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These artists blend music and coding for a live audience

TROY, N.Y. — In the several years that Shawn Lawson has been performing live-coding in front of an audience, he’s only had one “catastrophic failure” where the computer crashed and the show couldn’t go on without a delay.

“There’s always the chance that everything will totally collapse and crash because I write the wrong thing,” said Lawson, who has performed under the pseudonym Obi-Wan Codenobi. “It can take minutes before the machine comes back and the show can continue. So there’s sort of that edge of danger on it that makes it exciting.”

Lawson is part of a group called Liveware, which includes fellow Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Arts Department professor Michael Century. Lawson handles the visual arts, animation and live-coding, and Century does the sound and music.


Liveware’s “audio-visual three-ring circus” includes changing graphics projected onto a large screen that’s directed by Shawn Lawson’s live-coding. Video by WMHT

The group’s name, Liveware, is a sarcastic play on software or hardware, Century said, adding that “liveware” is the slang term for the human factor in art and technology.

“I want people to experience beauty, surprise and a little bit of provocation,” said Century about their performances.

The events are very much “on the fly” and Lawson likes to make sure the audience can see all the coding and communicating with the computer as it is taking place. He compared seeing the code and live computer programming to visual or literary art.

“It’s sort of an audio-visual three-ring circus of expanded instruments, live-coding, machine learning, sort of all coming together in this big multi-modal experience sort of assaulting both your eyes and your ears from all angles,” Lawson said.

This report originally appeared on WMHT’s “AHA! A House for Arts.”

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