Playlist is an exhibition featuring many of the more famous 8-bit artists. It’s curated by Domenico Quaranta, who was also responsible for the recent Pixxelpoint exhibition where several low-tech old-media works were shown (mentioned here). Combining the list of artists at these two exhibitions gives an impression of what low-tech/8-bit art can be in European art (see below).
The concept of Playlist is to explore how music has been a driving force in the appropriaton of obsolete technology since the mid 1990s. It is grounded in the idea that musicians have historically been early in inventing, appropriating and pushing technology. It uses the example of Nam June Paik and how he manipulated electric signals for audio and video. “The core of Playlist will be the exploration of the “8bit movement”, spread out from the manipulation of obsolete game technologies in order to create new instruments to play music”. Sentences likes this are quite odd from a demoscene perspective, as I will explain below.
The text authors argue that today “the manipulation of the digital stream is mainly grounded in musical research”. It’s an interesting suggestion, which I think is correct in many ways. Chipmusic has certainly played a role in making 8-bit audiovisual experiments popular (again). But that doesn’t mean that their work was, or is necessarily pioneering research. Take the Gameboy. It was appropriated by the cracker scene in the 1990s who distributed games illegally, and by the Gameboy demoscene. The platform was not obsolete, it was interesting and many 8-bit crackers/demosceners enjoyed the new opportunities. The music was usually a bit so-so because the available music software (e.g. Music Box) was quite painful to use. Then a demoscener and an artist made two programs respectively, that seems to have spawned a global phenomena. So Gameboy music did not pioneer the appropriation of the platform, but it definitely popularized it. It’s plausible that this also goes for other digital technology: music often had a lower priority in digital videogames, art, demos and research.
But let’s say that musicians pioneered the re-appropriation of digital materiality. You know, when hypercapitalism (and you) describe technology as getting worse simply as time goes by, there is a new symbolic power in using it. No longer is it dirty consumerism; it has become a subversive hi-jacking of capitalist relics – connecting with DIY-punk hacking-reality kind of activism. For some, anyway. Others just enjoy the materiality of the machines – a C64 was always meant to use creatively – and couldn’t care less about the meaning of it (even if they might appreciate the attention). But (unfortunately) it’s often more interesting when activities are connected to politics or something larger than “itself”.
But anyway – the purpose of the exhibition is not to give some nerdy history lesson, it’s about exploring a concept. To me, the concept does not evolve around that people make 8-bit music/art, but what they make and in what context. Demosceners beware – it’s not about full frame-rate super perfect new impressive effects, but usually quite the opposite. Don’t control it, set it free. I wrote about this difference between the demoscene and contemporary chipmusic before.
The exhibition texts’s opening quote of Nam June Paik – “I must renew the ontological form of music” – is spot on for chipmusic, albeit in a different sense than Paik meant. Chipmusic challenges the dichotomy of recording-performance that permeats culture and economics on a very large scale. Chipmusic is a massive and publicly available manifestion of something that is neither recording nor performance. It is not a recording, because the soundchip is performing the music in realtime depending on PAL/NTSC, CPU, code, etc. So is it a performance? In the GRG-courtcase it was stated that the Swedish copyright collecting agency STIM considered SID-music as performances, performed by the author. But after lengthy e-mails with their lawyers it seems that is not true. And it makes sense, because spontaneously it is absurd to consider SID-music as live-performances. But, what is it then? Well, I am exploring this topic further in my thesis.
Artists at Playlist
Paul B. Davis (UK)
Jeff Donaldson / NoteNdo (DE)
Dragan Espenschied (DE) – member of Bodenständig 2000
Gino Esposto / Micromusic.net (CH) – aka Carl
Gijs Gieskes (NL)
André Gonçalves (PT)
Mike Johnston / Mike in Mono (UK) – part of ZX Spectrum Orchestra
Joey Mariano / Animal Style (US)
Raquel Meyers (SP)
Mikro Orchestra (PL) – previously Gameboyzz Orchestra
Don Miller / No-carrier (US)
Jeremiah Johnson / Nullsleep (US)
Tristan Perich (US)
Gebhard Sengmüller (AT)
Alexei Shulgin (RU)
Paul Slocum (USA)
Artists at Pixxelpoint
Mats Andren & Anders Carlsson (Sweden) – that’s me
Michael Bell-Smith (USA)
David Blackmore (UK)
Ian Bogost (USA)
BridA / Jurij Pavlica, Tom Kerševan, Sendi Mango (Slovenia)
Wayne Clements (UK)
Vuk Čosić (Slovenia)
Chris Coy (USA)
Florian Cramer (Netherlands)
Olle Essvik (Sweden)
Vladimir Frelih (Croatia)
Darko Fritz (Croatia)
James Houston (UK)
Tom Jennings (USA)
Oliver Larić (Germany)
Les Liens Invisibles (Italy)
Olia Lialina (Germany)
Paul Matosic (UK)
Eilis McDonald (Ireland)
Rosa Menkman (Netherlands)
Rafael Rozendaal (Germany)
Eugenio Tisselli (Spain)
Harm Van Den Dorpel (Netherlands)
Windows Media Players (UK, France, Brazil)