Coded music links tech and culture at ANU

Dr Ben Swift, Academic and Coding DJ
Friday 21 September 2018

When people think of a coder or programmer, it’s often strongly associated with software development and tech innovation – not usually with artistic expression.

Challenging these notions is Dr Ben Swift, lecturer and musical live-coding performer from the ANU Research School of Computer Science.

 ‘Live coding’ is the act of programming as a performance. The goal is to write code, in front of a live audience, to provide musical or multimedia art outputs for entertainment,” Ben said.

It’s a pressured situation and one that Ben enjoys from both a personal and professional standpoint.

“Some of my sets are long - up to a couple of hours - but they feel like they only last about 10 minutes. It’s high-pressure, for sure, but the sense of flow you get during a performance is exhilarating.”

With a PhD in Computer Science from ANU, and a Certificate IV in music performance from the Canberra Institute of Technology, Ben’s research focuses on how “code [software], creativity [the arts] and culture [life] intersect in the modern world.

“Humans can just do so many cool things with computers, and being an academic allows me to push those boundaries in ways I just couldn’t explore anywhere else. When I tell my friends I get to DJ and make beats with code as part of my day job they think it’s pretty cool.”

Ben leads the code/creativity/culture research group at ANU to help drive and foster a conversation about the evolving relationship between technology and culture.

“What I want to do is give everyone a reason to start talking about these intersections. It’s happening whether we like it or not, we need to raise the level of discourse about the opportunities and challenges.”

His aim, both in his research and off-campus hobbies is to push the deeper questions about the purpose and use of technological artefacts.

“Programmers are writing the rules which govern (literally in some cases) the way the world works, and we’re long past the point where we can say ‘what people do with this stuff isn’t my problem’,” Ben said.

And it is true, people are doing really interesting stuff.

Ben is a part of a cross-discipline group of academics that have introduced a new set of collaborative courses between virtual reality, IT and music.

It is this dedication to incorporating these creative code opportunities which has lead Ben to receive the Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning at the 2018 Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education.

And he is always looking to further encourage and support students to take a more holistic view of technology.

So, if you’re interested in finding ways to be creative with code then connect with Dr Ben Swift — opportunities are popping up everywhere.


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