Hello World! A documentary series on open creative programming languages

You know when you hear about a project and think “Brilliant! this is so brilliant, why hasn’t it been done before?” Well, that happened to me a few months ago when i met Gustavo Valera at an opening at LABoral in Gijón and he told me that he was involved in a documentary series about the open programming languages –Processing, Open Frameworks and Pure data. The series, called Hello World!, explores the creative possibilities expanded by these open source tools and their growing online communities.

Tomorrow, Thursday 28th of February, the first documentary will be available for viewing online and it’s dedicated to open source programming language and environment Processing. The documentary explores the role that ideas such as process, experimentation and algorithm play in this creative field featuring artists, designers and code enthusiasts.

The trailer and teasers are very promising. The documentary makers interviewed some of the leading figures of the Processing community (Casey Reas and Ben Fry of course but also Marius Watz, Golan Levin, Zach Lieberman, Theo Watson, etc.), sourced archived materials, and of course they illustrate the tools with projects that range from interactive large-scale installations to visuals for clubs, hacking, interaction design, screen-based works, etc. Tomorrow morning i’ll be on the Hello World! website first thing in the morning. Because I definitely need to refresh my knowledge of open creative coding.

HELLO_WORLD! Presentation clip from Ultra_Lab on Vimeo.

In the meantime, i’ve contacted two of the documentary makers, artist Abelardo Gil-Fournier and film maker Raúl Alaejos, for a quick interview. Raúl is the author of the documentary about Arduino and Abelardo is one of the founders of Ultra-lab, a company dedicated to the diffusion of open source digital fabrication and Hardware through workshops, project developments and content diffusion.

Hi Raúl and Abelardo! The trailer for the documentary series is visually compelling and the content seems to be pretty clear and straightforward but who did you make the doc for? the coding and programming community? The broad public who might not necessarily know about creative coding? And more generally, why did you decide to do a film documentary?

The series addresses the broad public; that’s what we’ve had in mind, at least. We think that there are a lot of really interesting conceptual concerns as well as working attitudes that are being extended parallel to the growing diffusion of these open creative programming languages. Our purpose with the whole series is to focus in those aspects, to share what we think are highly stimulating questions, such as the everyday effects of computation and data in our lives, and the significance of the hacker and maker stance, broadly considered.

That’s the goal of Ultra-lab, in fact, as a company devoted to the diffusion of open creative technologies, which produces the series. And that’s also what some of us already began to explore in a shorter experience, Arduino: the documentary.

How is the documentary series structured? Each episode corresponding to a different theme? Or a different tool? Or moment in the development of the open languages?

The series plan consists of three chapters, each of them dealing with different aspects of this confluence of creation and coding. Each chapter takes a concrete tool and its community to deploy a particular theme. The chapter Hello World! Processing we are now premiering, for example, tackles with the specificities of taking code and programming as a medium or creative strategy: what’s the role, then, and the interest of algorithms, data and parameters? What is being explored through them? We are not diving into the questions around interaction, for example, that’s something we want to handle in the Open Frameworks chapter. Nor time, perception and attention concerns, which we’ll explore in the Pure Data one.

Of course, we don’t mean those languages are meant specifically for these proposed domains; we decided to articulate the series around concrete tools to highlight their importance as singular cultural devices.

Teaser 01: Hello World! Processing – Algorithm Execution

Teaser 04 Physics

While reading through the blog of the project, i found this interesting post in which the author compares open languages to machines in a fablab, and mention connections between the digital world of creative coding with the physical production. Could you elaborate on this? Give examples maybe and tell us what you mean by that exactly?

In this first documentary we listen to Casey Reas and John Whitney, for example, both thinking on their creative processes with algorithms in terms of interactions with abstract machines. Marius Watz goes in depth with the importance of parameters, once you’ve got an algorithm or a dataset to play with. So there’s this provocative analogy with actual physical devices: abstract practices that become more friendly and approachable from this point of view. The idea of prototyping, probably, is enlightening at this point.

We wanted to go deeper into this relation of abstraction and materiality in this chapter, though. We’ve had always in mind this idea of desire paths, with all those physical layers of relation -such as affects, site specificities and contextuality- which drive to emergence, evolution, randomness or other abstract concepts. SocialFiction.org used to work on this, and may be it has to do also with Mitchell Whitelaw’s concept of transmateriality.

Did you find that the creative coding community have something in common that does beyond the use of the same tools?

Maybe the community is so large that it is risky to assess such a thing. We knew that, but we asked ourselves, is there a common way of looking at things? And we’ve met with lots of people which take the notion of process very seriously, as something that patterns the world. That is, the inspiration that comes from the observation of biological mechanisms, physical systems, social aggregates… But there’s also another point: we are talking about people that sit in front of a computer and program, copy & paste lines of code, download libraries, get stuck with errors and so on: they hack, they make, and that’s a common way of producing, alone or with others, that’s changing lots of things, including authorship, labour and power relations.

And apart from the usual suspects (designers and artists), did you find out or meet people who use the creative tools in other, less creative, contexts (such as a scientific one for example)?

Due to the low budget he had for this chapter, we could directly interview only a specific universe of creative coders, artists and designers, which were in fact gathered at an eyeo festival edition. We decided to make up for this lack by watching hours and hours of archive.org Prelinger movies. And we found really excellent material made in the 50s and 60s for science and technology dissemination. In some sense, then, mathetician and computer scientist Richard Hamming, for example, is one of the multiple voices in the film.

How are you planning to distribute the documentary series exactly? Through festivals? As a free to view online video?

All chapters will be available for free online at the site of the project and under a creative commons license. We would like them to be projected in physical gatherings, though. We think this first chapter for example arises interesting questions so it might be useful for artists, institutions or hacker spaces organizing workshops or meetings on creative coding or data visualization. We are encouraging this kind of projections by providing anyone interested with communication materials and diffusion through our site and social network accounts.

Now we are beginning to plan the second chapter of this series, and we are looking for partners for this kind of open and disseminating production. In terms of supporting the project, both actions are welcome; in either case, funding or projecting, please don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected] !

Thanks Abelardo and Raúl!