What is “algorave”, keeping on generating new music? [Part 1]

Algorave is an international trend in the music scene. It is, so to speak, impromptu electroinic music made through programming on the spot. OK, but what exactly does that mean? Let’s dive into this whole new world with Renick Bell.

What is “algorave”?

Renick Bell(レニック・ベル)による“アルゴレイヴ”演奏中の様子①

——First of all, how do you define “algorave”?

Renick Bell:Okay, “algorave” is an event and a social movement. So first, what it’s not. Algorave isn’t a genre of music”. So, it started as a joke. The founders, Alex McLean and Nick Collins were on their way to a rave to play their computer-generated music. And they joked in the car on the way that it was an “algorave”. Then they did it again and started to gather similar people and it became a movement. One more thing the algorave is not. Algorave doesn’t have to be just live-coding. So, algorave should just be rave-like music that’s generated using computer algorithms, typically algorithms that the performers have created or modified by themselves.

——So, can we say you can perform algorave regardless of music genres nor things like bpm?

Renick Bell:That’s right. So last year, in Sheffield in the UK and in Tokyo, we had a two-room algorave. So it was in kind of a typical classic rave style.
So there was one room of, relatively aggressive dance music and another chill out room. But in our case, both rooms were algorithmically generated music. So, in the chill-out room, some of the music was even beatless. So, maybe no tempo at all, or slow tempos. But in the other room, maybe up to 160, 180, 200 (bpm).

——One of the greatest thing about algorave is that there’s a live feeling generated by progamming. So can we say it’s similar to improvised jazz music, or an electronic version of improvised music?

Renick Bell:Yeah, I think it has a close relationship. Maybe not everyone improvises. But most people do, and the tools make it much easier to do so, I think. It’s much easier to improvise, especially through live-coding than it is, in a tool like Ableton Live. And of course DJs are also doing a kind of improvisation, but in algorithmically generated music, the musical parts generally are not so fixed.

——You were invited by Aphex Twin to perform at the music event in the UK this year. He seems to play similar music, but do you resonate with his music?

Renick Bell:Yeah, sure. So, he is one of when I was, uh, just entered university, then I discovered his music, maybe around 17 or 18 years old. Of course, I was really into it because it’s amazing music. And so that was really a special experience, to be chosen by him for an event, and to be able to headline that stage. And then to be able to meet him after the show, and have a short discussion.

Meet “algorave”

——When was your very first encounter with algorave? How did it come about and when was it?

Renick Bell:Okay, The first time I played an algorave was in 2013 in Australia. So I had been following Alex’s work for a long time from before he was doing algoraves. And then he advertised that there was going to be an algorave in Australia and they were looking for performers. And I thought Japan was maybe closer to Australia than the U.K. so I thought I’d try. And finally my own software had reached a point where I felt that I could I could perform with it live. So, I applied to join this algorave, and they accepted me, so I went there, and played in Sydney. That was my first algorave.

——So your very first algorave show was in 2013, but around when did you start listening to this kind of music?

Renick Bell:Okay, so I started doing algorithmic music actually, when I was in university, maybe in 1994 or 1995. But at that time it wasn’t really real-time. So a little bit but most of the algorithmic music I made at that time was not real-time.

So you had to write code and then after you finished it, then you compiled it. And sometimes you had to wait a long time for the music to be completed. And then you could listen to it. And if it wasn’t right, then you had to go back to the code and edit it, and you had to compile it again, and wait, and then you could listen to it again. So this is how I started in algorithmic music.

But then through time, the tools improved. And like I said, SuperCollider became available and it was much more suited for real-time music. So then when I was doing my master’s degree, I started to develop a music system using just SuperCollider. And often around this time I was listening to algorithmically generated music. A very important one is Autechre. They made a lot of great music. But there was one album called “Confield”. That was a really important album of algorithmically generated electronic dance music. That was a big inspiration for me.

——What was your impression when you first listened to algorave music?

Renick Bell:So like I said, Algorave is a movement. So we had been listening to algorithmically generated electronic music for already you know maybe 13 years or something like that longer. And so, when I first heard that there was an algorave, that was exciting because here was an event that was focused on this music. And in a live way So that was exciting, right?

And it was just nice to know that there were getting to be a large enough community of people with the same interest, that such an event became possible. And so hearing the music we had already been listening to the music for a while, and been excited by it. But when algorave developed, it was just exciting that now there’s not just the music but there’s starting to be a culture. And so that was really encouraging.

Great things about “algorave”

——So what are great things about algorave from your perspective?

Renick Bell:Um, there are a lot of interesting things about it. For me, the most exciting part of it is that algorithms can be used to produce music that we don’t expect or that we haven’t experienced before. In regular electronic music, there are of course many genres and there are some performers who’ve managed to break beyond these genres or create something new. But with an algorithm, depending on the algorithm, I think it’s possible to create radically different kinds of music that we have never heard before.

And even within a performance, it’s possible to create a sound or rhythm that we have never experienced before. And that’s exciting. I always wanted to hear from the time I was in high school, or even before, I was always looking for “new music”. And then when I started to make my own music, originally I wasn’t using algorithms to do it, just using traditional electronic music composition tools. And I found that sometimes I would get into fixed patterns, and algorithms helped me to be much more creative in the kind of music I produce. And I think that’s the case for everyone doing algorave music. But that’s algorithmically generated music, regardless if it being played in an algorave or not.

Renick Bell(レニック・ベル)による“アルゴレイヴ”演奏中の様子②

So then what’s nice about algorave then is that it is an event and social movement, so it brings people together and lets them see many things. So one of the things about algoraves that’s nice, I think, is that we always project the screen of our computer on the wall, regardless of whether we’re doing live-coding or some other process. It’s really encouraged that the performers expose their process with the audience. So I guess at an event like today, it’s partly possible to see the process because you can see a modular synthesizer, and maybe you can see them manipulating some knobs. But I still think it’s a bit different from showing the user interface on the wall for everyone to see.

So, there was a joke about, like about live laptop music, that audience members speculated, they guessed that the performer might just be checking email or something right? Because there’s just a laptop there and they’re typing , but they have no idea what they’re doing. But by projecting it, what you’re doing is allowing the audience to see that.

And on top of that, I think a lot of people haven’t had the opportunity to see programming. So for them, programming is very mysterious activity. But in an algorave, they go and they see programming in person. You know, that’s the other thing. If they saw programming if it’s, you know, someone writing accounting software or something, it’s not interesting, right? But in this environment, they are stimulated to watch programming as a kind of entertainment. And I think that also changes the way they see programming. And my personal goal is that people then by seeing our screen, and seeing someone programming, they’re getting some idea of, “Ah, they changed something, and I could hear a change in the music”. By seeing this process, then, I think some of the fear of programming can be taken away. And people will be more likely to approach algorithms or programming themselves. Or even if they don’t do it themselves, they have a new attitude about these kind of critical tools in our society.

The last thing that is really nice about algoraves is, we have, as a community. This is not specific to algorithms at all, but as a community, we have made a lot of effort to make it a very inclusive environment.

I guess by showing our screens, it says that we are letting down some of our boundaries, right?We are letting them into our performance, a little more closely than a lot of performers do. And maybe this aspect of it helps us to make this kind of inclusive environment. So I think we have been very successful, for example, at getting trying to get gender balance in the line-up of events, and this is very important to, I think, almost all of the people involved. So that’s a very nice thing about algoraves.

——How would you want listeners to enjoy algorave?

Renick Bell:Okay, there’s a lot of ways that people can enjoy an algorave. So first, they just go in and hear new sounds and dance. That’s the simplest way, just like in a normal rave, right? But then, (like I say) they can hear some kind of new music, perhaps, that they’ve never heard before. That would be another thing.

And then beginning to watch the screen to see what the performer is doing and try to understand the relationship between the code or some algorithmic process that’s displayed on the screen and the music that they’re hearing.

Another important thing that I left out up to now, is that algorave is not just music so there are also usually visuals. And those are also generated by algorithmic processes. So rather than just being a music event, algoraves are almost always audio-visual events. And so watching visuals is another very big part of enjoying it. So it really winds up being a spectacle, so that rather than just dancing to music, there’s really a lot of different ways to enjoy the event.

And I think that’s one reason that it’s been successful, even though the music maybe is sometimes difficult. Or the performers, just because they’re not experienced this is a very new field, so very few people have a lot of experience. And that naturally has some kind of impact on the music.

But the event has so many different kinds of stimulus from music and dancing and the visuals of the music performer. And the visuals that are generated by Visualist, a program for making those visuals, gives an audience a lot of different ways to enjoy an algorave.

In part 2, we asked Renick about the trend in Japan and how to perform
in an algorave, as well as its connection with society. Enjoy!

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