Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

80% listening, 20% improvisation. A Modern Composer?

January 20, 2013

I just watched a Norwegian documentary about noise music from 2001 (ubuweb). It featured mostly Norwegian and Japanese artists, and it struck me how different they talked about music. While the norwegians got tangled into complex and opposing ideas about concepts, tools and artistic freedom, the Japanese gave shorter answers with more clarity. Straight to the point.

It made me wonder (again) how human-machine relationships are thought of in Japan. Over here, it’s very controversial to say that the machine does the work. Deadmau5 did that, in a way, and I doubt he will do it again.

In the documentary, the Japanese artists said things like “When I am on stage I spend 80% of the time listening, and 20% improvising”. A very refreshing statement, and electronic musicians can learn a lot from it. Shut up and listen to what the surroundings have to offer!

There are many similar ideas in the West, especially after cybernetics and John Cage. The sound tech and the author melting together in a system of feedback. Machines are extensions of man (á la McLuhan) and we can exist together in harmony.

In the documentary, one Japanese artist turns against this idea. He doesn’t believe that the sounds and the author work closely together at all. For him, they are separated, with only occassional feedback between the two. Hmmm!


It’s an intriguing idea. When I first started reading about cybernetics, it was in the context of the dead author. Negative feedback loops that take away power from the human. I felt that my musical ideas were heavily conditioned by the tools that I used, and there was something annoying about that. How could there be harmony from that?

Maybe it’s better to think of it as a conflict. The computer is trying to steer your work in a certain way. And you want to do it another way. Like two monologues at the same time. It’s a reasonable idea, especially if you consider computers to be essentially non-graspable for humans – worthy of our respect.

However, that’s not how we think of computers. We’ve come to know them as our friends and slaves at the same time. Fun and productive! Neutral tools that can fulfill our fantasies. As long as the user is in control, it’s all good. No conflict. Just democracy and entertainment, hehe.

As much criticism as this anti-historical approach has received over the years, I think it’s still alive and kicking. Maybe especially so in the West. Computer musicians want to work in harmony with their tools. Not a conflict. “I just have to buy [some bullshit] and then I’ll finally have the perfect studio”. You heard that before? The dream lives on, right?

It’s  almost like 1990’s virtual reality talk. Humans setting themselves free in an immaterial world where “only your imagination is the limit”. Seems like a pretty christian idea, when you think of it. I doubt that it’s popular in Japan, anyway.

To conclude – it’s of course silly to generalize about Japan, judging only from a few dudes in a documentary. But I think there is still something important going on here. If anyone has reading suggestins about authorship/technology in Japan, please comment.


My Presentation of 8-bit Users

November 22, 2012

Last week I made a presentation at Merz Academy called Hackers and Suckers: Understanding the 8-bit Underground. I was invited by Olia Lialina for a lecture series called Do You Believe in Users? in Stuttgart. This question should be understood in the context of a disappearing user in modern discourses on design. Computers have become normalized and invisible, and the user seems to have a similar fate. (read more in Olia’s Turing Complete User)

The talk was about 8-bit users, and the hype around 8-bit aesthetics. I talked about different 8-bit users – from those who unknowingly use 8-bit systems embedded in general tech-stuff, through stock freaks and airports, to chipmusic people and hackers. I explained how “8-bit” is both a semiotic and materialist concept, but often used as a socially constructed genre. 1950s music or 1920s textile can be called 8-bit today.

I explained what the qualities of 8-bit computing are, as based on my thesis: simple systems, immediacy, control and transgression. Some examples of technical and cultural transgression followed, and then I gave the whole “8-bit-punk-appropriator-reinvent-the-obsolete” speech and then dissed that perspective completely. Finally, I tried to explain my own view of non-antropocentric computing, man-machine creativity, media materialism, and so on. When I prepaired the presentation I called this Cosmic Computing, but I changed it because my presentation was already hippie enough…

  • Humans cannot have a complete & perfect understanding of a computer.  Following ideas from Kittler – and the fact that 30-year-old technologies still surprise us – this seems controversial for computer scientists, but not so much for artists?
  • Users bring forth new states, but that might be all normal for the machine. This is controversial for all ya’ll appropriatingz artistz, but not for Heidegger and computer scientists.
  • All human-machine interactions are both limited and enriched by culture, technology, politics, economy, etcetera. Meaning that “limitations” and “possibilities” are cultural concepts that change all the time.
  • Don’t make the machine look bad — don’t be a sucker. Make it proud! Another anti-human point, to get away from the arrogant ways that we treat technologies.

In hindsight, it was a pretty bad idea to be so anti-user in a lecture series designed to promote the user. (: And the discussion that followed mostly evolved around the concept of suckers. Some people seemed to interpret what I said as “if you are not a hacker you are a sucker”. This was unfortunate but understandable. I don’t mean that there are only two kinds of users. They are merely two extremes on a continuum.

Hackers explore the machine in artistic ways and they can be coders, musicians, designers — whatever. They are not necessarily experts but they know how to transgress the materiality/meaning of the hardware/software. They can make things that have never been done before with a particular machine, or something that wasn’t expected from it. That often requires not-so-rational methods, which is not always based on hard science. Just because you know “more” doesn’t make you better at transgression. There is a strong connection between user and computer. Respect, and sometimes a strong sense of attachment – even sexual? That’s probably easier to develop if you don’t plan to sell it when the next model comes out. (btw, this is not some kind of general-purpose-definition of the term hacker, just how I used it in this presentation)

Suckers, on the other hand, don’t seem to have this connection. They buy it, use it and throw it away. Either they don’t feel any connection to the object, or they don’t want to. They act as if they are disconnected from technology, and only suck out the good parts when it suits their personal needs.

It is a disrespectful use. The machines are treated merely as instrumental tools for their own satisfaction. Suckers are consumers to the bone. Amazing technologies are thrown at them, and suckers treat them as if they don’t even exist – until something stops working. Or they go all cargo cult.

I don’t like it when I act as a sucke.r, but it happens all the time. I recently got an iPhone for free. I’ve had it for months without using it, because I am scared of becoming a sucker 24/7. I am definitely not in charge of my life when it comes to technology. And I like that. Hm…


Are Humans More Disabled Than Ever?

September 9, 2012

This long post will provoke some of you, and feel free to lave a comment. I just want to clarify something first. The purpose of this post is to examine the similarities between how we talk about lo-fi computing and human disabilities. It is not about comparing machines with humans, but rather about the dominant discourses surrounding limitations and capabilities in general.

I was watching football 5-a-side, where more or less blind people play soccer in teams of five. Blindness, as you know, is considered as a handicap because visual culture makes it difficult to live without the small part of the electromagnetic spectrum that humans call light.

Playing blind football might seem absurd at first, but I was completely fascinated by it. The TV makes it look clumsy as the players stumble, fall, look for the ball, etcetera. But from a sonic perspective (sic) there is something very different going on. The players are navigating with sound, as the ball makes noises and your team shouts instructions for you. They create a small new world on the field. And it’s inaccessible to us who look at it.

Just like I initially valued 5-a-side as a less elite form of football, lo-fi computing is often seen as something less worthy by most people. Or perhaps it’s more worthy – “the results are good eventhough the tools are bad”. It doesn’t matter – it’s all centered around the same basic idea. Hi-fi is more useful, expressive or productive. It is the norm from which we value other things, just like with the human body. Perhaps some of you find it offensive, but I see many parallells between the mainstream discourses of low-res media and human handicaps. Specifically, the political discussions about them are often polarized between the “objective” and the “social”.

Social vs Objective

The objective model sources the problem to a single entity (human and/or machine) and is as such an ahistorical, essentialistic or psychological understanding. According to the social model, the physical ‘impairment’ is a problem mostly because society is not willing or capable to deal with it. This seems to be the dominant model today, adopted by e.g World Health Organization. But there is much confusion in terminology, and there doesn’t seem to be a term that will work in all contexts (disability, handicap, impairment, etc). And why should it? Why should there be a word that grouped together blindness, autism, crippled people and cerebral palsy?

The conflict that the two models are organized around is obviously an on-going process with very real consequences for people’s well-being, of which I’ve had some experiences during the past four years. I’ve seen how hard it is to deal with bureaucracy and daily life.

Are we more disabled than ever?

According to WHO, fifteen percent of the world’s population is disabled. That’s an increase of 5 percentage points since 1970, which is quite noteworthy. It’s not a fact – it is an estimate that varies with the choice of methods and terminology.  Nevertheless, we seem to think of ourselves – in general, in the developed world – as more ‘handicapped’ than before. We need drugs to be normal. We require digital tools to organize our daily life. Our knowledge has become prosthetic. And our lifestyle affects the prevalence of certain diseases and diagonses.

It could be argued that humans are handicapping themselves by creating machines that do the things we want to do, but cannot do ourselves (see this documentary). Or – are humans and machines working closer together to create a better world?

Whichever perspective is taken, it seems that in a techno-consumerist society, normal humans are not good enough in themselves. Post- or transhumanism is perhaps a taste of what is to come when we further develop glasses, hearing aids and artificial organs (btw, new aesthetic is back).

One possible consequence is that we accept more kinds of sensory perceptions and lifestyles. Perhaps we can learn to to respect and take advantage of the unique characteristics of each so called disability. Deaf police are better at video surveillance. There is (was :() a blind kid who relies mostly on sonar navigation. Deaf people perceive sound and make music. And so on.

But it is probably naive to think that the conflicts will disappear. There are norms to relate to and those norms grow from limitations of human perception and, in the case of computers, from progress as second nature. The conflicts concerning human disabilities is a much more pressing matter than legitimizing low-res computing. Perhaps this post has contributed with something, without offending too many people.

But the main purpose is to build a background for a future post about limitations in computing. Coming soon!

Slow-Tech as the New Religion

July 31, 2012

Is slow-tech a useful concept for the study of low-tech action? It seems to be on the rise in the form of apps that help you to lead a slower life. But what is it? Is it something more than just a counter-reaction to capitalism & speed?

Slow-tech defines itself in opposition to e.g fast food and the instant gratification of consumerism. When I first heard the term slow food there were all these connections to environmentalism, health, spa, buddhism, etc. I guess it came from San Francisco? (eh, no, stfu)

Apparently, this is called the slow movement and it appeared in the 1980’s. It’s the anti-thesis to the high speed of modern society (>-Virilio -<), but is framed more as a sort of consumer-health-issue in an idealised harmonic society, than something political. It’s still about consuming. It’s still about equilibrium. And for me, ultimately, it seems like a form of wellness – when you make individual choices to get a “successful lifestyle”.

The slow web makes more sense to me. The key features of the slow web has been described as Timely (not real-time), Rhythm (not random) and Knowledge (not information). It sounds very reasonable. In fact, maybe it’s even a bit too reasonable?

I agree that these things are important for a sort of modern media literacy. We need to learn how to deal with the tools and information of today. And probably, we need technology’s help to do it. It can help us to reduce stress by structuring shores, or motivate us by turning real-life sequences into “games” where you collect points and get more things done in your life. Augmented reality, etc.

But idk. Slow? Is that really so good? Looking at e.g slow-tech, it seems like a postmodern version of the californian ideology. There is an underlying idea that technologies can help individuals to become more free. That should basically be the purpose of technologies. So there is still a lot of nature-culture divide in there. In short, it’s antropocentric. Connect your body to AppStore – be successful and happy.

To be blunt: the slow movement sounds like a lazy, ego-centric, new agey and half-arsed alternative to consumerism. Speed isn’t bad, per se. Maybe speed is just what we need to get some *real* alternatives together.

Yesterday I saw The Take (2004) about workers reclaiming abandoned factories in order to make a living. There is a fitting slogan in there: occupy, resist and produce. To me that sounds better than … you know … slow tempo, sustainability and individual health. Less weed, more speed!

If you are interested in stuff like this, I recommend the documentary series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace by Adam Curtis.

Where Did Free and Open Ever Get Us?

February 27, 2012

The Dutch theorist Geert Lovink has a long history of activistic academia – often talking about tactical uses of the media. Here he discusses several issues that I’ve been thinking about lately.

“In these times of ongoing financial crisis we can no longer afford to celebrate ‘free’ and ‘open’ as the default on the Web and pretend that it is everyone’s private business how they are going to make a living. [..] We need to politicize this situation and not presume that ways of making an income is a private matter”. For me this is spot on. Artists think too much about themselves. Why is there so little politics in electronic music? Why is it normal to use corporate tools to make, distribute and archive music into eternity? Perhaps “The main enemy is our own naïve passion to forget the politics of the tools that we fall in love with, time and again (Technikvergessenheit)”. How many people died to build your computer?

“Free software and creative commons never created confrontational situations— and that should make us think. As alternatives they have created their own modest niches but never created antagonistic situations. After 20-30 years it is time for the cybersubculture to publicly discuss these strategies”. Creative Commons makes little sense to me. When Swedish radio used my CC-licensed music for jingles, the license made no difference. The point with CC is more to encourage others to remix. But eh, who needs that?

“The free and open rhetoric needs to be dismantled. Instead we should promote a discourse which states that it is cool to pay. Sharing for free is boring and in the end a nihilist act. What we need are those bloody ‘alternative revenue models’”. Lovink has a point. Even if it’s a boring one. If you want there to be money in music, you need to talk about revenue models. Personally, I don’t make a living from music anymore, so I don’t bother. But on a structural level the whole free/open/CC-discourse hasn’t really mattered so much, right?

“Stop with the free services as they will screw you”. Yes. And we like it.

The Working Class of Computer Art?

February 6, 2012

I recently talked to a demoscene musician who had just started studying electronic composition at university. He liked it, but felt out of place there. All of them knew sheet music, had parents who liked “high culture” and they actually liked Stockhausen and Cage.  When teachers or students ask him about his past, he no longer talks about the demoscene. It’s just not worth the effort to explain it every time you talk to someone, because they probably won’t care anyway. In music universities anyway.

Elsewhere, like in advertising and programming, demoscene skills can get you a job. Some companies have even grown out of demoscene groups: Dice from the Silents, TAT from Yodel and haxx from Horizon. In the pirate biz there’s also a few sceners like Peter Sunde at Pirate Bay and the Megaupload-guy. But in the arts? Goodiepal springs to mind, but… yeah.

It’s a bit funny. I’ve argued before that demos are works of craft, not art. Demos are made for showing off and winning a compo. It’s about going to parties and not giving a fuck, screaming at dancing PETSCII-characters from 1992. It’s like rock before art/theory defined and confined it?

Is the demoscene the opposite to art? Well, many important things of software art (interactivity, generative systems, process) are almost completely missing in the demoscene. These things are going mainstream too, but still hasn’t really reached the demoscene. What artists and sceners share though, is the desire to do the impossible. There is an obsession with transgression in the new media art world too (going beyond the ‘system’), but the demoscene is so much ahead of everybody else that nobody gets it. Hehe.

I think that the scene is interesting to art people too. Interesting. But not relevant. Perhaps it sounds unbelievable to them that there’s been a network of A/V hobby hackers since the 1980’s. Maybe they feel stupid for not knowing about it. Or it’s more simple than that. They think that demos are boring crap. I’m bound to agree, especially from an art perspective. Although some things are definitely works of art (Deep Throat, Notemaker Demo, Rambo – A Chronicle of, Robotic Liberation, etc), that’s not the point with the demoscene. (besides, art is pretty boring too)

What is the point? Well, I really like the freedom of the copy party. Think of it as a hackerspace disco with lots of man-beer and old music. There’s no money and no bullshit. You don’t have to network with the right people and explain your work on their terms. It’s an odd soup of CEOs, graffiti writers, headmasters, schizophrenics and academics that is hard to find elsewhere. Some people are just quiet and make music, others are fixing some hardware while the Finnish BBS-d00d is puking in the closet. Then they all crash on the floor, covered in data noise. It’s like being 16 again all over, except for the SD-cards.

The demoscene is underground because it doesn’t fit anywhere else. Even if many sceners have high education, income, cultural capital, etc – the things that they produce don’t have the same status. Demos are more like folk culture, than “high culture” (which Dragan would say too, I guess). But compared to other folky computer things – GIF-animations, general midi music, ASCII, silly javascript effects – the demoscene never became part of the repertoire of post-ironic-retro-dirt-style clip-art ding dong

There are exceptions like Low-Level All-Stars. But the demoscene is tricky to use in the art world. When Rhizome (the sort of #1 digital art place) had a demoscene week, they had to invite others (like me) to write, which I think is rather telling.

The demoscene is the eternal underdog of computer art. It does a lot of low-level work (manual labour in computer land) but the skills to do this are not valued higher up in the hierarchy (e.g among the institutions that provide the $). Of course it can give credibility in some situations, but if you want to be an artist the demoscene is essentially a waste of time. Skills like tracking, pixelling and assembly coding are useful for many things, but they don’t give you any extra credit in the art world.

If this is true (it’s a bit speculative), there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course it’s frustrating that the demoscene talents get so little attention, but that’s the way it is. Eventhough other people should care, we’re quite happy with being left alone too. Then we can keep on voting for fart jokes and petscii porn without worrying what all you lamerz think. See you at Datastorm this weekend! DATAAAAA!

Musicians Are Spammers

February 1, 2012

I recently read an article about about how to choose between Soundcloud and Mixcloud. The author chose Soundcloud, and the final argument was: the music gets more plays.

It’s a common opinon but it’s pretty lame, isn’t it? Is the amount of plays really the most important thing? When I quit Myspace in 2007, some artists said “I would like to follow you, but it’s just not possible for me in my position”. Despite the epic crapness of Myspace, artists used it because … well, everybody else did! And now they’re using something else, for pretty much the same reason I suppose.

But Myspace wasn’t replaced by one, but several sites. A real musician today should be on iTunes, Soundcloud, Spotify and Bandcamp. Atleast. Because a sensible musician has to be easily available: quick access in as many places as possible simultaneously. If you’re not making yourself available, you’re either stubborn, stupid or lazy.

But content is everywhere these days. It’s like running water, except that it’s not necessary for survival. If it’s good we don’t really care so much, and if it’s bad we look for something else. It’s pretty much expendable. Right?

Modern distributors (such as iTunes) make money from ‘indie artists’ because they feel like they have to be there. And why? Because we are egocentrics who search for recognition and dream about fame, or money, or recognition, or something else. But if you look at it statistically, it’s not going to happen. Ever. It helps for promotion, you might say? Probably not, I’d say. Why would it? You don’t get promotion by “being on www”, do you?

A sensible solution is: use your own distribution channels and work on your communication skills. Inform the right people about your work, at the right time/place/blabla. Do quality work but remember that form is often more relevant than content, unfortunately. Don’t get bitter, just realise that all the smart kids think in terms of PR – intentionally or not – and so should you if you want to “succeed”.

The hardcore solution is: anonymous music distribution. Do you really need personal recognition for what you do? Maybe not? Put your music on 5TFU and feel the freedom of anonymity. Use silly aliases and troll your way through life. Fuck money and fame, just do it for the lulz. Have fun. Piss on social media and burn the flag.

A good example of  ‘troll distribution’ is to hide the music within videos. I found that a f ew years ago. The artist had interlaced an mpeg-video and an mp3 audio file. If you played it in VLC you’d see the video (with gaps every know and then) and if you played it in Winamp you’d get the music (with gaps). The music was some kind of beepy funk electronica.

It sounded great when I first heard it. Almost magically cool. Secret music! I still don’t know who did it. And you won’t know it if you find it either, I hope. What made it even better though, was that the video was an episode from Beverly Hills 90210. Original version, yo. Season 3, I think.

Yeah, I watch 90210. Hmm. Well, atleast I’m not using Spotify! :D


A New Hi to the High

September 2, 2011

There’s an interesting article in Vague Terrain about low-bit audio: A New High in Low: Adventures in Low Bitrate Audio. It’s a pretty good read, because it mentions 20kbpsDex and the City and Floppyswop which I released music on several years ago. :) Just have a few comments to make quickly before I go for some food.

It starts by talking about zombie media, and how benders salvage electronics that other people throw away, even if it usually still works. So anti-consumerism is the starting point. The article writes about low bit-rate music as a new approach that comes with a visual aesthetics that the author describes as infantile (hi Kodek and Overthruster!), but also fills an important function for poorer parts of the world. “More interestingly, though, is that no clever scripting, hacking, bending, or esoteric software was required to kickstart this audio micro-revolution: the ability to encode an MP3 at sub-‘CD quality’ bitrates is a feature built into the iTunes application”.

Hmmmm! It’s grounded in critical theory to describe lo-bit as a subversion, and art perspectives to say that presets can be used creatively. Or something like that. The standard way, you know? That’s all fine, but I think there are better ways to talk about this, which perhaps is less alien to the practioners themselves.

Not all music are recordings. MP3/OGG is just one option. For example, on my release at Floppyswop I used mod-files. Sounds better than a lo-bit recordings and it’s smaller in filesize. Non-recorded music is truly tricky for contemporary culture to deal with and it’s a shame that this article doesn’t discuss it. Well, I guess it wasn’t the point. Nevertheless, denouncing chipmusic as videogame remixes and emulations, is a bit perverse.

Lo-bit doesn’t have to be about authenticity. One charm with low bitrate is that it leaves things to the imagination. Low resolution gives more room for the listeners’ own interpretations. Some kind of brutalist hauntology. The articles says that authenticty is a mandatory selling point for culture consumers (which might be true), but it seems more refreshing to say: who knows or cares if it’s authentic or not?

Neither low bitrate recordings or chipmusic are re-animations of zombie media. People have done it for ages — it’s the things around it that has changed. And it’s not about unintended uses. Remember when it became possible to stream audio in the 1990’s? Real audio! It was quite useful, and it still is. Why wouldn’t it be? Because technology has changed? If yes, then you=technodeterminist and that’s not frexxy.

Chipmusic Festival, 1990

August 31, 2011

“We just called it “chiptune” then. I think. I mean, we really didn’t have anything else to call it”. That’s what Minusbaby says about the early days of the chipscene in USA. Nice to read some thoughts about this. My own memories are a bit blurry. But it was certainly unchartered territory back then, perhaps even more so in USA then Europe. Chiptune was the most popular term in the 00’s. I suppose 8bitpeoples contributed to that, like most others. The old VORC was perhaps even more important. Now, the chipmusic term seems to be getting more <3 again, judging from biographies, forums (, etc.

In the 1980s some people talked about micromusic as music made with microcomputers (8-bit home computers with PSG soundchips, mostly). When the Amiga came out, it could play things that didn’t sound like micromusic. Therefore the terms chiptune and chipmusic appeared. But what did these terms mean 20 years ago?

I’ve previously argued that in 1990 chipmusic was equal to chipmodules but that was probably wrong, actually. I’ve discussed it with several of ye old legends, and there are different opinions. Except for chipmodules, around 1990 chipmusic could also refer to synthetical Amiga music or PSG-music.

What can the archives tell us? According to a search at Bitfellas there seems to have been chipmodules as early as 1988, in Compackting Disk Intro by The Supply Team (a Danish pioneer group also on the C64). I was too lazy to setup UAE and check it out though, so I’m not sure. :) UPDATE: mod.introsound was made by Rambones (still active), and uses a short non-looped sample.

The Supply Team - Compackting Disk Intro (1988)

In 1989 the word ‘chip’ starts to appear here and there without any apparent chipmusic-reason. More importantly, 4-mat makes chipmodules and releases them in a lost production and in an intro without music :) [1]. TSM released something like a chipmodule in Invasion, called weinigkb – few kilobytes [2]. He told me that he heard the chiptune-term only years later, and it meant Soundtracker-based songs with short C64-samples. (I mistook TSM for Suntronic)

Surely enough, 1990 saw the release of atleast two chipmodule music disks with C64-covers: Sludger’s Music Demo and Captured Imagination by 4-mat. He also released chip-things like Mole’s Hot Demo PackSkywise’s IntroMusic Demo (called Chip Music Demo at Bitfellas?) and Inspired SoundsChip Music Festival by Magnetic Fields is the earliest use of the term that I’ve found, and there are no chipmodules in it. It’s all synthetical songs made by Jochen Hippel, Ziphoid & Uncle Tom, Walkman, etc. Chipmodules is a new method and there’s no established term. Look for example at the text in Blazer’s Riots or Savage’s Short.

Commercial break! Some chip-hits of 1990 are Gonad’s Cracks by Omri Suleiman, Fireworx by Mantronix, Paranoimia by TSM (video below) and intro-music by 4-mat.

Chip Music Festival, 1990

It seems like chipmusic appeared before chiptune. Chiptune was a noun, meaning a piece of chipmusic. (That always annoyed me with chipmusic chiptune later. Could it originate from a linguistic glitch between English and Japanese?). Anyway, by 1991 the chiptune term was well established. Nuke/Anarchy made a song called chiptune-12k, 4-mat’s song L.F.F also appears as mod.chiptune, and there’s this. The musicdisk Synthetic Vibes includes some of the most famous chip-names at the time (except the already mentioned also Mantronix, Heatbeat, Emax). [3]

(Btw, if there was a competing term, it could’ve been intro-music. There are many songs called that, for example by Heatbeat, Dr. Awesome, 4-mat, etc. But I guess the C64-inspiration made the chip-terms seem more fitting?)

Unfortunately music archives don’t really date its entries, so it’s hard to do a similar research. But on the other hand, you can search for text inside the songs. That way, we can find songs like megademo-vectorbobs where 4-mat claims to have invented chipmodules and asks all sample-rippers to piss off. When I interviewed him for my thesis he was not very proud of this, and admitted to being a sample-ripper too :)

This little excursion tells us that the chipmusic-term was used in 1990, and that chipmodules might’ve been around in 1988. Also, the use of the chip-term seems to have a UK-origin (Anarchy, Magnetic Fields, etc). But hopefully someone can take this research further. Would be interesting to see more heavy data analysis of these archives, to find out more about how chip-terms were used in demos and songs. (And who stole whose samples, for example. Remix culture 30 years ahead of its time!)

But one thing that strikes me, is that the synthetical Amiga tunes around 1990 have aged quite well. If you listen to this MP3-playlist of Amiga tunes from 1989, it feels very modern compared to other electronic music from that time (for a chip-literate, anyway). First of all, it’s not really songs – it’s loops. The linear song-format, on which most music consumption is based, is not really applicable here (great!). Secondly, the minimalist sound capabilities make it less dated. Elsewhere there were orgies in cut-up sampling, drum machines, consumerized sequencers and FM-synths. But the assembler-based 8-bit micro synthesis led to … something else. And last but not least – the music was embedded in a cracker culture that we – the consumers – were mesmerized by. Who were they? How did they make the music? How can I do it? No recording artist could get the same kind of mysterious distribution.

Some people would say it’s “only nostalgia”. Maybe it is, whatever people mean by that expression. But at the same time, this is so different from most contemporary chipmusic. In fact, it doesn’t share much with it at all. During the pinnacle of chip-purism a few years ago it would not even qualify as chipmusic. But today it feels like its pointing towards a possible future for chipmusic. The chipscene is described mostly in dusty postmodern technoid terms á la remix culture (like appropriation). But that’s going to change in the 2010s. You read it here first!

[1] 4-mat’s first chipmodules were Autumn, Knighthawk and Space Journey according to himself. They were based on ST-01 samples.

[2] Check TSM’s page about his 1989-activities, including the source code to a 1988 text editor softsynth for Amiga. Some great crackmospherical space ambient electro in there.

[3] As for 1992: Music Madness is a large v/a chipmod musicdisk. Some songs called chip music. Also Chip On My Shoulder. Possibly also look at Pink’s Ansi Music series and Chipmania (92-94).


August 23, 2011

Text art is having a revival of sorts. If you didn’t notice it yet, you’ll see it in the next release on Chipflip with some goodness from Raquel Meyers. I recently saw some nice work made with Melly’s ASCIIPaint and also good animations made in a program called ascii-paint (which was built from ASCII-Paint).

ASCIIPaint-work by Markham, 2010 (cropped, to avoid artefacts)

Yeah. Hm. Since ASCII is the lowest common denominator for all (?) computer character sets since the 1960s, I suppose that most other standards (Unicode, PETSCII, ATASCII, ANSI, etc) can be called ASCII art aswell. But that’s an engineer perspective. From a more cultural point of view, you could argue that each of these charsets has its own function, history, aesthetics and users. So they are more different than similar.

The C64’s PETSCII gave BBS’s (and disk directories, BASIC-games, etc) a special feel, especially since the slow modem speeds made them automatically “animated“. Telnetting to for example Antidote today is an experience that is hard to match. As you read the messages posted in the PETSCII-section, you can see how the text (art) slowly builds up, char by char. Check out Poison’s Notemaker demo to see how it can look. Can you feel the baud rate, aww yeah?!

PETSCII-stuff by Raquel Meyers, 2010, for (coming soon)

Afaik, PETSCII was never released on its own. But on the Amiga scene dedicated ASCII-groups was formed, and the so-called ASCII-colly started to appear as separate artefacts around 1992 [1]. It was mostly connected with warez/hacking but also the demoscene. These cultural settings and the tight monospaced fonts and line spacing led to an eLiTE mixture of graffiti and poetry. When they used colours, they sometimes called it (Amiga) ANSI.

Razor 1911 logo by Skope of Up Rough & Divine Stylers, 2010

On the PC, you couldn’t make ASCII the same way. The most popular characters ( /  –  _  \ ) had space inbetween them, so it wasn’t possible to make continuous lines in the same way. PC ASCII-artists had to find other ways, and they mostly relied on the extra characters found in the 8-bit MS DOS font. It was a new style that the Amiga-people called ANSI, and the PC-people called (Block) ASCII. A couple of years later some PC-users returned to the 7-bit ASCII-usage and called it … newskool! This style became popular on the web, of course, but is nowadays often complemented with Unicode characters.

ANSI then, seems to be applicable to most text art that has colours. But if it’s Amiga text art (which isn’t really supposed to use any DOS/IBM-shit) you should watch out. And of course, if it’s PETSCII, you shouldn’t call it ANSI. You might get seriously injured.

But anyway – it seems that according to the PC’s “art scene” ideas the various ASCII-Paint softwares above should in fact be called ANSI-Paint. But I guess this is a battle that will be lost. For most people it’s not very relevant to distinguish between ANSI and ASCII. Just like with “8-bit” or “chipmusic” or “electro” it gets pretty complicated if you refuse to accept the dominant use.

Besides, is there anyone who wants to discuss the difference between ANSI and ASCII anyway? \o/

Btw#1: if you need more text art, you can also check out these posts
Btw #2: if you know of good resources on text art, get in touch.

[1] Year taken from Freax (p.121). Rotox, Desert and other West Germans are described as the first Amiga ASCII-artists in the late 1980s (which I have not been able to confirm). Other early ASCII-groups artists were H2O and Mogul (de) and U-Man (se). Some of the earliest Amiga ASCII groups are Epsilon Design (se) and Dezign (de). More info wanted!