Ready > Run Exhibition: What is in a system?

A month ago the Ready > Run exhibition opened in Philadelphia, and will run until November 7th at the Esther M. Klein Art Gallery. It shows works from Enso, minusbaby, noteNdo, Nullsleep, VBLANK, Animal Style, MET-Lab, NO CARRIER, Paul Slocum, Dan and Winckler. From the site: “Chip musicians and pixel artists work within the limitations of these vintage technologies by hacking their childhood toys to generate complex new genres of music and visual art that challenge and reflect the identity of contemporary art on an international level.” The text thus places the works as operating within the ‘limits’ of material systems, but expanding symbolic systems through ‘complex new genres’. Is that really what the exhibition does…?

As noted before, chipmusic is usually accompanied by either glitch aesthetics or 8-bit craftmanship; what Heidegger would label bringing-forth and challening-forth respectively. Videogame hardware or software are obviously used, and maybe more often than some artists want to admit (me?!) the symbolics and aesthetics of videogames are also used. This exhibition shows all of these discourses.

Enso and minusbaby represent craftmanship with their good-looking printed pixel graphics.The NES musicdisk Teletype by Animal Style and No Carrier, operates in a similar domain. Animal style also exhibits a Gameboy connected to a home made amplifier. Paul Slocum displays his old work ‘Combat Rock’ where a cover of “Rock the Casbah” has been added to the Atari 2600-game Combat.

There are several works that combine videogames and interaction, with glitch aesthetics. In Data Spills, Nullsleep hacks a NES-game and makes it spill program logic into the representational layer, producing glitch artifacts. No Carrier presents his GlitchNES that you can control with a Power Pad and noteNdo works with hardware-glitches of the NES that can be controlled by intercepting lazer lights. VBLANK also creates glitch aesthetics when he transcodes the ROM of an Atari XE onto the screen, and enables joystick interaction.

These works go beyond the limitations of systems in several ways. There are physical interfaces that are not inherent to the systems. There are no NES-printers and therefore printed NES-graphics can only exist outside the system. There are unfortunately no lazer interfaces to the NES either, and it is possible that the hardware modifications by noteNdo produces effects and artifacts that are out-of-system-experiences; things that software and emulators can only (try to) dream of. The ideal glitches; those that cannot be reproduced or explained.

To me, it is highly relevant to think of what constitutes a system and, from that perspective, define limitations and possibilities. How is a system empowering and disempowering? Chipstyled works are described both as remaining within systems, and transgressing the limits of systems, which seems quite true. But it would be interesting to study more in-depth what a system really is, by studying the transgressive aswell as traditional uses. It is not only relevant for chipmusic; such platform-specific analyses could maybe say a thing or two about popular culture in general. All photos below taken by Marjorie Becker.

Animal Style: Juvenile Amplifier

NES Landscapes by enso

Reset v2.0 by noteNdo

Teletime by Animal Style and No Carrier

10 Responses to “Ready > Run Exhibition: What is in a system?”

  1. tendor Says:

    How does NES have to do ANYTHING with chipmusic? Chipmusic was invented on Amiga.

    • chipflip Says:

      Indeed the term was first used on the Amiga. But does that mean that chipmusic has to be made on Amiga? I think that if you use a technical definition, everything soundchip-based is chipmusic. Then there’s the problem of defining what a soundchip is, and neither Amiga nor NES are the best examples of what constitutes a soundchip, imo. If you go with the genre definition of chipmusic, then technology is not as relevant anymore, so then NES-music could be chipmusic anyway. What do you mean with chipmusic?

  2. TRUE CHIP TILL DEATH • Chipflip on: Ready > Run Exhibition Says:

    […] CHIPFLIP. Share […]

  3. Akira Says:

    Use Anders definition of CHIPMUSIC AS A FORM or as a MEDIUM for yoru answer, and you will realize that CHIPMUSIC on teh Amiga is just the FORM variety of this artform.

  4. morley Says:

    where can i buy mario golf for NES?

  5. 10k Says:

    You’ve really got me thinking. Insightful as always.

  6. chipflip Says:

    10k, thanks. What did it make you think? :)

  7. yonx Says:

    discussion about what is normal vs. transgressive use of a system is interesting, i think it’s not something absolute, but rather quite subjective and is subject to change over time.. f.e when sprite multiplexing was invented it was probably considered transgressive, but it soon became common practice. i would say that transgressing the limits of the system was more or less needed to stand competition when the games evolved on nes/c64, and is still true for most limited hardware released today.. who defines normal use? the manufacturers or the users?

    about the exhibiion; i fail to see the complex new genres of art, but for those who do, i guess this tool would be earthshaking.. just feed it with random c64-executables for an instant complex art experience!

  8. chipflip Says:

    It is a difficult question and there are a lot of mega-old philosophical questions to consider aswell; what is human agency, what is a system, what is freedom, how does change happen, who defines the categories, material vs immaterial, etc.

    Transgression is definitely important for videogames and other commercial fields, especially if we consider the transgression of both ‘aesthetical systems’ (popular styles) and digital ones. New cool shit, simply put. So, I think it is possible to identify some general musical conventions (“limits”) that make up chipmusic as a genre (ie, a system of stylistic symbols: not subjectivism).

    So yeah, the systems are not absolute. Genre has to change, otherwise it dies, Bactin said. And hardware changes both symbolically and ‘materially’ over time. Heidegger has a nice idea about bringing out ‘slumbering shapes’ of the material; meaning that ‘the work’ was inside the material all along, and now the human brings it forth; discovers/creates it. It makes sense with chipmusic/demos in many ways. But I think Heidegger’s view is too deterministic, too humanistic, and too instrumentalist. I also think I should stop, because I can feel a long rambling coming on otherwise.

    Oh, just one more thing – the thing about who defines normal use, that’s a good one. Always had a problem with describing chipmusic as ‘repurposing’ or ‘unintended uses’, etc. Computers were made by hippies. Consoles, on the other hand, used to be strictly leisure use and business produce, before evil hackers took over.

    The End

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