New Haven fest will feature music created with computer code

At least, they will be at the Live Coding Electronic Music Festival in New Haven on Apr. 17. The festival, which will be held at The State House on April 17, will bring together up-and-coming artists in the live coding and performance art scenes across the New England and New York area.

New Haven-based electronic musician and composer Carl Testa is the mastermind behind the event. He has been live coding music for the past 20 years, as well as recently offering workshops for those interested in learning how to live code.


Live coding, according to Testa, is a practice that happens when someone “changes, manipulates and writes computer code as part of a performance.” There are various programs online, some of them free to use, that allow users to play around with coding in order to create music.

Though the idea of ​​coding may seem like a tedious activity, Testa is hoping that performances like the live coding festival will help to “demystify the production of computer music.”

“By exposing the process to the audience, through the use of projection, it kind of gives an opening for that audience to try it for themselves,” Testa said. “They can see that this number changed and then this happened to the sound – making a connection between the code and what they’re hearing.”

“Someone could do a workshop one afternoon, learn some of the basic commands and by that evening, they can do a performance,” Testa added.

Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo, who goes by the performing name of Sarah GHP, echoed that events such as this festival help “demystify” the practice of live coding.

“With live code and projecting the visuals, I..aim to encourage the audience to see the edges and working of computers and to thereby demystify them, somewhat,” Hennigh-Palermo said. “It’s important that the interaction of person and machine is made manifest rather than implied, the way it can be in a lot of other digital art.”

According to Testa, he has had a wide variety of individuals take his live coding classes, ranging from musicians who are looking to get into electronic music to people who have no clue how coding works.

However, just like learning an instrument, the process of learning how to live code is just as important to the artistic work as the final product, says Testa.

“It’s like learning an instrument but there is a lower barrier in terms of making good sound because of the tools that we have,” Testa said.

There are many ways that performers can experiment with live coding and incorporate it into their act once they get the hang of it. Testa said that there are some live coders who will start with a blank screen and work from there while others may come prepared with a certain block of code, and constantly rework it through their performance.

Femi Shonuga-Fleming, who is performing at the festival under the moniker of Sadnoise, utilizes coding languages ​​along with a modular synthesizer and a sampler to create noise and ambient music.

I entered the world of electronic music production from a very non-musical background, so during my experimentation I would always look for new ways to make something musical in non-conventional ways, ”Shonuga-Fleming said. “I love the idea of ​​being able to write to create a set of rules or bounds that can create something completely generative while still being under my control.”

Jessica Garson, who goes by the moniker of Messica Arson, uses vocal samples mixed with her coding.

“My act will involve a lot of screaming. I often sample my screams, stretch and chop them and mold them into something completely new,” Garson said. “I make noise music with code. I used to be in a punk band [Washington] DC and felt there were a lot of rules around how punk should sound. This project explores the tension between creating something beautiful and wanting to destroy it. “

The entrance to the State House in New Haven photographed on July 16, 2021.Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media

As far as the festival in mid-April, Testa is excited at the prospect of projecting the coding for the audience to see – something that will be new to the veteran musician.

“I’m curious to see what the audience reaction will be like,” Testa said.

Testa hopes that the projection of the coding will help break down the divide between the musicians and the audience, and have some saying, “Oh, I can do that.”

In addition to performances by all the individual artists, Testa said that he is inviting students and artists alike for a live coding jam on the Estuary live coding platform. The platform, he said, works somewhat like a chatroom in which each computer can input code into different boxes, which add to the overall sound being produced by the group. This will allow each participant to nuance their own intricate details in the jam while “find[ing] your space in the collaborative piece. “

Aside from the performances, Testa said a computer will be set up at the venue to allow members of the audience to try their hand at coding. If anyone wishes to explore live coding further, Testa will also be holding a final live coding class with the New Haven Public Library shortly after the festival.

The Live Coding Electronic Music Festival will be held at The State House in New Haven on Sunday, April 17. All ages are welcome to attend.

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