Playlist Exhibition: Materialism vs Symbolics, Music vs Visuals

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 / (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)
Rabato (SP)
Gebhard Sengmüller (AT)
Alexei Shulgin (RU)
Paul Slocum (USA)
Tonylight (IT)

Artists at Pixxelpoint

AIDS-3D (Germany)
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)
IOcose (Italy)
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)
// (Greece)
Thisgasthing (Italy)
Eugenio Tisselli (Spain)
Tonylight (Italy)
Harm Van Den Dorpel (Netherlands)
Windows Media Players (UK, France, Brazil)
Math Wrath

5 Responses to “Playlist Exhibition: Materialism vs Symbolics, Music vs Visuals”

  1. animalstyle Says:

    Playing a SID file i would say is a type of Performance Art. Perhaps its best to place it under the “Happenings” category. The Wiki of a Happening says “This new media art aspect to happenings eliminates the boundary between the artwork and its viewer. ” I think that is the primary goal with the “live” performance of a chiptune. Even if someone is just pressing play. I would say it’s on par with this article: – I think that Chip Musicians sometimes have more in common with a painter than a guitar player. So, a way for them to break the Boundary between the artist and the receiving end is by creating a Happening. Most chip artists call it a concert because more ppl will come and more ppl are familiar with that term, however it is troublesome from a definition standpoint. Plus i think current chip musicians have a very strong desire to popularize the art form now. That is one of the biggest differences between the modern chip scene and the demoscene.

    • chipflip Says:

      Interesting! You mean that the musician is like a medium between the audience on one hand, and soundchip/artwork on the other? I don’t really see the connection with a happening though. Playing a SID-file is not an act that is not usually meant to be perceived as art, and it is quite rare that it happens. Also, chipmusic is mostly linear and non-interactive. I don’t see why the listener is more ‘immersed’ than when s/he listens to recorded music? Would be interesting to hear your thoughts. I tend to think more about the artist-sounchip connections, than audience-wise so this is a fresh way of thinking for me!

  2. animalstyle Says:

    Yeah – like the musician is trying to eliminate the boundary between the soundchip and the audience… if that makes any sense. I think thats what im trying to get at. Look at any Nullsleep performance – he is one of the best at doing that. The audience doesn’t know what a register is, or what hexidecimal is, or the notes that are programmed on the gameboy (most of them dont). He emotionally interperets it and presents it to the crowd. It’s sort of like this one Yoko Ono Happening… where she is like… Let’s all lay on the ground and imagine the ceiling is blue. The audience has to “Imagine” something – that creates an emotional response and prompts thought. She is presenting the ceiling to the audience and instructing them to imagine it is something beyond what it actually is. Nullsleep is looking to prompt chaos and crowd surfing (something that is beyond a gameboy) – but i don’t see much of a difference. I find it hard to do this… so i just stick with the guitar or keyboard! haha.

    • chipflip Says:

      yeah, nullsleep is a bit a of data performer (unlike myself aswell).

      would be nice to do a performance in that yoko ono style you’re talking about. you know, just say ‘imagine that this is the sound of a tuba’ and play a a nice n’ bassy filtered c64 saw tooth. then start the ring modulation. imagine what states you could put people in… hehe

  3. The Playlist Exhibition, and How Modern Technology Can’t Handle C-64 « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] there were some new artists added, including yours truly. I wrote about the previous exhibition here, before I had even read the Playlist Reader, to be honest. There are some very interesting […]

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