are sources of inspiration?
I was first introduced to the livecoding scene a couple years ago, when I was invited for a livecoding jamsession. During this jam I was coding with MaxMSP, a visual programming environment (visual as in coding by connecting code-blocks with patchcords). At that time I had already been programming with creative coding platforms for about 4 or 5 years, working mostly on audiovisual compositions and installations. Before that I was playing as a drummer in various rock and metalbands.
My encounter with livecoding was an eye-opener in the sense of how creative coding and electronic music could be performed on stage. I quickly decided I wanted to design my own environment and language, completely customized to my liking and my approach to performing electronic music.
During the development of the language I’ve been inspired by other livecoding languages such as Tidal, SonicPi and Fluxus, by watching many livecoding performances from a wide variety of artists and of course by meeting with the amazing livecoding community we have in the Netherlands. I am fascinated by fields such as geometry, number theory, chemistry, physics and astronomy and this is also where I draw a lot of my inspiration from when working on visuals and sound.
Which platform do you use and why?
My main livecoding platform is the language and environment I designed myself, named Mercury. As mentioned above I wanted to create my own environment, my personal instrument. The environment is named after the planet Mercury, which stands for communication and quick wit. The language focuses on the quick expression, composition and communication of livecoded music. It gives me all the tools that I need to give a live performance, but in this I also focus on the accessibility of the code for the audience. A big part of livecoding is about openness, sharing your screen with the audience. I wanted to give the audience a better insight in what I’m doing, by attempting to make the language more accessible.
Mercury itself uses other creative coding environments and languages in the back-end. It is programmed in the MaxMSP environment, uses OpenGL for the visuals and NodeJS for the algorithmic processes and parsing of the written code. MaxMSP is my go-to platform when I start a new audiovisual project. Over the past 7 years I’ve made most of my work with it, but occasionally also used Processing, p5 and Juce. My works consists of interactive visuals for live performances, interactive installations to algorithmic audio-visual compositions. Besides these projects I also develop many libraries, extensions and sketches for MaxMSP that others can make use of. These works can be downloaded through different channels such as Gumroad, Patreon and Github.
How has livecoding influenced your way of making things?
Livecoding has influenced my music making immensely. It is because of livecoding that I started to perform electronic music, before that I never really had the same connection with electronic music in a performance as I did when playing acoustic drums on stage. Livecoding to me is very close to playing a “traditional” instrument on stage, except I build the entire instrument myself. I can practice my instrument at home, I can expand it, change it or fix it, I can rehearse a performance and I can improvise if I want to. But on top of all that I can also let the code give me unexpected results, as if my instrument is also partially the composer. By livecoding the music and partially improvising I come to more creative results than when I would by producing/composing in for example a DAW like Ableton or Logic. I have tried to compose music in a workstation, but this resulted more often in frustration than enthusiasm.
In these times of lockdown, what can we learn from the livecoding community in terms of their way of organisation?
I believe the livecoding community is an incredible community. It is very welcoming and inspiring. The community has already been heavily active in the digital domain, and there have been many performances with networked collaborations in real time already. While most livecoders don’t like to say that livecoding is the “future” of music, I do think that they are definitely pushing boundaries and covering new grounds in the digital arts.
At this point I’ve already had the pleasure to be part of many great initiatives such as the Eulerroom Equinox 96 hours non-stop livestreaming event (which was already scheduled to happen before the lockdown started in the Netherlands). I’m also seeing VR experience performances being organized. I am confident that the community will keep on finding new ways of performing, educating and collaborating.
Did the isolation force you to make adjustments to your current practice, and can you elaborate on how these changes impact your work?
Due to the current measures all my upcoming performances and workshops have been cancelled. I’m keeping in touch with the organizers of these festivals and gigs, in the hope that we can catch up on all the missed gigs somewhere after the summer, but currently there is no way of telling. In the meantime I’ve been performing a few online gigs during livestreamed events, which have been great, but definitely different as well. At the moment I’m using my extra time to work on projects that involve more coding, writing documentation and examples and making tutorials. I see that many are using their stay at home time to learn new skills or expand their knowledge. My goal is to publish more code and tutorials online that can hopefully be used by others as a source of inspiration.
Find more of Timo’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.