AlgoMech Festival 2017

By December 13, 2016

Film, TV & Tech. Sheffield.


Sheffield’s first AlgoMech Festival was held on the 12th-19th November across a number of venues, and covering a wide range of ideas. It’s quite hard to explain what it was all about, as even the organiser Alex McLean admitted, but it was a very lively and engaging series of events.

The first event I saw was Dead Plants and Living Objects sound installation at DINA. This cool new venue was filled with small objects, which were all set up to make noise which created a whole tapestry of sounds. Visually it was interesting, as a field full of noise makers/ instruments with the two artists wandering around between them making changes to how they interacted, and also because they had MASSIVE HELIUM BALLOONS! My inner child, never too far from the surface, was very happy indeed, as was the actual child I was sitting near whose comments were excellent to overhear. I always have the feeling of suppressed hilarity at these gigs, where you are collaborating with the artists and other audience members in a unique performance piece, which may sound wonderful, but you realise looks very strange indeed.


On the piece we chatted to organiser Alex McLean, who told us: “I’m really happy that as well as bringing them to Sheffield we were able to support Rie and Pierre’s development, they worked for three days in Access Space working with their helium balloons and took the ideas on the rest of their tour with them.

It was nice how the events linked together on the first weekend; our main aim for next year is to have the whole festival run like this, so people can visit Sheffield for a focused long weekend of activity.”

I first saw Alex performing at Dorkbot a few years ago, which was also the first time I’d seen and heard live coding. He’s also responsible for the algoraves, which are an experience I want to try, dancing to live music created in front of you usually faced by very nice elaborate speakers.

Alex told us: “For me a big highlight was the algorave, we got a really nice and big crowd who responded really well and brought a lot of meaning to the meshing of algorithms and mechanisms by dancing to them as they were being constructed live.”

And for the future? I’m happy to report that AlgoMech 2017 is already being planned, and here’s an exclusive of what the theme will be, as Alex revealed: “This year the subtheme was ‘making as performance’ and it hasn’t been announced yet but next year will be something about ‘unmaking…related to Penelope of Greek myth.'”

Toni Buckby, whose joint performance at the Crafting Sound event based on stitching techniques told us: “I got involved with the AlgoMech through my job at Access Space where I have been working since 2013.

“Alex McLean came a few years ago when he was doing some research into coding and weaving and I helped him out with my background in textiles.

“For the AlgoMech festival myself and my collaborator Sean Cotterill were invited on a three day residency the week before the festival. The plan was to develop something from the work we did over Sonic Pattern where we were using motion and gesture sensors to track my hand movements while stitching and create various digital outputs and feedback loops, however, I had an accident in October and broke my wrist so it was unlikely I would be well enough for this project by the time of the festival. In this case I think it was probably the best bit of bad luck I had in years because what we ended up creating is really interesting and has a lot of scope for further development.

“I specialise in an embroidery technique known as Blackwork and am fascinated by the mathematics involved in the early form of the technique. The patterns are very simple geometric shapes worked over a regular grid structure and these simple shapes are repeated and combined to make more complex pattern structures.

“I started thinking about the idea of creating a digital stitch pattern emulator based on the Blackwork embroidery technique and together with Sean (who is a musician and live coder) we began to develop the idea of building a embroidery pattern sampler.

“Both Sean and myself are planning on taking this project further. We’re keen to take the performance to new audiences and will hopefully also developing it as an interactive installation.”