Culture magazine LONDON HARDCORE recently interviewed 2nd year music Computing student James MacPherson – better know as AG C00P3R. We reprint the article here.
Anarcho-electronic experimentalism and broken techno collide in this improvised live set from AG C00P3R.
Where are you from and where are you based now? I was born in London but spent the majority of my life split between Anglesey, West Sussex and for the longest span of time, Suffolk. It only made sense then that I picked a university in London as I have always taken every opportunity to visit the city. London for me is very separate to the rest of Britain, a hub of people from all walks of life. Musically it’s the bridge between America and Europe. As a result it’s a constantly evolving community within community, anything and everything is happening in London. It’s a place for me to broaden my understanding of art, politics and culture.
After a successful few years doing Music Technology at Suffolk New College, I’m currently in my second year at Goldsmiths doing Music Computing; essentially the course teaches computer programming but with a focus on music. I can’t live without exercising the creative and technical part of my brain so it’s a perfect niche.
The end goal is to create my own audio software/hardware to aid my music creation, I’m unhealthily fussy about music gear/software, so it makes sense to learn how to make your own. Music combined with technology is something I’ve been pursuing since I started playing around with music software (that came free with a packet of cereal) at the age of 7; I don’t see myself ever stopping that pursuit.
Current projects? Recently I made some music for a dance duo (Catherine Taylor and Kathleen Pearlson). We are big Twin Peaks fans and previously they had been practising their routine to Haxan Cloak so I had to produce something which combined all of those elements. Making several tracks within a track was a fun challenge and gave me a chance to try and convey narrative through music. This inspired me to work with a lot of the amplifier based distortion techniques I use to add texture to my current projects.
There is also a gentler side to my musical output. I contributed a sound design experiment to Natalia Szcz’s soundscape for Matilda Skelton Mace‘s exhibition piece at Clinic //2 in the Bargehouse, London. Matildas work involved these mesmerising glowing clouds in front of a huge structure with nature landscapes used as animated textures via projector mapping.
Sonically, I experimented with creating tape style loops in the digital domain that don’t just travel repeatedly in the time domain but also scan through the frequency domain via FFT; the end result is a morphing swarm of textures slipping and sliding over each other. It combined with the visuals really well, providing this alluring and meditative audio-visual experience. Although it was a bit bizarre for me seeing the piece in this environment as it had previously been used for their fantastic Universe Of Tang parties; I do like the idea that something that has originated in a club/party environment can be presented in a traditional art context.
Currently, I’m part of a collective called EDITED; our aim is to organise events and spaces that encourage cooperation between individuals and experimental art forms. Last week we put on a night, under the name of ‘108 KICKS’ that presented experimental music in a dancefloor/club environment. The results were a merging of abrasive soundscapes with flurries of distorted kicks! One of my favourite events we put on was in an abandoned police station in Deptford. Some friends and I were performing our music whilst artists had set up multimedia art installations in the jail cells, in fact, some of the artists were inside the cells, quite unreal but great fun.
What would be the one track that currently characterises your sound?
Untold – Sing A Love Song.
This track incorporates elements of Musique concrète with dance music in such a fantastic in your face way! The main vocal loop reminds me of Steve Reich – It’s Gonna Rain; the vocals shift in phase creates rhythmic syncopation and changes the focus of frequency due to constructive and deconstructive interference of the phase. It marvels me how the brain latches onto non-musical sounds and makes them seem musical.
A huge inspiration from this track is how the distortion acts as a form of glue, each element of the track dynamically affects each other by squishing the other sound sources in a fight to stay in the limelight. This is further enforced by the jittery kicks that push and pull with the music’s rhythm and dominates what little room there is in the sonic space. This is in opposition to when the piano loop drops in, it is in such contrast to the wearing barrage of sounds prior that it is genuinely shocking.
The production approach Untold took is something I greatly admire, to the best of my knowledge the album was produced in a week. This has resulted in a level of sonic spontaneity between all the tracks that makes sense in the context of the album. The rawness of this album makes it feel very genuine almost like a snapshot of where Untold was physically and emotionally at the time of producing the album. This is the workflow that I now prefer, making music in a 24 hour timeframe keeps the music focused on the vision and the raw intent that gave birth to it. Whilst I can spend days polishing a track, the extra layers of polish pull away the elements of my own personality from the track, it starts to feel less genuine, less me.
I would love to see how people react to this track in a club, a moment of utter confusion, raw chaos at 128 bpm.
Untold (RBMA Tokyo 2014 Lecture) How did you make this mix? This improvised mix was made entirely in the box using Ableton. Max For Live was extensively used for sequencing; a bank of preset dance rhythms are cycled through and mixed and matched to form the backbone of the mix via the control of 606 drum machine samples. A group of more abstract drum sounds are controlled by a morphing pattern generator. I can change how fast this pattern starts to change and how it should be filled, lot’s of long rests or fast percussive rolls. This in combination with the loop length allows me to layer some more distinct polyrhythmic elements that are filled with small fills and rolls. The final track is Native Instruments Massive, not the ‘sound of dubstep’ wavetable powerhouse synth, but an old Reaktor ensemble. It’s a sequencer that can morph through a collection of samples and settings; I randomise this to create clanky abstract loops to layer on top of the mix. Processing wise most elements in the mix are sent through a helpful smothering of amp distortion and tape saturation which gives that coat of grimy texture on all the sounds. The mix is deliberately dynamically squished, it’s meant to be loud and wearing to the human ear, this sonic assault is what I feel links my music to Hardcore.
As I’m using the computer just as it is I couldn’t simultaneous tweak a lot of things at once. I had to take a more microscopic approach by changing one parameter at a time. That way things didn’t get too boring and loop forever whilst I was tweaking away. The computer was doing its own thing independently, thus I see it almost as a band member. The computer and the human both improvising! The danger was that the computer wanted to go in its own direction and I wanted to go elsewhere. This created a dynamic struggle, a level of frustration but also danger. Danger that everything can go wrong! This is what makes live performance exciting to me, the live in the moment decision making and unpredictability is a thrill. I think this energy also engages the audience, you’re all on the same ride together, no one knows what’s around the corner. For me, it’s important that no two performances are the same and this method helps fulfil that goal.
Due my location at the time, I couldn’t stand up and dance when making this mix. If you have ever seen me live you know that I dance uncontrollably. I love dancing. This frustration of dancing in the confines of my seat combined with the over-compression and lack of physical hands-on control of parameters (just using a mouse to frantically click around) lead to the music coming out more sporadic and panicky than it usually does. That level of frustration from the computer vs human interaction I think added a manic crazy quality to the mix. Music gear doesn’t make you a good or bad producer but definitely affects your music output; in this case, it’s affected by a lack of control through awkwardly interfacing with music via the laptop keyboard and mouse.
That being said the future of my performances does contain a box of buttons and knobs now via Native Instruments Maschine, yet the philosophy is still very computer focused. My current experiment is using Maschine in Ableton to feedback midi from between both pieces of software. Through Midi processing via Max For Live every action creates a knock on effect that causes the music to evolve and create variations based on what is already existing and what is about to exist in the sequence. The next level in my computer call and response approach.
What is the message? I make music under the aliases of AG C00P3R, the name is partly a reference to my favourite TV series, Twin Peaks. The cheesy use of the numbered letters points to how most of my music is ‘computer’ based in some form and feels very much like something you would encounter in an internet forum rather than on a record.
As someone who is from the internet era, it feels like a good form of personality representation. The music from this aliases is designed to create new experiences for the dancefloor, It’s my attempt to deconstruct the Techno that I normally make and present fresh interpretations of dancefloor conventions.
I love to confuse and challenge people but I also want them to dance and have a good time, this means learning to strike a balance between established dance music conventions and experimental sonic practices. This can be from how I design sounds and generate composition to how I perform music in a live situation. This way, much like the chaotic nature of the internet, I’m forced to organically evolve my sound and to experiment to keep things new and exciting.
Thanks to LONDON HARDCORE for writing this great piece.
When they are not teaching or marking, it’s easy to imagine that our academics just sit quietly in low-power mode, like the A.I. child in Stephen Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence.
But apparently they do something called research.
To investigate this phenomena, we invite you to join us every Wednesday afternoon, when one Goldsmiths Computing academic will talk about the stuff they are researching.
3pm-4pm Wednesday 11 October / LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building Dr Sarah Wiseman: The world’s tiniest, most important design problem
Sarah is a lecturer whose research focuses on Human Computer Interaction. Her research interests include: medical interfaces, citizen science recruitment and haptic technologies for users with visual impairments. She is also involved in public engagement and science communication work, which includes performing stand-up comedy about her research, as well as giving talks at the Royal Institution and Science Museum. swiseman.co.uk
3pm-4pm Wednesday 18 October / LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building Dr Kate Devlin: NSFW: HCI, AI and sex tech
Kate Devlin is a senior lecturer who works in the fields of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), investigating how people interact with and react to technology, to understand how emerging and future technologies will affect us and the society in which we live. She is currently focusing on cognition, sex, gender and sexuality and how these might be incorporated into cognitive systems such as sexual companion robots. http://doc.gold.ac.uk/~mas01kd
3pm-4pm Wednesday 25 October / Room 342, 2nd floor, Richard Hoggart Building Saskia Freeke: Creating artwork every day
Saskia Freeke is lecturer in Physical Computing. as well as an artist, creative coder, interaction designer, visual designer and educator. A big part of her artistic practice is her ongoing daily art project that she started January 2015, in which she explores and experiments with generative patterns and animations. www.sasj.nl
3pm-4pm Wednesday 1 November / LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building Dr Sorrel Harriet: Using data to improve the learning and teaching of coding
Sorrel teaches on topics related to databases, data programming and web application development. Over the past ten years, Sorrel has been involved in professional web development, both inside and out of academia. Most recently she worked alongside Matthew Yee-King at Goldsmiths helping to develop the Music Circle platform. gold.ac.uk/computing/people/harriet-sorrel
A creative hackathon run by Goldsmiths Computing students forms the backbone of a new BBC1 documentary, which screened on Friday 23 June 2017.
The 30-minute programme ‘Invented in London’ uncovers London’s technology pioneers of the past, present and future – with a focus on Anvil Hack III, a Spotify-sponsored hackathon organised by student tech group Hacksmiths.
The 2-day Anvil Hack III took place on campus this April, focussing on the creative applications of technology. Supported by Goldsmiths Annual fund, it challenged participants to use their skills “to make something wonderful, arty, musical – anything you build will be awesome.”
Participants competed for a range of prizes including best audio hack (make something interesting using sound), best hardware hack, best visual hack (make a cool project showcasing awesome visuals), as well as best projects using Spotify, Twilio and Autodesk.
The rest of the BBC documentary featured profiles of Deliveroo, computing pioneer Ada Lovelace, an AI personal assistant and an artist who’d hacked a hearing aid to sonify wi-fi coverage.
Back in December 2016, student society Hacksmiths teamed up with Goldsmiths’ Dr Kate Devlin to run the first ever Sex Tech Hackathon. In this blog post, Creative Computing student Kevin Lewis reports what happened.
Hackathons are invention marathons – where attendees build creative solutions to a challenge set by organisers. One of our tutors, Dr Kate Devlin, wanted to run a hackathon around her area of research – artificial sexuality and the ethics of artificial intelligence – and we couldn’t wait to jump in and help.
Running creative events is not new to Hacksmiths (Goldsmiths’ student-run tech society). Every year we run several large hackathons, but this felt different. We had an exceptional group of attendees from a much wider range of backgrounds than ever before at something we’ve run, and with it came a range of experiences and viewpoints which made the projects at Sex Tech Hack all unique and valuable in their own ways.
For two days we had over 50 talented developers, designers and industry experts join us in St James Hatcham to build innovative new sex technology.
Only in Goldsmiths would you assemble a group of individuals so awesome that they create a combined 14 projects which are so different from one another.
From our very own Dr Sarah Wiseman building a physical computing project to improve communication between partners around kinks, to a group of students with a 3D-printed fist whose vibration intensity changes based on historical data from multinational finance company Goldman Sachs.
No, really, we saw it all – generative erotica, beat-controlled vibrators and a cryptocurrency based on ‘pleasing’ the network. We had quite a few prizes, but the overall best was awarded by our panel of judges to Lovepad – a soft robot specifically designed for non-binary users. The hackers mixed their own silicon in the church over the weekend and it was the more weird and wonderful thing we could have had.
We’ll be running this event again towards the end of 2017 – we want to make it even bigger and better than last time (not that size matters in the slightest). If you want to register for updates, head over to sexhack.tech.
MA/MFA in Computational Arts students got a real treat on 23 January when renowned computational artist Memo Akten visited the MA to run a crit session and discuss his work and process.
When Memo first came in, he discussed his role in the openFrameworks community. The students in the Workshops in Creative Coding class on the MA are using openFrameworks to make interactive audiovisual applications using computer vision, machine learning, networking protocols, sensors and a lot more. Memo’s contribution to openFrameworks is great and it was really enjoyable listening him talk about his involvement.
We then went through 15 of the best end-of-term project assignments and Memo gave feedback, ideas and critiqued the work for the benefit of the students.
The highlight of the session came later when Memo gave a talk about his work. It wasn’t a typical talk listing his contributions and achievements (among other things the Golden Nica at Ars Electronica). He hopped between selected projects highlighting a common thread: how ideas are formed, how he picks tools, collaborators and how he (occasionally) pitches ideas to clients.
Some nuggets of wisdom from his talk:
On learning new technologies: Give yourself a project and a deadline. Working with tight deadlines enhances the creative process, increases the motivation and facilitates learning.
On forming new ideas: He often hacks away on a small thing late at night. This small thing might be just an experiment, a proof-of-concept or a study of a topic that fascinates him. For example, he started investigating and playing with the theme of harmonic motion. The work that started as a humble Processing sketch became an audiovisual installation, a 360-immersive projection, a live performance using 16 percussionists and ultimately a light show outside the Blenheim Palace. See the video below for its manifestation outside the palace.
On pitching ideas: Keep a (somewhat) organised file with your ideas. If you do develop something, blog about it, make a how-to video, share your code and your idea with the world. When you’re approached for a commission look over the stack of ideas and scale one up for a project. Don’t get too attached to your ideas. Be ready to throw away one that is not so fresh any more.
Memo is currently completing his PhD in A.I. and machine learning for expressive human-machine interaction at Goldsmiths.