Chris McCormick's Squeakyshoecore

 Chris McCormick - Squeakshoecore

Algorithmic composition is nothing new – John Cage and Iannis Xenaxis used mathematics and statistics in their earliest works. Brian Eno produced numerous compositions with SSEYO's Koan generative music system, which produces ambient variations for web-pages, mobile devices, and standalone performance. Autechre used algorithmic technique for their Confield and EP7 LPs, and the list goes on…

Often times algorithmic technique are utilized for experimental pieces, improvisational approaches towards classical, avant-garde music or jazz, but it is rare that computers are programmed to produce really funky music. Even more rare is it that the framework of a project is free (free as in freedom). This is the reason that I'm writing about a new musical work called Squeakyshoecore by Chris McCormick. Chris is a relentless programmer specialising in Open Source software, a Pure Data developer, he worked on the portable "reactive music" project RjDj and developed, among other software, the PdLanParty – a client-server system for associating Pd patches with each other on a local network, and the more recent WebPd – a partial port of Pd to javascript audio (currently only in Firefox experimental).

Squeakyshoecore—McCormick's new album—features funky acid electronic beats composed by his machine using some patches developed in Pure Data. These patches will be soon released under a free software license. I won't discuss here the musicality of those pieces, neither I will elaborate on the specific algorithms he used, but I can assure you that these tracks have a real groove. It is also worth mentioning that Chris has already produced algorithmic hip-hop software and a drum'n'bass generator, both freely available on-line.

To get some more context on the project I caught up with Chris to discuss his recent work.

Marco Donnarumma: Chris why you chose a free software environment as framework for your projects?

Chris McCormick: My choice to use FLOSS was made after I discovered this new GNU/Linux system that was emerging in the 90s, and then I read about the GPL license and the writings by the creator Richard Stallman. Quite apart from the moral implications of that type of software, there are a number of practical, pragmatic reasons why using Free Software makes sense, especially for creative people:

  • Obsolescence: what happens when the corporations or people that control the software you use to create art go bust? If you look at the history of computing, this actually happens with alarming regularity.
    Tons of data can potentially be lost. With Free Software you can always have access, completely legally, to the programs that you used to create your art and other works.
  • Control: because you have the source code, and because of the open nature of FLOSS, you have much more control over it than you normally have with software. Say for example, that you didn't like the way a particular program does something. You could edit the source code, or get a friend to edit the source code, or pay someone to edit the source code, to work the way you want it to. You can completely customize the way your software works, and you can do this legally.
  • Community and collaboration: This is one of the most attractive things about Free Software. The communities which spring up around particular projects and programs are often wonderful, helpful, and collaborative places to hang out. For example, the program that I used to make the software that makes the music in squeakyshoecore is called Pure Data. The Pure Data community is a great one, and people often post patches (the programs used to make sounds), music, and tips to the mailing list and forum. It's very newbie friendly, and one of the things that really made me stick with it was that an early post I made to the list was replied to by the maker of Pure Data himself (Miller S. Puckette). You usually don't get that type of down-to-earth friendliness with commercially developed projects.