Shelly Knotts produces live-coded and network music performances and projects which explore
aspects of code, data and collaboration in improvisation. She performs and presents her work
internationally at festivals and conference, and collaborates prolifically with computers and other
humans. She studied for a PhD in Live Computer Music at Durham University with a focus on the
social dynamics of collaboration in Network Music. In 2017 she was Leverhulme Artist-in-
Residence at School of Chemistry, Newcastle University, working on Molecular Soundscapes
which included Chemical Algorave exploring live coded data sonification. She is currently a
Research Fellow at SensiLab, Monash University working on ARC funded project Improvisational
As well as performing at numerous Algoraves and Live Coding events, she collaborates with improvisers across a spectrum of styles and practices. Current projects include algo-pop duo ALGOBABEZ (with Joanne Armitage), international telematic laptop ensemble OFFAL (Orchestra For Females And Laptops), and audio-visual, generative live coding performance [Sisesta Pealkiri] with Alo Allik.
She has received commissions and residencies from national funders in the UK. Her music has been released on Fractal Meat and Chordpunch record labels and in 2017 she was a winner of the inaugural The Oram Awards for innovation in sound and music.
My interest in live coding grew out of its potential as a flexible tool for improvisation. I had been programming in SuperCollider for a long time, and improvising with computers for a few years, but pre-programming controllers felt too restrictive to respond to collaborators 'in the moment'. I wanted to find a way of improvising that had the same level of ‘instantaneous' timbral flexibility as the violin (my first instrument).
For the last five years I have been exploring the potential of live coding as an improvisational performance practice across contexts and genres. I've performed in the free improv, DIY and noise scenes, academic electronic music contexts and at Algoraves, collaborating with other live coders, acoustic musicians, visualists, authors, and algorithmic beings. Through the trial-and- (often fortuitous)error process of live algorithmic design I’ve expanded my own musical limits, learnt more about SuperCollider than I did in seven years in the studio and came to see live coding as more than just a tool for flexible improvisation.
Through embracing live coding I came to perform technicality, becoming a visible example of a ‘woman who codes’. I became acutely aware of the narratives of live coding and the politics of embodying this position. I perceived the critique of feminine technicality that exists in music tech and computer science fields as amplified by the act of publicly ‘doing technical things’. Feminism as a performative practice became central to my work and resulted in projects such as ALGOBABEZ and OFFAL (Orchestra For Females And Laptops).
In this talk I’ll recount experiences from the wild of performing with and through algorithms, and expanding my own musical horizons through explorative coding. I’ll discuss embracing error and failure as part of the practice, using narratives around this to help diversify the live coding community, and the contribution of female live coders to reinserting women into the narratives of computing.