Orca is a visual programming environment for making music. Except it’s not graphical, it’s just text arranged in a grid. Except it doesn’t actually make music, it just silently emits digital events across time. When you first see it, it’s utterly alien. When you start to learn how it works and why, the logic of it all snaps into place, and it becomes a thrilling case study for authors of live programming environments and interactive media tools.
Devine Lu Linvega, Orca’s creator, struck a wonderful balance between flashy style and significant utility. Orca is typically encountered as an inky black and seafoam green alphabet soup, pulsating to some species of broody electronic industrial throb. But it is also a forgiving learning environment that doesn’t crash, puts code and data together in the same space, lets you directly manipulate code and data interchangeably, allows generous recovery from mistakes, and supports discovery through freeform play.
I invited Devine to come on the show specifically to brain dump about the design process of Orca, how he started the project and built it up to what it is today. During our three-hour conversation we wound up talking a lot about all the other tools he’s created, and you can hear that discussion on last month’s episode. This time it’s all Orca — inspirations, execution model, operators, interface, system design, ports & reimplementations, interactions with other tools, and the community.
This episode contains many snippets of music, as examples of what you can make using Orca. All of it was created by Devine, and is available on his Youtube channel. If you like a particular piece and want to hear the full thing — and see exactly how Devine made it — they are all linked down below in the transcript at the point that they appear in the show. So just scroll and skim, or search this page for some phrase that neighbours the song you want to find.
Quote of the show: “It’s for children. The documentation fits in a tweet, basically.”