“I like restrictions, reappropriating & using tools in ways they weren’t meant to be used”. Maybe it’s just me, but after hearing similar sentences for the past 15 years about chipmusic, I’m getting tired of it. Is that what we like, really? And why do so many chipmusicians say this?
The quote above is not from a chipmusician. It’s from the artist Petra Cortright who’s part of what I see as the Rhizome rhizome. In there you’ll find plenty of artists who work with general midi, low-res, old internet memes and GIF-animations. Perhaps it’s what Cory Arcangel called dirt style.
It seems that this grew big in the 00’s, for example with Arcangel’s NES-works. He supposedly reappropriated restricted technologies in new ways. Many low-tech hackers were annoyed with this, seeing it as some kind of imperialism on ‘their’ thing.
I reluctantly admit that I was one of those, back then. The art-perspective on this was just too foreign for me. But of course, chipmusic was gradually becoming part of the package. The postmodern rhetorics was an easy way to get attention for chipmusic, as we tried to legitimize our work beyond videogames and nostalgia (and still are).
So bending, glitching, dirt style and hacking grew more and more connected. And it was given a political relevance in typical postmodern cultural studies rhetorics. Critical new uses of technologies! It assumes that the glitching, bending and hacking of the previous decades, was somehow not the same thing. Making Gameboy music today might have a different cultural status, compared to 20 years ago. But still. It’s not like we’re making something new, or doing something that the technology was not intended to do.
Consider technologies as subjects instead of objects. Or, more appropriately, consider both humans and technologies as objects. Claiming that something has “intended uses” can be a discriminating claim then. Who’s to decide what the intended uses are? We pretend that the Gameboy was an “inter-passive” commodity, so now we pretend that we are heroes who liberated the machines (and ourselves).
We pose as the heroes of the digital age. The glitchers and benders bring forth the hidden expressions of the machine, and the chipmusicians give the technologies new value in new contexts.
Or: we are reinforcing traditional paradigms such as human excellence and and techno-libertarianism. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the lack of control and comprehension that modern consumer technologies offer. Perhaps it’s part of the zeitgeist of hauntology and lo-fi VHS-artefacts (or, uh, hypnagogic cyberpunk). But it’s certainly not very critical in my book.
And the machines continue to laugh. Let’s laugh with them, not at them. Uhm.