Meet FITC featured speaker Kyle McDonald

KyleMcDonaldKyle McDonald is an artist who works in the open with code. He is a contributor to arts-engineering toolkits like openFrameworks, and spends a significant amount of time building tools that allow artists to use new algorithms in creative ways. His work is very process-oriented, and he has made a habit of sharing ideas and projects in public before they're completed. He prefers to creatively subvert networked communication and computation, explore glitch and embedded biases, and extend these concepts to reversal of everything from personal identity to work habits. Kyle is a member of F.A.T. Lab, community manager for openFrameworks, and adjunct professor at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

Kyle will be presenting Do it with Everyone at FITC Amsterdam and FITC Toronto

Thanks for sharing with us, Kyle!

1) Tell us about your early beginnings, how did you get your start? 

The earliest code-related memory I have is opening a web browser sometime around 1999 and having a friend show me that you could "view source" on a webpage. We tweaked the HTML a little, saved it, and reloaded the page. I got really excited, and then really freaked out, worried that I had somehow "hacked into" the website, and that everyone else could see the bright red background I added. Jump ahead a few years and I was exploring QBasic, Perl, ActionScript 1.0, and a little JavaScript. I was most inspired by people like Jared Tarbell and Jer Thorp who were sharing their projects openly, and then found the Processing community in 2003 which was overflowing with this attitude of open toolmaking and constructive critique. I did my best to blend in by sharing my own thoughts and tricks, learning from everyone else, and I slowly found some niches for myself exploring generative sound and visuals -- eventually moving into computer vision and interaction around 2008.

2) What do you think is the biggest challenge our industry faces right now?

The world of creative coding, and programming in general, heavily favors the already privileged. As a community, we would like to think programming has a low barrier to entry, and that any success is meritocratic. Unfortunately, having the time to sit down and learn how to express yourself or explore with code is not something everyone has the time to do. If you are already oppressed by external factors, you will never have a chance to code in the first place.

Furthermore, because the coding community is fairly homogenous, we tend to support other people who we can relate to rather than embracing people based on their skill or effort alone. This has created a vicious cycle that will only be broken with direct, conscious intervention on behalf of all parties. Otherwise, we will only get more games, products, artwork, and everything else in a form that is impossibly navel-gazing, upper-class, and narrow-minded.

Kyle McDonald at FITC Toronto 2013

3) For those new to the industry, how do you recommend they break in?

If you want to continue working with code, or just generally use computation for art and design, the most important thing you can do is find a community of people who inspire you, that you can relate to. Sometimes people ask which tool they should learn, which programming language, where they should submit their work to, what themes and topics to focus on. None of these things matter as the first threshold of sustainability in a creative career, in my opinion. Just find the people you want to spend time with, the people you look up to, and spend time with them -- whether that means in person or online. You'll be continually inspired by focusing on other people, because all of us are more creative than any of us. And not only will you be inspired, you'll be supported. Trying to figure out whether to use Cinder, openFrameworks, Processing, vvvv, or Max? Use whatever your friends are using and you have an instant support network.

4) Favourite music to work to? Any specific artists?

When I started coding I only listened to downtempo hip hop: DJ Shadow, DJ Cam, DJ Krush, DJ Vadim, Kid Koala. I moved into a more indie vibe with The Velvet Teen, Sufjan Stevens, Mice Parade, Dirty Projectors. But in 2009 I worked on a few projects with Daito Manabe, and not everyone realizes this, but besides being a great artist and designer he is an amazing DJ in Tokyo. Each time I met up with him, he would dump a ton of music on my laptop, and I'd listen to it for the next few months. Since then I've been warming up to everything from Hudson Mohawke and Martyn, to Ametsub and Shuta Hasunuma, and I'll even admit I listened to an Avicii track yesterday.

5) If there was one person dead or alive you could have dinner with, who would it be and why?

As much as I'm tempted to go with someone representing unparalleled peace and wisdom like Siddhartha Gautama, Chuang Tzu, or even Marcus Aurelius, I'd probably go with someone like Marcel Duchamp or John Cage. They were both such troublemakers and idealists at the same time, I'd hope to learn something from asking them the questions I struggle with the most myself.

Thank you again, Kyle, and see you in Amsterdam and Toronto!