sampler [NOUN]

1: A piece of embroidery worked in various stitches as a specimen of skill, typically containing the alphabet and some mottoes.
2: An electronic device for sampling music and sound.

sampler/sampler is a digital blackwork embroidery stitch emulator, sonification system and sampler.

An ongoing collaborative project between live coder, digital artist and musician Sean Cotterill and Toni Buckby, a textile, digital and performance artist. It was presented for the first time on 12th November 2016 at Crafting Sound (I) (Millennium Gallery, Sheffield) as a commision for the AlgoMech Festival 2016 .

Blackwork embroidery, a technique of counted thread embroidery that became popular in England in the 16th century, uses simple straight stitches across the regular grid structure of evenweave fabric to create repeating geometric patterns.

sampler/sampler_1.0 relies on two networked computers (actual or virtual); one as a pattern sample generator (host) and another as a pattern sampler (client).
The pattern sample generator, built using Processing (a programming language for creating interactive visuals), is designed to mimic the structure of hand stitching a thread path. Alternating between front and back thread positions on the virtual fabric, each stitch generates a corresponding sound through SuperCollider (a platform for audio synthesis and algorithmic composition). As simple shape patterns are constructed by the host in Processing, the thread path is recorded creating a sample that is sent to the client machine. Simple pattern samples are repeated and combined in the client SuperCollider to generate complex improvised visual/audio pattern structures.

With the generous support of a Professional Development Bursary from a-n The Artist Information Company we will be developing the sampler/sampler project over 2017.

Future possible developments include:

  • a more intuitive and heuristic user interface;
  • expanding the network of machines for collaboration between a greater number of performers;
  • adapting the system as an interactive installation;
  • creating a web-based version as both a stand-alone and integrated system, allowing for potentially limitless collaborators.


“The term “open source” refers to something people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible.” []

Both myself and Sean work with open source software and the sampler/sampler project was created with the assumption that we would make it freely available for others to use and adapt. []

In the process of building sampler/sampler_1.0 it became quickly apparent that the system had a lot of scope for possible development – foremost being an interactive installation piece.

In it’s current form, the both the Processing and SuperCollider code can be run on a computer (or 2 networked computers) with enough processing power and it is not particularly demanding (running fine on my 10 year old laptop).
However, the major parts of transforming sampler/sampler into an installation are expanding the network and creating more intuitive interfaces (i.e. touchscreen).

In keeping with the open source philosophy our aim is to adapt our code to run on cheaply and easily available hardware thus enabling sampler/sample_2.0 to be shown anywhere in the world with little/no input from Sean or myself, as well as giving others the freedom to adapt and develop it however they want.

We have decided to try to get the code running on Rasperry Pi single board computers as they are one of the most popular and cheap as well as having some of the most reasonably priced touch screens available.

And so…

All this work has to start somewhere – firstly, getting Processing and SuperCollider working on the Pi!!

(I think I’ll save the touchscreen for another day!)