During the lockdown of 2020, I started performing live-coded concerts in Virtual Reality environments. As a gamer and as a member of diverse digital communities, I saw the enormous impact and potential of these technologies to unite people and create and disseminate art.

For more than six years, I have been working on my idea of an opera based on the story of Edward Snowden but haven’t found the possibility to make it come true. I think there are many reasons for these impossibilities, and only with the perspective of time will I be able to clarify them more. There are some reasons I can identify now, one of them being that the classical and academic world is still significantly biased against non-white, non-male composers, rendering it almost impossible to have access to grants, funds, and festivals. Another reason is that the subject of my opera is too politically charged for some spheres, who not by coincidence are the ones who could easily finance such a project. But one of the most apparent reasons for me during the last years was that the relevance of an opera dealing with our most urgent social issues with digital technologies was still not clearly understood. 

As a live coder, I could bloom as a creator thanks to the constant and persistent support from a community that allowed me to grow artistically and personally with dignity and respect. It offered me what the classical academic world always denied me. The live coding community gave me conscious education, care, empowerment, and nurtured my uniqueness. I could finally feel genuinely heard in an environment that values community instead of competition, joint work instead of hierarchies, and authenticity and errors instead of production and perfection. An environment that opens spaces to non-male, non-white people, different backgrounds, and points of view. Not to mention an environment free from the toxicities of patriarchy and machism that abound in Latin America. And very importantly, that opens new channels of communication. All these characteristics are not easily found in obsolete mentalities and institutions. 

For a community to grow like this, it needs new channels of communication. Live coders have been using and appropriating digital media channels for many years now. We have been performing, educating, meeting, partying, discussing, creating together on the internet for many years. Via forums, chats, live concerts, groups, websites, live coders have explored almost every possibility to meet and express ourselves using the internet. This capacity to use new media has been our primary tool to create a community that overcomes physical boundaries and is conformed by very diverse people worldwide. A truly global community. 

In 2020 I started recovering from burnout and depression. The lockdown and worldwide health situation brought about a world that was stopping, staying at home, and taking the time to re-think its life, just like I was doing. The pandemic couldn’t suit me better, as it made many more people conscious of their lifestyles and made them question the validity of digital channels for communication. Suddenly, more people considered that online performances or workshops were as valid as physical ones. And so, by the end of the year, I started playing more concerts, teaching more seminars, and giving more masterclasses from the safety of my room in Berlin. 

Thanks to my connection to the Italian Virtual Reality collective UXRzone, I could perform various concerts in the Metaverse (the collective virtual shared space that includes all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet). I organized varied live-coded concerts in their virtual reality clubs and venues and started understanding the growing and necessary validity of human contact, through digital means during the pandemic. I always saw my human body as an avatar, anyway. This experience was allowing me to reflect deeper into questions as embodiment and contact. 

The lockdown made it very clear that this unique situation was closing many doors but opening unexpected windows. As festivals were closing down and the cultural scene was suffering under the impact of the inability to have physical contact, Virtual Reality appeared as the solution I was looking for for so long. Artists that never considered collaborating online before were curious and intrigued by the new possibilities. Festivals and institutions that didn’t consider digital technologies before started looking at the channels and options previously used only by hackers and nerds. Live coders are regarded as an example by many in this transition. So, armed with my experience with digital communities, I embarked on the mission of making my Opera about Edward Snowden on a Virtual Reality platform that was open to everyone with a computer and a browser connected to the internet. 

At the same time, the German government was opening fundings for artists during the lockdown. They looked to support projects that strived to open new communication channels for digital media during the lockdown. And so it is thanks to their program Musikfonds, Neustart Kultur, that my project got funded for six months to research and start writing my opera.

Alexandra Cárdenas

composer/programmer/improviser/live coder/algoraver