My proposed article ‘Performing Thinking in Action: The Meletē of Live Coding’ has been selected for development as a full paper for the forthcoming special issue of the International Journal of Performance Arts & Digital Media (Issue 12.2, October 2016), on the topic of Live Coding in Performance Arts.
Abstract: Performing Thinking in Action: The Meletē of Live Coding
This article will address live coding both as a dynamic model of ‘performing thinking’ in action, and the performing of ‘thinking-in-action’. Underpinned by the principle of performing its thinking through ‘showing the screen’, live coding involves ‘making visible’ the process of its own unfolding through the public sharing of live decision-making within improvisatory performance practice. To expose the inner workings of practice foregrounds process, emphasizing the methods and mechanics of production, the durational ‘taking place’ of something happening (live). Moreover, the making visible of thinking ‘in action’ has epistemological import, shedding light on the nature of knowledge production and mode of intelligence operative therein, generating insights into this habitually unseen or unshared aspect of creative endeavour. Live coding is arguably a hybrid - even liminal - practice, operating at the critical interstice between different disciplines, oscillating between a problem-solving modality and a problematizing, questioning, even obstacle-generating tendency. Demonstrating a multi-modal model of ‘thinking-feeling-knowing’ emerging between the lines of musical-rhythmic, linguistic-verbal, spatial-visual and numerical-logical intelligences, live coding has capacity to offer insight into the commonalities and potential for complementarity between ways of knowing emerging from the sciences and arts.
Live coding can also be conceived as the performing of ‘thinking in action’, a live and embodied navigation of various critical thresholds, affordances and restraints, where its thinking-knowing cannot be easily transmitted nor is it strictly a latent knowledge or ‘know how’ activated through action. Live coding is arguably performed in actu, where in Alan Pottage’s terms, its power “exists only en acte, or in actu, (which) is to say … that is ‘is’ only in the process of its exercise”.[i] I propose to explore live coding as a performative exercise in ‘thinking in action’, for the live navigation or negotiation of certain concepts and conditions, thresholds and limits: for working with elective rules/restraints as critical leverage; for testing the relation between receptivity and spontaneity, between the embodied and intuitive, between an immersive flow experience and split-attention, between human and machine, the known and not yet known. Moreover, live coding emerges as an experimental site for reflecting on different perceptions and possibilities of temporal experience within live performance: for attending to the threshold between the live and mediated, between present and future-present, proposing even towards a quality of atemporality or even aliveness, the temporary suspension of chronos. Against the privileging of real-time performance – and narrowing of the feedback loop between intention and execution – I advocate critical value for the gaps and lags within live coding performance as reflective intervals for building the capacity for biding one’s time and knowing when to act, for the kairotic practice of intervention and ‘invention in the middle’.[ii] Drawing on the Ancient Greek concepts of techne, kairos (opportune timing) and metis (cunning intelligence), I conceptualise live coding as a contemporary exercise (askesis) for performing thinking-in-action (a meletē - meditation or ‘thought experiment’), for practicing the human qualities of attention, cognitive agility and tactical intelligence, for cultivating a more critical mode of human agency and subjectivity.
About the issue
Live coding has grown as a performance method over the past decade, infiltrating diverse art forms, but with strong grounding in musical and audiovisual performance. Following a decade of music releases, festivals, journal issues, symposia, and conference tracks, with online hubs like TOPLAP and the AHRC funded Live Coding Research Network supporting both artistic and research activities within the field, the first International Conference on Live Coding will take place at the University of Leeds in July 2015. This journal issue aims to explore the new possibilities offered to artistic performance by live coding, and whether the algorithmic approach to dynamic thought and action which underlies live coding practice can shed light on aspects of more traditional approaches in the performing arts. Live coding is essentially the act of creating and modifying symbolic instructions in real-time, encompassing historical and contemporary work that goes beyond computer-based systems to include practices in improvisation, choreography, literature, live/performance art, visual arts, and theatre. The issue will explore pertinent questions of liveness and what rule-based instruction formats, such as live coding, live scoring, or live notation, offer to the performance arts; engaging with the physicality of performance, embodiment, considerations of space, machines, audience, and perceptions of the flow of time.
[i] Alain Pottage, ‘Power as an art of contingency: Luhmann, Deleuze, Foucault’ in Economy and Society, Volume 27, Issue 1, 1998, p.22.
[ii] Debra Hawhee, ‘Kairotic Encounters’, in Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention, (eds.) Janet Atwill and Janice M. Lauer, (University of Tennessee Press, 2002), p.18.