Modularity, Immediacy and Exchange in Improvisation using SuperCollider

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Improvisation with live instruments presents unique challenges to the laptop performer. If the laptop improviser's desire is to encourage exchange with other instrumentalists, s/he has to be able to generate a reaction that is both spontaneous and expeditious and that at the same time is responsive and reflective of the other musicians' contributions. Another concern for the laptop performer in relationship to improvisation is the ability to produce an adaptive response to the instrumentalist's initiatives and at the same time put forward and contribute new and inventive ideas. A modular approach to laptop performance is desired, where the performer can access a wide variety of tools and materials and choose the adequate ones depending on the musical circumstances at a specific moment. Therefore, a computer system that is both versatile and at the same time can access different features and information quickly and efficiently is needed to confront the challenges of laptop improvisation. SuperCollider's powerful language and server makes it the ideal platform in which to explore these considerations. Live coding already provides the versatility needed for free improvisation. However, in practice it often involves typing relatively long pieces of code and this takes some time during the performance. This is not ideal if what is desired is an immediate and adaptive response and a fast exchange of musical ideas. A performance strategy is needed that combines the versatility provided by live coding with the modularity that can be achieved with SuperCollider, all within the immediacy required to interact with live instruments.

In this paper, I will share my experience as a laptop improviser using SuperCollider in London's free improvisation scene. Following the considerations already expressed, I will examine the artistic development behind an idiosyncratic 'command-line style' environment for improvisation I developed in SuperCollider. The environment accesses different modules containing a variety of SC functionalities (machine listening, SynthDefs, patterns, JITLib, etc) as well as buffers and databases by executing short text commands in a 'call window'. The modules can be accessed and disposed very quickly making it an ideal environment for free improvisation. It also automises certain processes that makes it easy to intuitively control individual and global parameters of the sonic result. During the talk, I will give an explanation through examples of the reasoning behind my idiosyncratic approach towards laptop improvisation using this environment. I will also clarify how practical experience in improvisation has shaped the way in which I develop and extend my own performance tools using SuperCollider.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventSuperCollider Symposium 2012 - Queen Mary University of London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Apr 201218 Apr 2012


ConferenceSuperCollider Symposium 2012
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Laptop
  • Improvisation
  • SuperCollider
  • Live Coding

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