Visualizing the Mandelbrots I: Display evaluated code

2015/08/11 – No Comments

In this short blog series I just wanted to get out some aspects of the live coding band Benoît and the Mandelbrots, as we are pretty bad at documenting and sharing our efforts and insights. Lots could be said about musical approaches, but I solely will write about the projections first, as I created most of the systems and so I feel confident to write about it without discussing it with the other ’brots.

A standard Mandelbrots live coding performance follows the „Show us your screens“ norm of the TOPLAP manifesto, which is still very common in the whole live coding community. It’s usually very easy to do for solo performers, but as a quartet we always struggle to project all our screens simultaneously. At most we had access to two projectors. Asking for four projectors (and suitable projection surfaces) in a tech rider simply wouldn’t have been possible in most venues we played at.

Juan and I were first confronted with this problem almost one year before the Mandelbrots were founded. For a live coding performance of the laptop quartet Grainface we solved the problem by automatically forwarding every successfully evaluated segment of code as String via OSC to a Processing patch which displayed it in the style of a glitchy old school terminal screen, along with some visual effects added for a dramatic effect. We used a hook in the Interpreter class for that.

Juan and I reused the Processing patch in a performance at ton:art 2009. As Mandelbrots we used a similar approach again in our Stadtgeburtstag Performance (which will probably get its own blog post). Holger also wrote systems that used this approach (used in my Mandelbrots hiatus and for Delbrots and the Man). Juan implemented a visualizer for this approach too, this time in SuperCollider, at a residency at STEIM which was also used in performances of students at the IMWI in Karlsruhe.

Visuals at Stadtgeburtstag

While this can look cool (and it can be styled in a lot of different ways: The Matrix and other hacker movies helped a lot to make looking at stylized pieces of code seem very cool, even to a mainstream audience …) it doesn’t really show the process of writing the code itself. Comparing two different pieces of executed code is very hard, except you would highlight the differences. Being able to follow the text (or mouse) cursor while manipulating the code really helps a lot. Also one of the most engaging part of projecting code is to see the code grow which is not necessarily very apparent here. A process that might run for a long time and might still be audible might not be visible at all, because it was not reevaluated. And finally, in a from scratch performance, it doesn’t really help making the audience aware of the ad hoc improvisation that is taking place. Code could already have been written in advance (making a live coding performance a live code execution performance).

More Visuals at Stadtgeburtstag

So, we wanted to show all our screens with one projector without buying an expensive video mixer (have you looked at the prices of that?). One solution was obviously VNC. So read more about that in the next post.

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