Famous People Who Came From the Demoscene

June 12, 2015

The demoscene can be an utterly useless experience to have. Who cares about what you can do in 1024 bytes? On the other hand, the scene is like a secret society. Sceners give other sceners work opportunities, and recommend each other for projects. I’ve heard stories from sceners going to a job interview, mentioned their demogroup, and basically got the job. “Yeah nice demos man, you can start monday”.

Some huge companies were born as demoscene groups. DICE came from The Silents. IO Interactive came from Cryonics. The IT-company TAT started as Yodel. And there are individual sceners who have managed to become “famous” on their own. Famous in the sense of getting plenty of recognition within a specific field or in the mainstream.

The purpose of this list is not to make a general “this is what sceners are doing outside of the scene” (check Scener Release list, demosceners on Wikipedia, old-ish list of sceners in the games industry) but to show examples of people who managed to go from the scene and do something out of the ordinary.

The entries on this list have not been scrutinized and researched as much other texts here, such as the Timeline. Please report any errors you might find, and feel free to suggest new additions by commenting or mailing (faxATgoto80DOTcom). And please get in touch if you want your name removed from this list.

Big thanks for the help: Akira, Tempest, Deadguy, Stage7, lug00ber, S. Alexander Reed, Inigo Quilez, Alex Evans, Mistigris, Bryface, Fine Cut Bodies, Kaneel, uucidl, Paniq, Glenn Lunder, Mordi, Hunter Chorey, Saga Musix, Kuba Winnicki, Rez, the Pouet-tweeter, Henri Toivonen, Bent Stamnes, iLKke, Simon Carless, evil paul, David Weinehall, Markku Reunanen, Esko Ahonen, Amplitude Problem, Øistein Eide, Tim Koch, Gargaj, Juan Irming, Toni Kurkimäki, shawnphase, RadiantX, Velo, HP, d0us, Hedning, Saku Lehtinen, Steve Anthony Williams, Fini Alring, Jaro Janto, Niezly Jakub, all the people in the Demoscene FB-group, Jari Jaanto, DeeKay, Kris, Kovacm, Frost, and even more.

 

Music

The late 90’s scene spawned quite a few semi-famous IDM-artists. Brothomstates (Dune/Orange sometimes together with Yolk/Parallax) have released IDM on Warp and are part of the TPOLM-universe in the scene. Bogdan Raczynski (Karl) released on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex Records, but started in the tracker scene as Karl. The label Merck released sceners and sceneroids like Lackluster (Distance/TPOLM), Ilkae, Blamstrain, Vim, Machinedrum, Frank and Bill, md (Mellow-D/TPOLM), Xhale, Crankshaft (Yolk/TPOLM), Tim Koch (Serkul/Cydonia).

Adam Skorupa (Scorpik/Pulse, Poland) – a composer and sound designer famous foremost in Poland.

Alek Száhala (Apofis/TDC, Finland) reached some fame with his Hard NRG music in the 00’s.

Alexander Odden (Flipside/Nazareth, Norway) is in Pegboard Nerds.

Anders Carlsson (Goto80/HT^UP, Sweden) that’s me doing this list and I’ve made some stuff.

Anders Johansson (Static/Rebels, Sweden) is an editor in the film industry.

Andrew Sega (Necrös/FM, USA) of the synthpop group IRIS. In this video he talks about the scene stuff.

Anthony Rother (Anthony R/Online) made music and almost went to the Venlo party december 1988.

Attila Fodor (Poacher) does music as Fine Cut Bodies.

Axel Hedfors (Quazar, Sweden) is Axwell in Swedish House Mafia.

Bas Bron (Strike/Axis) makes music as Bastian, De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig, etc.

Bjørn Lynne (Dr. Awesome/Crusaders, Norway) works with music for games and other media.

Charles Deenen (TMC, Netherlands) formed Maniacs of Noise, has worked at EA, and works with games and movies.

Chris Coady (Christopher Robin/Trance, USA) is a well-established music producer working with bands like Beach House and !!!.

Christian Morgenstern (Christian Morgenstern/Covert Action Team^Essence, Germany) became a big techno artist in the 1990’s.

Cliff Lothar, a newly hyped electro artist, has a scene background but maybe I’m not supposed to tell…

Daniel Hansson (Matrix/Zone 45, Sweden) co-founded the synthesizer company Elektron.

Den Svenska Björnstammen, a Grammy-award winning Swedish pop group, have two members from the scene: Sombie/Tazadum and Buzzie/Syntax Terror.

Dubmood (Dubmood/Razor1911, Sweden/France) runs the label Data Airlines and works full-time with music.

Erez Eisen (Erez Eisen, Israel) is in Infected Mushroom‘s and used to make MOD and S3M music.

Frédéric Motte (Moby/Dreamdealers^Sanity, France) works with game music and studio music.

Fredrik Segerfalk (Moppe/Oneway) runs Analog Sweden and recently crowdfunded 25,000 euros.

Gustaf Grefberg (Lizardking/Alcatraz, Sweden) made game music for e.g Wolfenstein and Syndicate.

Hans van Vliet (Hunz, Australia) formed the videogame band 7bit hero and works with music.

Jamie Watts aka Kilowatts and Skeetaz (Purple People Eater/Mirage, USA) releases techno, IDM, breakbeat, etc.

Janne Suni (Tempest/Fairlight) became famous when Timbaland sampled Acidjazzed Evening.

Jesper Kyd (Jesper Kyd/The Silents, Denmark) works with soundtracks for games and movies.

Joakim Cosmo (Jucke/Judas, Sweden) is a well-known techno/house DJ in Sweden and Denmark.

Jochen Hippel (Mad Max/The Exceptions, Germany) worked on game music for a while and then ??

Johan Antoni (Nibbel, Sweden) founded the famous Swedish music store Jam and makes music as Urban Electro Squad

Jonne Valtonen (Purple Motion/Future Crew) makes music for games, theaters, orchestras, etc.

Joris de Man (Scavenger, Netherlands) was in the Atari scene and now makes game music.

Jouni Helminen (Dharma, Finland) released drum n’ bass on Moving Shadow in the 00’s sometimes together with fellow scener Prob.

Juan Irming (7an/SYNC, Sweden) makes music as Amplitude Problem.

Juha Kujanpää (Dizzy/CNCD, Finland) is sort of famous in folk music.

Kenneth Graham (KG, USA) is a serial entrepreneur and was a prominent DJ in the Los Angeles area in the 90’s and 00’s.

Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz (Wierza/Venture, Poland) is a freelance composer, well established in Poland.

Logic Bomb‘s original members were the Amiga-sceners Jonez and Thug, who made the European Top 20 diskmag. Jonez was also in Byterapers and Triad.

Mark Knight (TDK/Melon Dezign) is a game sounds designer/composer, and session musician.

Markus Kaarlonen (Captain/Frantic, Finland) made eurodisco for Dance Nation in the 1990’s, smurf hits and then Poets of the Fall. Also works at Futuremark.

Martin Iveson (Nuke/Anarchy aka Spaceman/Lemon) now makes records and game music.

Martyn (911/Movement, Netherlands) is quite big in bass music.

Matt Simmonds (4-mat/Anarchy) “invented chipmods” and has made music for many games.

Mattias Ziessow (Hellhound) plays in one of the more famous Swedish pop-EBM bands, Spark!.

Muffler (Muffler, Finland) is a big name in drum n’ bass.

Oskar Stål (Flamingo/Light, Sweden) is the CTO of Spotify.

Oskari Tammelin (Phantom/Jeskola?, Finland) made the Jeskola Buzz music software.

Patrick Lindsey (Bass/The Silents, Germany) is a techno DJ and producer.

Paul Harris (member of BBC) is part of the house duo Dirty Vegas who got a big hit in 2003.

Raphael Gesqua (Audiomonster/Melon Dezign, France) makes music for games, movies, etc.

Ronny Pries (Ronny/Teklords^Farbrausch, Germany) has released techno on labels like Forte and Superstition.

Rune RK (Spaze/GiGA Prod) is a music producer who’s worked with eg Coldplay and Nicki Minaj.

Slusnik Luna (included Strobo/Stellar, Finland) reached the UK top 40 in 2001 with the track Sun.

Tim Jackiw (Mel/Pearl, Australia) is now big in minimal techno.

Thomas Detert (X-ample Architecture) was a famous C64-composer and then made mainstream success with the eurodisco group Activate.

Thomas J. Bergersen (Lioz/Index) has worked with big mainstream artists with his Two Steps From Hell company.

Toasty (Damo/Reservoir Dogs, UK) was doing dubstep very early, and used to be a scene coder.

Tomas Danko (Danko/Fairlight) became famous with Starchild, worked at DICE, and now works with beer.

Ural 13 Diktators (Finland) started as a music group on the Amiga under the same name.

Øistein Eide (Øistein Eide, Norway) deejays and produces as Boom Jinx.

 

Graphics, Design, Imagery

Andrzej Dragan (Dreamer/Flying Cows) is a famous portrait photographer.

Balazs Kiss (Ward/Enlightenment, Hungary) used to organize the RAGE parties and now works as with lighting and effects for movies like Hobbit and Avatar.

Frauke Bönsch (Fashion/Farbrausch, Germany) is an award-winning photographer.

Íñigo Quílez (Iq/RGBA) is famous for his tiny demos and has worked for eg Pixar and received a VES-award for his work.

Irfan Celik (Ivan/Smash Designs, Germany) does 3D work for major Hollywood movies.

Janne Kontkanen (Olwi/Carillon^Complex, Finland) has done major research in computer graphics and was part of a team that won a technical Oscar.

Melon Dezign became Melon Dezign.

Misko Iho (Pixel/Future Crew) is an award-winning film director and music video producer.

Oliver Gaspirtz (OMG/Amok, Germany/USA) did the first C64 diskmag and is now a cartoonist.

Peter Baustaedter (J.O.E/Scoopex^TRSI) makes visual effects for movies.

Rune Spaans (Sparkler/Megastyle, Norway) did VFX for the low-budget hit movie Troll Hunter.

Szabolcs Menyhei (Inferno/Haujobb) works with 3D graphics for movies like Godzilla and Ant-man.

Thomas Abrahamsson (Bluestar/SYNC, Sweden) founded Elfwood, the largest website for fantasy art.

Thomas Obermaier (Pro/Nuance) makes tools for visual effects, popular in the movie industry.

Thomas Pringle (Dr. Zulu/GiGA Prod) works with illustration and concepts for games and movies like Cloud Atlas and Bioshock 2.

 

Games

Andreas Varga (Mr. SID/HVSC Crew, Austria/Netherlands) does engine code for Guerilla Games (Killzone etc)

Ari Seppä (Duce/Extend, Finland) works for Rovio on Angry Birds as a GFX artist

Alex Evans (Statix/TPOLM) founded Media Molecule and worked with games like Little Big Planet.

Bugbear was formed by members from Byterapers.

Christophe Balestra (Oxbab/Oxygene) is the co-president at Naughty Dog (Uncharted, The Last of Us)

Daniel Scott (Dan/Anarchy) started at Core in 1991 and has since then worked on many games.

DICE was formed out of The Silents, and many sceners work there today.

Funcom involved many sceners.

Grand cru (Finland) was formed by sceners like Ilkka Paananen and Markus Pasula.

Housemarque (Finland) was a merger of Bloodhouse (created by Bloodsuckers) and Terramarque (created by CNCD).

IO Interactive was formed out of Cryonics.

Jaakko Iisalo (Croaker/Halcyon, Finland) made Angry Birds with music by Ari Pulkkinen (Djartz).

Jim Malmros (Jimbo, Sweden) has worked for IO and DICE on games like Hitman and Battlefield.

Lasse Louhento (Kube/CNCD) is Game Lead at Supercell (Clash of Clans)

Magnus Sjöberg (Pantaloon/Fairlight, Sweden) is lead engine developer for Battlefield at Electronic Arts

Matt Svoboda (Smash/Fairlight) worked at Sony for 9 years.

Olof Gustafsson (Blaizer/TBL^The Silents) works with game audio.

Remedy was formed by members from Future Crew (PC), Scoopex (Amiga), Aggression (Atari) among others.

Shin’en Multimedia was formed by Abyss.

Simon Carless (Hollywood or h0l) is an established figure in the video games industry, writing and organizing events.

Starbreeze Studios grew out of the scene group Triton.

Straylight Productions (USA) was a game music group with Basehead, Necrös and Siren.

Sumea, the Finnish game company, grew out of Virtual Dreams.

Tatu Blomberg (Mr. Sex/Byterapers, Finland) worked on some major games. Also other Byterapers in the same company: sivu and t.o.b.

 

Politics and activism

Kim Dotcom (Kim Schmitz, Bitbug, Germany) who since Megaupload is a famous piracy/activist/entrepreneur. In the 1990’s he was a not very well-liked warez d00d who ran the BBS House of Coolness.

Peter Sunde (Nike/Craze, TRSI, Fairlight, Sweden) co-founded The Pirate Bay and has ever since been a sort of activist.

Tamas Polgar (Tomcat, Hungary) wrote the Freax book series, and is a well-known in Hungary for his radical nationalist/libertarian (?) activism that has led to several arrests.

The Bureau for Piracy (Sweden) that preceded The Pirate Bay involved several people with a connection to the scene, like CyberC.

Tony Krvaric (Strider/Fairlight, Sweden/USA) is a republican politician in USA.

Troed Sångberg (Red Fox/SYNC, Sweden) is one of the top men of the Swedish Pirate Party, and also works for Sony… as a futurist?

 

Code and Hardware

Adam Dunkels (Trident/Active) pioneered the Internet of Things.

Chris Heilman (Cupid/Hitmen) was an dev evangelist at Mozilla and later moved on to Microsoft.

Futuremark was formed out of the scene groups Future Crew and Mature Furk.

Haxx was formed out of Horizon.

Linus Walleij aka King Fisher/TRIAD is one of the top Linux kernel developers.

Massimino Pascal (Skal/Bomb, France) is a senior software engineer at Google.

Mike Hanney (Zam Diesel/NeXT, Sweden) founded the softsynth company AudioRealism.

Mikko Mononen (Memon/Moppi, Finland) is lead AI programmer at Crytek.

Nicolas Stefani (Miko/Tiny Toons) was rated in the top-100 coders in France.

Tomasz Pytel was one of the main coders of PayPal, and was active in the scene as Tran.

Yodel, a PC/Amiga group, founded TAT that was sold to Blackberry for 150 million dollars.

Jari Jaanto (Jaffa/Static, Finland) co-founded IRC-Galleria, the largest social media in Finland during the 00’s.

 

Art

Tommi Musturi (Electric/Extend, Finland) makes comic books and art, and has received Finland’s biggest comics prize.

Bengt Sjölén (Redhead/SYNC, Sweden) is an artist and serial entrepreneur and has exhibited his work at MOMA in New York.

 

Academics

Fredrik Kahl (Gollum/Fairlight) is a professor in computer vision, image analysis, etc.

Mårten Björkman (Celebrandil/Phenomena, Sweden) is a professor in computer science, focused on computer vision and robotics.

Markku Reunanen aka Marq/Dekadence^Fit is a lecturer and one of the most active demoscene researchers.

Niklas Beisert (Pascal/Cubic Team, Switzerland) wrote Cubic Player and is an associate professor in mathematical physics.

Perttu Hämäläinen (Farqu/Nikki Corruptions, Finland) is the professor of game design at Aalto university and the founder of the Virtual Air Guitar Company.

Tommi Junttila (Slayer/Scoopex, Finland) is an algorithm researcher and a university lecturer at Aalto University

 

Various

Daan Veldhuizen (Screes/RBi, Netherlands) has made acclaimed documentaries.

Denis Moschitto (MerlinM/Scoopex^Nuance, Germany) is a somewhat famous actor in Germany.

Jukka O. Kauppinen (Grendel/Byterapers, Finland) is one of the more famous tech journalists in Finland.

Oliver Borgardt (Cosmic/Nuance, Germany) pioneered 3D-printed jewelry.

 

Todo?

PRI/Oxyron released some records.

Shogoon was/is a classical guitarist?

Romeo Knight.

Check this and the demosceners category at wikipedia

This about sceners in games production

Darude used FT2, but was he in the scene?

Maybe David Fincher?

Rumour has it that Ulf in Ace of Base did Amiga music for the scene?

Goodiepal was supposedly involved in the scene?

Critical Artware?

Black Dog Productions reportedly made some demos.

Firefox/PHA works with mainstream music.

Urban Shakedown?

Coldcut and Bomb the Bass (etc).

Saku Lehtinen mentioned: “Hybrid Graphics (later NVidia) and ATI etc.”

Megasnail is a Doctor of Politics, Steve of Zenith is Doctor twice over in both social and clinical psychology,

Emmanuel Top?

 

Cyber Punk Rock and Lucifer, 1977 & 1994

May 24, 2015

In the 00’s, people liked to compare chipmusic with punk. No one more than Malcolm McLaren, who was the manager for Sex Pistols when they released their first album in 1977. That same year, Duncan Lewis Jowitt formed his first punk band and played in various constellations until 1994. That’s when he discovered the Amiga and became Lucifer.

His first release was Cyber Punk Rock. It was a bootable floppy with two Ramones-covers. The originals didn’t have much vocals, so Lucifer was able to fit two songs with vocals on one 880kb floppy disk. The second song is also available on YouTube. Cyber Punk Rock Volume 2 came out later in 1994 and was a double-floppy release with four Ramones covers and one original. CU Amiga wrote: That’s quite cool. The music’s not that good but it’s a nice idea. You could order the floppies for £2,75 from Scribble PD. Public Domain Punk Rock!

Well, I like it. And I was quite happy that his four floppy releases 94-95 were recently re-issued as MP3-downloads: Cyber Punk and Cyber Zone. Highly recommended! The music was made in OctaMED. Like most other people who made Amiga music, he ripped sounds from other Amiga songs. So his music has traces from both scene music and game music. It sounds like he used a guitar sample from Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge, for example.

Vocal Amiga rock music had been around atleast since 1989 in games, demos and as standalone songs. But this was something pretty different. It was executable music not aimed at the scene, not aimed at the 1990’s multimedia bubble, and not aimed at some sort of “music industry”. Or the punk scene. It’s actually not easy to say who this was made for. Which makes it even better! Anyway, here are some examples of vocal Amiga rock from 1989-1994:


^ Minä Omistan by Groo (April 1994). Hard and odd. 455kb.


^ Anarchy in the UK by Bannasoft/Melon Dezign (1993). Rocky and lo-fi. 295kb.


^ Fuck the Norm by Chromag (1993). Rage Against the Machine-y. 276kb.


^ Jumping Jackson (1990). Curiously soft rock.

sportmadTrash-Collector by Walkman (1990). Great lyrics! Released in the demo Sportmad by Complex. 88kb.


^ Slemmig Torsk by The Lynx Crew (1989). Samples the full song “En slemmig torsk” by the classical swedish punk band KSMB.

Bonus: Sonic Youth’s Youth Against Fascism that my neighbours made in 1993 to hate on a local demo group.

More linkage:

Computer Music Was Invented by Women and Militaries

May 17, 2015

paul_lawson_640_univac

Irrlicht Project, who runs the chip/demo/8bit blog IP’s Ancient Wonderland, has done some impressive research to find out that computer music is older than we thought. Just a few months before Australians and Englishmen did their pioneering beeps, a group of Americans played music with the UNIVAC. Lieutenant Herb Finney at Army Air played hits like The Eyes of Texas and The Air Force Song.

Later on a Betty Holberton, who was involved in programming the ENIAC, made some other tunes which Irrlicht writes about in his post. Those songs were played in public in June 1951, which is the oldest public performance of computer music that we know of at the moment. Depending on what you mean by computer music. The ENIAC did not actually synthesize digital sounds like the Australians and Englismen did that same summer (err, winter). The ENIAC-music was essentially telling a radio receiver to play notes and music. This technique was made famous by Steve Dompier on the Altair 8800 in 1975, but had been done many times before. In fact, in 1968 the Rand Corporation writes (p.16):

All in all, this was a neat and clever idea, and still is: nearly every college computing center rediscovers it independently.

Another h/t to herr Irrlicht for finding this quote, which gives us reason to ask: How much digital music experiments have been lost in time? I think it’s safe to say that it’s quite a lot, for several reasons. Many engineers were doing this for fun, perhaps even without permission after working hours. And music wasn’t exactly part of the repertoire of “proper computing” so it was not well documented either.

+++

If you are surprised that a woman did this – don’t be. The first programmer was a woman, and many other computing pioneers were too. Also – back when “computer” was a work position and not a machine, many computers were females.

Are you surprised that militaries did this? Don’t be. Plenty of music- and media technologies originate from military R&D. The German media theorist Kittler went as far saying that “the entertainment industry is, in all senses of the term, misuse of military equipment”.

Anyway. I’ve changed the timeline accordingly and look forward to doing it again!

Btw, if you happen to be pals with Herb Finney you might want to get in touch with Allan Reiter for his UNIVAC documentation project (where the image at the top is taken from).

Btw, Also check out the Dutch computer music that was released on 7″ in 1962 that Irrlicht also found recently.

A retrospective on the stories and aesthetics of 8­bit music

January 26, 2015

Taken from the catalogue to Lu Yang’s exhibition ANTI-HUMANISM at the OK Corral gallery in Copenhagen. I was asked to write a free-floating essayoid text about 8-bit music, and I came up with this. I added some links here too, for further reading/watching/listening.

When practitioners of 8­bit music like me write about the genre, it is hard to ignore the skills and effort needed to make the music. To play 8­bit music you need to master a not­so­intuitive software interface in order to communicate with a computer chip, that in return produces bleeping sounds from cheap digital logic. On or off, increase or decrease. These inputs are the basics of digital technologies, making it as if there is something timeless about 8­bit music, although it might seem really old: 30 years in digital terms is the equivalent of something like 1001011001010101011111101011 years.

8­bit music can be understood as a low­level cultural technique of music hacking, where different stories can be told. The sceptic might tell a story of nostalgia for videogames, where the composer makes simplistic music because the tool used doesn’t allow anything complex to be made. Indeed, that would be a normal story to tell if we believe that newer is better, and that new expressions require new technologies. It’s an almost logical story in a society that values quantitative increases over quality.

The most common story about 8-­bit music among academics, artists and journalists, however, puts the human at the centre of attention. It sometimes has a similar narrative to an old monster movie. There is a hero who learns how to manipulate and finally control some sort of wild beast. Instead of a monster, the Obsolete Computer is a mysterious relic of old school digital consumerism that is nowadays hard to understand, both in terms of purpose and function. A young white male hero appears and tames a frightening thing with rational choices, and probably kills it with physical or symbolic violence. He achieves freedom and love and/or emancipation from capitalism or modernism or something. The end.

I should know, for I too have told this kind of story. Many times. I started making music with 8­-bit machines as a kid in the early 1990’s, when that was (almost) the normal thing to do. Thing is, I never stopped using them. Throughout the 2000’s, as 8-­bit music started to intertwine with mass culture again because of the current retromania, people like me had to start explaining what we were doing. Journalists started to ask questions, promoters wanted biographies that would spark an interest, art curators wanted the right concepts to work with, and so on. So during the noughties, a collective story started to emerge among those of us who were making 8­-bit music in what I have called the chipscene: a movement of people making soundchip-­related music for records and live performances (rather than making sounds for games and demos as was done during the 80’s and 90’s).

The stories circulated around Commodore 64s, Gameboys, Amigas and Ataris, Nintendo Entertainment Systems, and other computers and game consoles from the 1980’s. We were haunted by the question “Why do you use these machines?” and although I never really felt like I had a good answer, we were at least pretty happy to talk about our passion for these machines. For a while anyway.

In comparison to many other music movements we spoke out about the role of technology, and we did it at the expense of music. We didn’t care much about the style and aesthetics of the music we made, because 8-­bit music could be cute pop and brutal noise, both droney ambient and complex jazz. We didn’t care about the clothes we wore, or which drugs we took, or which artists we listened to. We formed a subculture based on a digital technology that uses 8 bits instead of 32 or 64, as modern machines do. Defining our music movement as “8-­bit music” was a simplified way of explaining what we did. It was a way of thinking about medium and technology intrinsic to some modern discourses on art. Like, anything you do with a camera is photography. Simple, but slightly … pointless?

The music somehow came in second. Or maybe third. Sometimes the music we made almost became irrelevant. The idea of seeing someone on a huge stage with a Gameboy was sometimes enough. The primal screams of digital culture roaring on an over­sized sound system in a small techno club, was what we needed to get us going, even if it sounded terrible. Some of us were more famous than others, sure, but there wasn’t the same celebrity­ and status­ cults as in some of the “too ­serious” 1990’s­ style electronic music scenes. For us, the machines were the protagonist of the stories. Sometimes it was almost as if we – the artists who made the music – had been reduced to objects. It was as if the machines were playing us, and not the other way around. Yeah.. very anti­human!

To be honest, not many people are willing to give up their human agency and identity, step back, and give full credit to the machine. Or even worse – have someone else do that for you. Well, I didn’t feel comfortable with it, at least. People came up to us when we performed live to interrupt and ask what games we were playing. Or perhaps requested some old song from a game: But for many of us, the entire movement of 8-­bit music was not about the games of the 1980s. It was about the foundational computational technologies and their expressions manifested as sounds. Or something like that, anyway.

It’s quite interesting how this came to be. How did 8­-bit music become so dehumanized, when it involves quite a lot of human skills, techniques, knowledge and determination? I think an important factor was when the chip­scene was threatened by outsider perspectives. In 2003, Malcolm McLaren, known for creating spectacles such as the Sex Pistols in the 1970’s, discovered 8-­bit music. For him, this was the New Punk and he wrote a piece in Wired magazine about how the movement was against capitalism, hi-­tech, karaoke, sex, and mass culture in general: Through the appropriation of discarded commodities, the DIY spirit, the raw and unadulterated aesthetics, etc.. On McLaren’s command, mainstream media started to report about 8-­bit music, at least for 15 minutes or so.

To be fair, it was a good story – when Malcolm met 8­bit. But it pissed off plenty of people in the scene, because of its misunderstandings, exaggerations and non­truths. It did, however, play an important role in how the scene came to understand itself. McLaren’s story had stirred a controversy that made us ask ourselves “Well, if he’s wrong, then who’s right?”. We didn’t really know, atleast not collectively. McLaren pushed the chip­scene into puberty, and it began to search for an identity.

I was somewhere in the midst of this, and contributed to the techno­humanist story that started to emerge. It was basically this: We use obsolete technologies in unintended ways to make new music that has never been done before. Voila. The machine was at the centre, but it was we, the humans, who brought the goods. We were machine­ romantic geniuses who figured out how to make “The New Stuff” despite the limitations of 8-­bit technologies. It was machine­ fetishism combined with originality and the classic suffering of the author. It was very cyber romantic, but with humans as subjects, machines as objects, and pop cultural progress at the heart of it. It could be a story of fighting capitalist media. All in all: pretty good fluff for promotional material!

Over time, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the narratives forming around 8-­bit. In 2007, I was asked to write a chapter for Karen Collins’ book From Pac Man to Pop Music. I researched the history of 8-­bit music and realized the current techno­centric view of 8-­bit music was a rather new idea. In the 1980’s there wasn’t any popular word for 8-­bit music. Basically all home computer music was 8­-bit, so there was no need to differentiate between 8, 32 and 64­ bits as there is today. That changed in the 1990’s, when the increase of hi-­tech machines created a need for popular culture to differentiate between different forms of home computer systems and the music they made.

The term chip­music appeared to describe music that sounded like the 1980’s computer music. It mimicked not only the technical traits of the sound chips, but also the aesthetics and compositional techniques of the 1980’s computer composers. So 1990’s chipmusic wasn’t made with 8-­bit machines. The term was mostly used for music made with contemporary machines (Amigas and IBM PCs) that mimicked music from the past. It wasn’t about taking something old and making something new. It was more like taking something new and making something old. In other words: not very good promotional fluff.

I realised something. The techno­determinist story of “anything made with sound-chips is chipmusic” was ahistorical, anti­cultural, and ultimately: anti­human. Sure, there was something very emancipating about saying “I can do whatever I want and still fit into this scene that I’m part of”. That’s quite ideal in many ways, when you think about it.

Problem is – it wasn’t exactly like that. Plenty of people made 8­-bit or soundchip music that wasn’t understood as such. The digital hardcore music of the 1990’s that used Amigas. The General MIDI heroes of the 1990’s web. The keyboard rockers around the world, who were actually using soundchips. So for me it became important to explore chipmusic as a genre, rather than just a consequence of technology. If it’s not just a consequence of technology, then what is it? How were these conventions created, and how do they relate to politics, economics and culture?

This is what I tried to give answers to in my master thesis in 2010. Looking back at it now, what I found was that it was actually quite easy to not make chipmusic with 8­bit technology. I mean, if you would hook a monkey straight into an 8­bit soundchip, it’s not like there would be chipmusic. It would be more like noise glitch wtf. Stuff. Art. I don’t know. But not chipmusic. Chipmusic was more about how you used the software that interfaced you and the hardware soundchip. So I tried to figure out how this worked for me, and more importantly, for the people I interviewed for my thesis. How and why do we adapt to this cultural concept of what non­human “raw computer music” sounds like?

I am still recovering from this process. During this time my music became increasingly abstract and theoretical. I started to move away completely from danceable and melodic music, and got more interested in structures and the process of composing music, rather than the results of it. I wanted to rebel against the conventions that I was researching, and find something less human, less boring, less predictable.

But at the same time, I wanted to prove that we don’t need hi­-tech machines to make non­boring music. I despise the idea that we need new technologies to make new things. And I am super conservative in that I, in some way, believe in things like craft, quality, and originality. In some way.

So I was trying to find my own synthesis between me and the machine. Since I am not a programmer, I didn’t work with generative systems like many post­human composers do. I kept a firm focus on the craft of making music. For example, I started to make completely improvised live­sets without any preparations. I got up on stage, turned on a Commodore 64, showed it on a beamer, loaded the defMON­ software, and made all the instruments and composition in front of the eyes and ears of the audience.

I like this a lot because it’s hard work (for me) and it gives surprising results (for me). It’s a bit similar to live coding, if you’ve heard about that, but with a less sophisticated approach, I suppose. It’s more like manual labour than coding. Typing hundreds of numbers and letters by hand, instead of telling the computer to do it. You have to do it “by hand” which opens up for different mistakes compared to when it’s automatized. Which leads to surprises, which leads to new approaches.

I am not in full control, nor do I want to be. Or, more correctly, I don’t think I can be. I agree with the media theorist Friedrich Kittler’s ideas that we can never fully grasp or relate to what a computer is, and how it works. It is a thing on its own, and it deserves respect for what it is. We should not say that it has certain intended uses – like a “game computer” – because that is just semantic violence that in the long run reinforces the material censorship of Turing complete machines into crippled computers, like smartphones.

I think that whatever we use these things we call computers for, is okay. And most of us have odd solutions to make technology do what we want, even if we are not programmers. Olia Lialina calls it a Turing complete user – s/he who figures out how to copy­paste text in Windows through Notepad to remove the formatting, or perhaps how to make Microsoft Word not fuck up your whole text.

What I mean is: even if I make sounds that people say “go beyond the capabilities of the machine”, I don’t see myself as the inventor of those sounds, nor do I think that they go beyond the machine. They were always there, just like Heidegger would say that the statue was already inside the stone before the stone carver brought it forth.

Yeah, I suppose it’s some sort of super­essentialist point of view, and I’m not sure what to make of it to be honest. But I like how it mystifies technology, rather than mystifiying human “creativity”. The re­mystification of technology is great, and the demystification of the author is important. What if the author is just doing stuff, and not fantastic art? What if it’s just work?

My Dataslav performance plays with this question. I sit in a gallery, and people tell me what kind of song they want, and I have to fulfil their wish in no more than 15 minutes. I turn myself into a medium, or perhaps more correctly: a medium worker. I mediate what other people want, but it takes skills and effort to do it. It’s perhaps craft, not art. Or maybe it’s just work. Work that I don’t get paid to do, like so many other “cultural” workers in the digital arts sector.

If the potentials are already present in the technology, and we humans are there to bring it forth, that kind of changes things, doesn’t it? We don’t really produce things by adding more stuff to it. We are more like removing things. Subtraction rather than addition.

And if that’s the case, then it’s obviously much better to use something where we don’t need to subtract so much to make something that most people didn’t already do. If everything is possible, which some people still believe to be the case with some technologies, then that’s a whole lot of stuff to delete to get to the good stuff!

So, start deleting. It’s our only hope.

The New Demosceneoid GIF-scene

November 6, 2014

GIF is not something I feel like having an opinion about. I’ve always liked things like ulan-bator’s oldschool gaming oddities and Max Capacity’s VHS petscii etc. They are obviously putting a lot of effort into making good GIFs. Filesize, loopwise, colourwise. Enso also does nice works in the gif-format. The one below is one of my favourites by him, and you should check his exhibition at ani-gif.com.

enso-satori

There’s lots of GIFs that connect with the art world. Lately I’ve seen quite a few people doing complex geometrical gif-loops that connect more to the demoscene than the arts. Polyrhythmic clever visual trickeries that loop seamlessly into eternity. This interests me, because it seems to be inbetween mathematical geekery and design. Which is where the demoscene is sometimes too. When it’s not engulfed in mega-polygonal overloads of hi-res slime.

Things like this don’t really fit well anywhere, but they can still get very popular.

These loop artists use Processing and After Effects and powerful computers, I guess. But then they cram it all into the GIF-format. Often also in Tumblr’s version of gif (small filesize, low amount of frames, and various difficulties of getting Tumblr to accept your gif). Unsurprisingly, some of these artists are nowadays using Ello, which allows larger images and doesn’t rename the files you upload (which, for file-saving people like me, is strangely satisfying).

Anyway. Still feels demoscene-ish to me. So let’s hit the gifs. This is a quick and sloppy selection, but hey – atleast it’s something!

Echophon:

echophon tumblr_ne8ss6BWx11six59bo1_400

Big Blue Boo):

big-blue-boo plus-2mb

biblueboo righ turn wrong impression

polish bigblueboo

dvdp:

dvdp tumblr_muxwirLCHL1qzt4vjo1_500

dvdp tumblr_mr4xol2NLu1qzt4vjo1_500

Bees and Bombs:

beesandbombs tumblr_ncmow7lcxd1s5f7v4o1_500

bees and bombs tumblr_nbsxm5hj0m1r2geqjo1_500

bees and bombs tumblr_nbedp4xnVK1s5f7v4o1_500

bees and bombs tumblr_nazgbu78eg1r2geqjo1_500

bees and bombs tumblr_n9rhj6An4I1r2geqjo1_500

bees and bombs tumblr_n9fr4rwYFb1r2geqjo1_500

I’ll leave you with one final thought: ?

About the Floppy Category at Discogs.com

November 1, 2014

Discogs is supposed to be an open place where everybody contributes with information about music releases. Theoretically, atleast. In praxis, decisions need to be made and that doesn’t exactly involve thousands of people… About a year ago there was a discussion whether a NES-cartridge should be listed at the site or not.  No, someone said, because it’s not recorded music. The NES-cartridge contains code that only plays once the right platform is there to execute it. After all, it’s not as direct as a vinyl record that you can play with your own finger nail.

Most other music formats, however, require complex platforms to be played. CDs in particular, need complex digital error correction to be played correctly. What’s on the CD might be better described as data, compared to the code of the NES-cartridge, but still – you can store “pure audio data” on an NES-cartridge aswell, if you’d like. A storage medium can contain different kinds of information. A CD can contain the code of the NES cartridge. You can encode an MP3 or a JPG or a Hollywood movie on to a piano roll, as long as you have the right technology to decode it with. Didn’t the modernists teach us better than to argue about that?

People pretend like there is a definite answer to the debate about recorded music. It’s certainly a question about media technologies, but it can’t be answered in some pure technical sense. This is a cultural question because the answers depends on ideology, aesthetics, history, and so on. In Western music, there has been a solid separation between written sheet music and performanced music for a long time. It would roughly correspond to the separation between “author” and “performer”.  Ideas and praxis. Art and work, even? Maybe. And then piano rolls came and disturbed the dichotomy. Then recorded music arrived and caused a terribly complicated music economy in order to make both composers, labels and musicians’ unions happy. And we’re still stuck with that mess.

gabber demo loops

Computer music has made these concepts even more hard to use. What is the difference between sheet music and code? How does algorithmic music fit in here? If chipmusic is not recorded music, then who is the performer? When I was a member of a Swedish copyright society (to get money when e.g radio/tv uses my music) I tried to discuss this. Since the radio show Syntax Error played my C64-music straight from a SID-emulator, I told them that it was performed live by the C64 and not recorded music (which affected the payment). Needless to say, they were not impressed by my argument.

And neither were the discogs people. After the discussion last year, they deleted all the NES cartridges from the database and lived happily ever after.

Or did they…?

una nina malvada

On discogs there is this category called Floppy. In the format list you can also see things like USB sticks, File, CD, miniDV, flexi disc, and so on. Problem is – these are not formats. They are storage media, that can store many different format. All in all, discogs is bound to run into some pretty difficult choices in the future…

But anyway. This floppy category. What kind of releases can we find there? Right now there are 605 floppy releases listed. Quite a lot of them have been released within the last couple of years. The Hungarian label Floppy Kicks has been very active and there seems to be plenty of noise/lo-fi/drone kind of stuff. Diskette Etikette and Floppyswop are two other floppy labels. I made a release for Floppyswop, and they were sort of connected to the micromusic world it seemed. Here we should also mention Sascha Müller’s Pharmacom records with floppy releases that sometimes had some 8-bittish things. I released stuff there too.

R-4925667-1379615531-5343

Some floppies are additions to other storage media. Mainstream artists released floppy disks in the 1990’s, likely with jaw-dropping interactive multimedia. Mark Knopfler, Erasure, Everything but the girl, and of course Billy Idol the cyber man himself. There were screen savers by Pink FloydRadiohead and Beastie Boys (only in the Netherlands). J Dilla put out a floppy disk with samples for the SP-1200 sampler in 2014, which atm is the most wanted floppy release on discogs. Also, REM made a white label-ish floppy promo in 1994.

Ryuichi Sakamoto included midi-files for 8 tracks off his album BTTB (1998) and someone put out a .mid-file of Tarkan on floppy. Songs made famous by Eric Clapton is a collection of .mid-files of Eric Clapton songs from 1996.

A psy trance compilation was released on 20 floppy disks in 2014. With 20 songs in FLAC. Now that’s pretty impressive! DUMPSTERAC1D released four acid floppies on the Moss Archive label, but Chris Moss Acid has never heard about them. Ethnic techno is a 1989 floppy release from Zambia that also includes a 4″ vinyl.

melkweg timemachine

Most of these releases are legit for the discog man, because they usually contain lo-bit MP3s, interactive media, promo material, and so on. Proper music industry stuff. My releases had mod-files, which is not recorded music. But it seems to have been accepted.

In fact, there is plenty of mod/xm releases in discogs. There’s things like Metal moduleNoisetracker modules no.6, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and public domain disks that are basically just collections of mod-files. Metallica Meds is even listed as an official Metallica release.

But wait – there’s more! To my surprise, there is plenty of demos and music disks in discogs aswell. I won’t mention them here, out of respect for their discogs presence. But we can be sure that the discog man will eventually hunt and destroy.

And why shouldn’t they? Discogs reflect the “recording industry” and if you’re looking for non-recorded digital music you’d be better of looking at demoscene forums, media art, games, and so on. Things like that might be listed at discogs – like Brian Eno’s Generative Music I or Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Music, but they are merely tolerated anomalies, it seems. If you don’t like it, you could always buy diskogs.com and start ze revolution!

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

iron bitchface free mahi mahi

► Hardhat – Toolboxing

October 24, 2014

hardhat-vol1

Out now, here’s Toolboxing by Hardhat. It’s full-on instant techno with an interface made by the Javascript magician p01, known from the demoscene. There’s one long techno track and 17 additional bonus bangers, cued up and ready for your work out! The music was made on Gameboy Advance and fed through a Serge modular system. Yep yep, just look at how the bass makes Hardhat sweat! T-E-C-H-N-O!

Hardhat has been around in the chipscene for many years under names like Småm. He recently made two super interesting live music programs: the Pokrok sequencer for the Sony Pocketstation (!), and the nanoloopy Sqein for Nord Drum. Check them out! With this release he wanted to get out of his routine and make something different.

– I felt like I was being too dogmatic and precise when making music. It had to be this and that and bla bla snooze. I decided I wanted to make techno. Just techno. So I started to record really quick & fun little jam sessions with Game Boys and other consoles, stuff. I usually spent like 10 minutes recording and then maybe 15-20 minutes cutting it together to a more presentable track. These tracks are the bonus tracks.

– I found reBoy by Checkpoint to be a really nice sequencer for GBA, and I had wanted to process my Game Boys through the modular systems at my university for quite some time. It came together quite naturally. It’s a very simple setup though, I’m just using two envelopes & filters triggered by audio input- and that’s it. So basically, the entire Toolboxing main mix is made with reBoy, loaded with a bunch of OPL3 samples, running through the filters of a vintage Serge System. And if that’s not niche enough for you, I think my next release will be.

Teaser for Hardhat’s Toolboxing

October 9, 2014

Hardhat is up next at Chipflip, with a techno megamix made on Gameboy Advance and processed with a Serge modular. There will also be bonus tracks made with various vintage consoles. This video made by Hardhat himself, but www-visuals will be coded by none other than p01, the Javascript wizard. Brace yourself for this one…

Generation 64: A Harmless Story About the C64 Generation?

October 4, 2014

I just got a copy of the book Generation 64, and wanted to make a quick blurb..

Generation 64 is a new book about the generation of Swedes who grew up with the Commodore 64. It’s only available in Swedish, but I think there’s a Kickstarter somewhere to get it translated into English. And that would be great. This is an important story to be told, and it’s well researched and contains lots of curiosities, good photos, and so on. It’s definitely a book worth reading. Get it now!

It’s a book about the past. There are interviews with famous public figures about their childhood with computers. There are also more “advanced” users like demosceners, crackers, music makers, designers, game makers, and so on. There is a clear aim of making this generation relevant by essentially describing the current successes of many of people from Generation 64. In the games industry (Candy Crush, Minecraft, DICE), in music (Axwell and Swedish House Mafia, The Hives and also non-Swedes like Legowelt, Aphrodite, and Paradox are mentioned) and of course as programmers. And as entrepreneurs.

This book paints a nice-looking picture of an important background to Sweden’s hi-tech industries, basically. I haven’t read more than half of the book yet, but it seems clear that it’s not much about politics and hacking. Which is fine, of course. It’s a book for a wider audience, and not a critical look at computer culture and society.

But…

It connects to a history that goes something like this: in the 1980’s we had piracy and out-of-bounds hacking, in the 1990’s they went online, and now they work in the “creative industries”, with computers & networks, or at universities. There is a special section in the book about entrepreneurs. But no special sections on, you know, remix cultures or open source, file sharing, copyright fights, and so on. It’s basically more like the story of Spotify than the Pirate Bay – although both of them are represented in the book (by Peter Sunde and Oskar Stål, respectively).

As Spotify was quickly presented as The Solution to the “problem” of file sharing in Sweden, with it came a sort of white-washing of piracy. Kazaa and Fairlight are now mostly accepted as something like childhood mistakes. It’s not as controversial as it used to be.

Meanwhile, Peter Sunde is treated like crap in Swedish prison, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg is involved in a Danish court case which seems to be run with very dubious methods. The third Pirate Bay member is still on the run. And yet – the Pirate Bay is still online and torrents are being shared at more or less the same rate.

And Spotify is nowhere near a functioning business model – they are losing gazillions of money.

Obviously, this is not relevant for a book about Generation 64. My point is just that there is also a different story to be told about this culture. This rebellious use of technologies has not just been sucumbed into entrepreneurship, science and open source rhetorics. There is still lots of controveries that are not solved at all. There is still a lot of politics in this.

And had I written a book on the C64 scene, I would have emphasized that more. Sort of like I did in my 2009-paper for the re:live conference in Australia. Because that will be even more important in the future, when internet and computers are not as free as they used to be.

 

 

► Rico Zerone – Passenger

September 8, 2014

Passenger, design by Enso

Chipflip proudly presents a new release from Rico Zerone and his Austrian world of computer funk and sensual space music. Passenger is his newest release with 21 minutes and 8 tracks in his characteristic styles. The drone-ish synthy ambient of Simulacrum and Morphic Resonance,  the easy-going stroller style of Cosmic Stroller, the dreamy cheese of Restart, to name a few. Short tracks that get the message across!

Check out the release here in a custom web interface designed by Enso and coded by Freedrull. You can also download all the songs as MP3, for free. Chipflip keeps it simple.

Get more from this powerful trio of lo-fi aficiandos: Rico Zerone / Enso / Freedrull


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