Performance by programming

There are many directions we can take when trying to build a programming language from the ground up specifically for the purpose of live performance for an audience that we expect to (1) be entertained by the process, and (2) understand reasonably well the performance by programming.

The approach that comes most clearly to my mind is to think in terms of a troupe of trained “actors” that know how to take commands. For example, if the performer wished to get those actors to line up in order, from shortest to tallest (essentially a sorting algorithm) then the programming language should allow the performer to tell each actor something like “if the person to the right of you is taller than you, swap places”.

Note that the language needs to deal gracefully with exceptions such as an actor being all the way to the right (so that there is nobody to that actor’s right). In such cases, an actor should know simply to gracefully ignore the command.

In the same spirit, the performer could issue a command like: “Follow the actor to the right of you. If nobody is to the right of you, then follow the leftmost actor” to get all the actors to form a circle.

If we think of actors as carrying colors, or numbers, or having the ability to play musical notes, then we can start to think of simple ways to command those actors in ways that would be interesting to an audience. For example, the performer can tell the actors “Go into a group with all the actors who hold the same color you do. Then everyone in your group sort yourselves from shortest to tallest, and then play your respective musical notes in order.”

I realize there are lots of details missing here (such as the actual syntax of the language) the basic idea has about the right feel to it.

One Response to “Performance by programming”

  1. Sharon says:

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around this idea. Let me try another analogy. Is your “performer” at all like the conductor of an orchestra, with the actors being like the musicians? In this case the performer’s “language” might be richer than the gestures and facial expressions available to a conductor at performance time.

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