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Codebending: Creating Generative Art From Interconnected Systems

This hack allows computer programs to communicate with one another and make art.

Most of us have heard of the term circuit bending, a practice where audio equipment and electronic toys are rewired to create new instruments and sound generators. But have you ever heard of codebending? It’s a way of connecting software systems together through “patch points” to push their collective functionality and explore what they can do. You’re essentially playing around with interconnected systems, using them to interact and communicate with one other, linking video games with music-making software or having one video game play another video game. Its creator, Paper Kettle aka Chris Novello, defines it as “the act of connecting computer software in atypical ways, and exploring the potential of systems.” You can read more about it here.


Novello’s even gone on to create a modular codebending instrument called illucia, a console that can control the different software programs and how they exchange data.

Chris Novello explains:

Codebending is the exploration of software with "patch points." Patch points expose the inner workings of computer programs, and allow for atypical connections between things like games, music-making software, office suites, etc.

illucia is a USB device with physical jacks that correspond to software patch points, which can be connected and disconnected using patch cables. Thus, illucia is a console for routing information between computer programs, and opens strange relationships across systems that don't usually interact—it turns systems themselves into play objects.

Video games can play other video games. Music synthesizers can control word processors. Feedback loops turn everyday software tropes into generative art. Simple AI is patchable. Anything controls (and can be controlled by) anything; in codebending, every system becomes an instrument with a unique voice, ready to control, and be controlled.

illucia is a physical instrument to explore these kinds of connections—it is a way to treat systems as playgrounds.

His first creations have mostly been codebendable games like War Machine where “a crosshair blasts colourful explosions into a dense nest of shoots that approach from above” and PCO (Paddle Controlled Oscillator), “a classic ball and paddle game. When pushed, it morphs into a function generator and spills abstract art.” We can’t wait to see what else he comes up with using this software mashup tool, where systems that wouldn’t normally give each other the time of day, instead interact and “play” together. He explains that “fascinating and unexpected things happen when connecting otherwise-unrelated programs.”

Lets just hope the machines don’t become self-aware and start plotting our demise while we think they’re making art.