Archive for the ‘demoscene’ Category

Wider Screen: Authenticity in Chipmusic

April 16, 2014

Yesterday I wrote about the new scene issue in Wider Screen, where several noteworthy scholars write on chipmusic, demoscene and warez culture. Today I return to that, to discuss the ethnographic study of authenticity in the chipscene. Chipmusic, Fakebit and the Discourse of Authenticity in the Chipscene was written by Marilou Polymeropoulou who I’ve met a few times around Europe when she’s been doing field studies for her dissertation. Her article is refreshing because it deals with technology in a non-technological way, so to say. It takes a critical look at the ideologies of chipmusic (which I also tried to do in my master’s thesis) and she doesn’t get caught up in boring discussions about what chipmusic actually is (which, uhm, I have done a lot).

Polymeropoulou divides the chipscene into three generations. The first generation is described as a demoscene-inspired strive for being an original elite, by challening the limitations of original 8-bit hardware from the 1980′s. As I understand, this generation is everything that happened before the internet went mainstream. The second generation is internet-based and focused on mobility (read Gameboy), learning by copying and making more mainstream-ish chipmusic. The third generation is characterized as “chipsters” that are more interested in sounds and timbres rather than methods and technologies.

The first generation of chipmusicians would be a very diverse bunch of people, activities and machines. Perhaps even more diverse than the chipscene is now. Back then there were not as many established norms to relate to. I mean, we hardly knew what computers or computer music was. The terms chipmusic or chiptune didn’t exist, and I doubt that it was relevant to talk about 8-bit music as a general concept. It was computer music, game music, SID-music, Nintendo-music, etcetera. People were using these 8-bit home computers to make music for school, for games, for art, for their garage band, for themselves, for Compunet, for bulletin boards, the demoscen, for crack-intros, etcetera. However, looking back through the eyes of “chipscene 2014″ it makes sense to zoom in on only the demoscene during this period, as it is normally considered as one of the most important precursors.

Chip Music Festival, 1990

In the demoscene there were many people who ripped songs to copy the samples, look at their tracker tricks, or just use the song for their own demo. Copying was common, but it wasn’t exactly elite to do it. There was certainly a romantic ideology of originality at work. But I’m not so sure about ascribing a technological purism to the demoscene of that time. Sure, people loved their machines. But most sceners eventually moved on to new platforms (see Reunanen & Silvast). So I’m not sure that this generation would be the anti-thesis to fakebit. In fact, when the chipmusic term first appeared around 1990 it refered to sample-based Amiga-music that mimicked the timbres of the PSG-soundchips and the aesthetics of game music.

So, in a sense, the Amiga/PC chip-generation of the 1990′s (when the 8-bit demoscenes were very small) was actually not so far from what is called fakebit today. And that’s obviously why this big and important momentum with tens of thousands of open source chip-modules is so often ignored in histories of chipmusic. It just doesn’t fit in. (It’s also worth noting here that many if not most 8-bit demoscene people today use emulators such as VICE or UAE to make music, and use the original hardware more like a media player.)

My theory is that the hardware-fetish of the chipscene is a more recent phenomenon, established sometimes in the mid 2000′s, and I think that Malcolm McLaren’s PR-spree had something to do with it, regardless of the scene’s reaction. If you listen to the early releases at micromusic.net and 8bitpeoples today, you could call it fakebit if you wanted to. Just like with the Amiga-chip music of the 1990′s. So it seems to me that this generation didn’t build much on what had been done in the demoscene, other than perhaps using tools developed there. Games, on the other hand, were a popular reference. So to me, the post-2000 generation of chipmusicians feels more like a rupture than a continuation from the previous generation (something like hobbyism->crackerscene->demoscene->trackerscene->netlabels).

At this time I was still a purist demoscene snob, and I thought that this new kind of bleepy music was low quality party/arty stuff. Still, I decided to gradually engage in it and I don’t regret it. But I was one of very few demosceners who did that. Because this was, in short, something very different from the previous chipmusic that was characterized by lots of techné and home consumption. Micromusic was more for the lulz and not so serious, which was quite refreshing not only compared to the demoscene but compared to electronic music in general (you know, IDM and drum n’ bass and techno = BE SERIOUS).

It’s funny, but when Polymeropoulou describes the third generation of the chipscene (the chipsters) it actually reminds me a bit of the early demoscene people, perhaps even during the 1980′s.

Chipsters compose chipmusic – and of course, fakebit – on a variety of platforms, including modern computers, applying different criteria, based on popular music aesthetics rather than materialist approaches. [..] Chipsters find creative ways combining avant-garde and subcultural elements in order to break through to mainstream audiences, a practice which is criticised by purists.

In the 1980′s they used modern computers to try to make something that sounded like the “real” music in the mainstream. They borrowed extensively from contemporaries such as Iron Maiden, Laserdance and Madonna and tried to make acid house, new beat, synth pop, etc. There was definitely some freaky stuff being made (“art”), and something like comedy shows (Budbrain) and music videos (State of the Art) and later on so called design demos (Melon Dezign) and those demos appealed to people who were not sceners. And the megamixes! Here’s one from 1990:

Okay… how did we end up here? Oh yeah — my point is, I suppose, that the demoscene is not as purist as people think, and never was. Atleast that’s my impression of it. But even if I disagree with the generational categorization of Polymeropoulou’s text, I consider this article as an important contribution to the field of techno-subcultures. Also, I am even quoted a few times both as a researcher and as an anonymous informant. Maybe you can guess which quotes are mine, hehe.

Rewiring the History of the Demoscene: Wider Screen

April 15, 2014

skenet-scenes-petscii

Wider Screen has just released a themed issue on scene research, including scientific articles on the demoscene and the chipscene. It seems to be some very good texts, although I’ve only read one so far. So let’s talk about that one!

Markku Reunanen gives a long-awaited critical examination of the history of the demoscene in How Those Crackers Became Us Demosceners. He notes that the traditional story is basically that people cracked games, made intros for them, and then started to make demos. He problematizes this boring story by describing different overlaps between the worlds of games, demos and cracks. The first time I really reflected on this issue was in Daniel Botz’ dissertation. It is indeed obvious that this is a complex story full of conflicting narratives, and we can assume that (as always) The History is based on the current dominant discourses.

What do I mean with that? Well, take Sweden as an example, where the scene was always quite large. These days the scene is usually, when it is mentioned at all, described as a precursor to games, digital arts and other computer-related parts of “the creative industries“. When Fairlight’s 25-year-anniversary was reported in the Swedish mainstream media, cracking was portrayed as a legal grey area that contributed to the BNP. The forth-coming Swedish book Generation 64 seems to be telling a similar story. The scene was a bunch of kids who might have done some questionable things, but since these people are now found in Swedish House Mafia, Spotify and DICE it seems like all is forgiven. But it’s not.

Look at what the other sceners are doing today. The ones who didn’t get caught up in IT, advertising and academia. Piratbyrån, The Pirate Bay and Megaupload all involved scene people and, from the previous story, appears as a darker side of the scene. The data hippies, the copyists, the out-of-space artists, the dissidents, the fuck-ups. The people who don’t have much to gain from their scene history. But also the BBS-nazis (one of them living close to me) is interesting to consider today, when far-right discussion boards are frequently mentioned in the media. The info-libertarians at Flashback also remind me of the scene’s (in a very broad sense) spirit of “illegal information” and VHS-snuff movies that I mention in The Forgotten Pioneers of Creative Hacking and Social Networking (2009). Something else I mention there, as does Reunanen, are the swappers and traders whose sole function was to copy software around the world. But they are not really part of the history since they weren’t doing that Creative and Original work that we seem to value so dearly today.

No, the scene wasn’t a harmless place for boys-2-men, from geeks to CEOs. And also – there were plenty of people making weird stuff with home computers that were not part of the scene. People at Compunet were making audiovisual programs that looked really similar to the demoscene’s, but are usually not regarded as part of the scene. Possibly because of its apparent disconnection from the cracker scene. I’ve sometimes seen STE argue about this with sceners at CSDb. Jeff Minter did demo-like things, and people had been doing demo-like computer works for decades already. And all the hobbyists who wrote simple or strange sonic and visual experiments on their 8-bit home computers, but never released it in the scene? Well, they are effectively being distanced and erased from the history of the demoscene by not being included in archives like CSDb and HVSC that exclude “irrelevant” things.

So yeah – thumbs up to Markku for this article! Let’s not forget the provocative and subversive elements of the scene (read more about that in the 2009-article I link to above) because they might become very relevant sooner than we think.

About My Demoscene Talk at Øredev

November 18, 2013

Last week I made a presentation about the demoscene at the developer conference Øredev. Before the talk I did an improvised C64 ambient dinner performance – where I just start the software and do everything from scratch, and show the screen to the audience. (see image)

by emiebot @ flickr

Photo by Emiebot

The theme of the conference was art, so my talk was more or less “demoscene vs art”. I argued that the scene and the art world are fundamentally different. The themes of 1960′s computer art might be similar to the scene: moving graphics, sound, code, making “new” thing with technology, networked communications, etcetera. But today the scene and the art world basically doesn’t overlap at all.

The scene competes with skills by making works that you go WOW!LOL!WTF! the first time you see it. The execution is more important than the concept, which connects to scene to craft rather than art. I’ve emphasized this since 2008, because it’s one of the most defining traits of the scene imo.

I talked about the years around 2000 when 8-bit works started to appear in the art world. Usually that was in the shape of glitch (Jodi), chipmusic (micromusic.net, Nanoloop), ASCII art (Vuk Cosic),  circuit bending (Notendo), videogames (Cory Arcangel). Sceners were not involved in this, and some of them (including me) were annoyed with the lame execution. “Hey, it’s not eliteeeee!”.

Photo by Codepo8

Photo by Codepo8

So… then I went on to talk about why I started to move towards the art world myself. We played HT Gold, which didn’t really work in the scene because it’s full of trash. I showed demos that doesn’t work in the art world (ie, most of them). And I showed Dansa In which I think is the first time I’ve worked with something that worked both as “art” and “demo”.
Nevertheless, I discussed the possibilities of scene-style coding playing a bigger role in the art world in the future. Doing things for www, smartphones and microcontrollers could surely use some of the über-rationalistic yet trial-and-error-craziness that sceners are so good at. Efficient use of the hardware, of course, will become more important if digital art goes monumental but wants to not waste more resources than necessary.
Finally, I mentioned three cultural traits of the scene that could/should have a bigger influence:
Distribution is always free in the scene, and they developed a sort of DIY infrastructure for that. There was an international network established already in the 1980s, using both telecommunications and postal mail. Distribution was hard work by dedicated traders, swappers and sysops who copied software around the world. I was always fascinated by this, and we’re once again seeing the need for this with the recent waves of censorship, surveillance and control.
Copyright remains an infected issue in the scene, despite (or because of) the normalization of free distribution, and its close ties with the cracking scene. Amiga MOD-music is my favourite example, where composers sampled sounds from records and basically claimed ownership of them. “Don’t rip my samples!” was a common statement. In the scene, it is always better to do it yourself, rather than building on someone else’s work. It doesn’t want to be a remix culture.
If someone was “stealing” they would be shamed in public (diskmags, parties, bulletin boards) so they lost their reputation. We could, perhaps, compare this to how Timbaland was attacked by “an angry nerd army” when he sampled Tempest’s chiptune. To me, this seems like a much more modern way than to have a court decide which methods are okay, and which are not. But yeah, it will probably take some decades before we go back to that behaviour.
Formats. Distributing most things as real-time programs instead of recordings, leads to a treasure for future historians. The massive online archives means that the demoscene is one of the most well-preserved subcultures so far. Imagine what we can do with all that data in the future! It’s like cultural analytics done on “open source” artefacts – or even better. Also, this puts some demands on the platforms. They need to support wild methods and low-level trickeries, not punish them. Strictly enforced license agreements embedded in the hardware (“if you try something funny, your gadget will blow up and call the police”) or underlying mega-protected systems are not really the future, from this point of view.
Finally: I know the few sceners that were in the audience were disappointed that I didn’t show many traditional demos. That wasn’t really the point with the presentation, which I probably should have made more clear. The idea was to discuss the scene from the perspective of art and highlight its advantages and disadvantages. Also – I showed many of my own works because I was asked to, and because I have worked many years in that grey semi-desertic area inbetween art and demoscene.

► Animal Romantics

November 1, 2013

Animal Romantics (slightly NSFW) is an audiovisual maxi single. Or music disk. Or … internet multimedia? Demo? Net art? Whatever you want to call it – this is 7 songs with synchronized visuals in Javascript and PETSCII. The music, text & visuals blend together to describe the construction of a lady, who has romantic dreams about monkeys.

You can even insert your own text and get a custom link to insult your friends with! Made by Raquel Meyersevilpaul and Goto80 for the pl41nt3xt pavilion @ Wrong Biennale and Chipflip.

animal_450

The song comes in one slow disco version and a faster vocoder pop version. They have been remixed by Limonious (the grand father of skweee), Steve (UK’s new king of FM-swing), The Toilet & Ljudit Andersson from the very underrated Mutantswing label, and finally a version from the don of Amiga disco, Dr. Vector. The whole thing runs in evilpaul’s text-mode Javascript library.

► PRESS PLAY

Works on most browsers, as long as you have a normal keyboard (hello mobile world).

How’s the Demoscene on Twitter?

April 17, 2013

I’ve been meeting sceners in the strangest places lately. Which got me thinking. What do all those old sceners do these days? What do they work with? Are they all programmers and geeks? Or what? What do sceners talk about today?

Enter Twitter list! [UPDATE: go here & here, read comments] I know, they’re usually quite useless. But perhaps this could actually be a useful way to use it; to show the differences within a group. To show what they talk about when they are not together. All the other things. I think that could be quite interesting with such a diverse group such as the demoscene.

So I started by searching Twitter bios for demoscene, demoscener and scener. The hits I got showed that those people are mostly programmers that have tweeted something during the past week. (Also, there are people who call themselves demoscene hangarounds!)

Some accounts were – surprise! – more popular than others. I made a list of some that had more than 1000 followers, just for fun. This is not some top-of-twitter-megachart, it’s just an observation from a silly first search and leaves out eg Kim Dotcom, Axwell and other crispy phresh celebrities with a scene past. Anyway, here goes:

  • Richard Davey @photonstorm (game developer)
  • Maija Haavisto @DiamonDie (writer)
  • Mathieu Henri @p01 (programmer)
  • Tadej Gregorcic @tadej (programmer)
  • Douglas Alves @_Adoru_ (history professor)
  • Jussi Laakkonen @jussil (games entrepreneur)
  • Jean-Christophe G. @gatuingt (programmer)
  • Leonard Ritter @paniq (game developer, musician)
  • Tomoki Shishikura @T_SRTX1911 (?)
  • Renaldas Zioma @__ReJ__ (programmer, game developer)
  • Nathaniel Reindl @nrr (programmer)

I browsed around randomly among followers, remembered some people that I follow on Twitter, checked their followers, etc. Found another demoscene list and stole all the members, muhaha. I also checked #demoscene tag which was surprisingly empty. Even just a search for demoscene resulted in quite few hits. Anyway. I ended up with 256 accounts in total, after a few hours.

I tried to exclude inactive accounts, unless I thought they’d be active again. Didn’t include parties, groups, etc. I wanted to see how persons talked – regardless if they are inactive or active sceners. Scene for life, yeeeäah!

So let me know about all those scener accounts on Twitter! Let’s find all the forgotten sceners and see what they’re talking about. Fun, yes?

► Omri Suleiman – Music For a 15 Year Old Me

August 26, 2012

A lot of chipmusic releases today is either “modern” or “chip”. Very few artists seem to pull off both, at the same time. This is exactly what Omri Suleiman does!

Music For a 15 Year Old Me builds on an oft-forgotten origin of chipmusic (crack intros) and fuses it with techno, house and UK hardcore from the 1990s. The results? A new future for chipmusic!

Stream and download for free at http://chipflip.org/05.

Crafted by the long-lost Amiga scene musician Omri Suleiman, it fuses dancefloor bass with sound tracker magic to form a refreshing mixture of crack intro mystics and dancefloor energy. Occasionally it has a similar machinic atmosphere to that of early Autechre, and other times it sounds like skilled guitar solos and computer ballads. As a plus, the original files all fit on a single floppy disk!

As usual, Chipflip doesn’t try to emulate the album form. Instead, this is more similar to a music disk with its eerie PETSCII  interface by Raquel Meyers and GotoAT. The MP3-archive is also available at archive.org.

Music For a 15 Year Old Me is Omri’s attempt to reach back to his teenage self, back when he was working with Amiga groups like Anarchy, Magnetic Fields and Scoopex. He was making chipmusic before the term even existed. Omri:

At that time maybe we referred to them more often as intro tunes, rather than chiptunes. The requirement that, after the copy protection was removed, a crack intro to publicise the group could be placed in the unused first sector of the floppy disk meant that the music had to be less than 10kb in size.

Eventually, Omri also started to perform in the London underground scene in acts like Afterglow and Invisible Technologies. They played live using two Amigas and a Yamaha music computer. While most of that music has been lost today (Raw EP on Beautiful Records is an exception), it is clear that Music For a 15 Year Old Me picks up on the ambience of Detroit techno, early UK hardcore and house. The process behind the release is also a nod back to himself:

To consider the only relevant audience to be, me, 20ish years ago – frees the creative process of considerations and conformities and fashion which can sometimes limit my approach to writing music.

In order to facilitate this concept, all of the songs have been produced using only a sound tracker type program (Milkytracker in this case), with the only sample editing being that available inside the tracker.

Which also means : no filters, no reverbs, no synths, no channel EQs or compression, no effects apart from those you program yourself by manipulating the pitch, volume or sample offset.

Here’s hoping that teenage Omri will pick up on this release, and respond with some more Suleiman music. To read Omri’s own words about this release, visit musicfora15yearoldme.com.

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 net.art.

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!

Music for Twitter?

October 1, 2011

So first Viznut and friends did some experiments and put it in a YouTube-clip. Then there were threads at Pouet and chipmusic.org, and eventually it even popped up in places like Motherboard. Then there was another video:

This is all about tiny pieces of C code that generates 8-bit music. Mega complicated haXXor stuff. But you don’t have to understand it to like it. In fact, you can even make it yourself. Just copy stuff here, paste it here and then change some numbers. Don’t forget to copyright it!

This seems less hardware-dependent than minidata things usually are. So perhaps it could be some new kind of sonic Twitter art, like I tweeted little-scale’s Arduino music (mp3). Good luck everybody! Waiting for the first compilation…

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 (chipmusic.org), 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).

Fantastic PhD Demoscene Book

June 27, 2011

Daniel Botz has finally published his PhD dissertation on the demoscene. Chipflip’s conversation with him in 2009 revealed some of his approaches. Entitled Art, Code and Machine – the Aesthetics of the Computer Demoscene, it is an extremely well-researched study of the demoscene’s history and aesthetics.

The theoretical base is Friedrich Kittler, who is more interested in machines than humans. From this Botz constructs a media materialism that takes the potentials/limitations of the machine seriously. Human fantasies about subverting the machine is not primary. Demos are immanent in the machine and are only “carved out” by the sceners. They are states of the machines, and not products. There is no software, even.

Still – as a researcher of art rather than computers – Botz describes the aesthetical norms also from a social perspective, occasionally with some ideas from cultural studies. New effects typically reference “oldschool” elements to make it graspable. It’s not a virtual and limitless digital “freedom” where anything is possible, which is often implied elsewhere. You know, Skrju can make lots of fucked up noise but still fit in, while perhaps Critical Artware could use some more rotating cubes.

Unfortunately this book is only available in German. You can read a sample here. My German is not very good, so my apologies if this post contains any misinformation. Having said that, this book is the best demoscene research I’ve read. It’s quite traditional in its theory and methods, which I think is required to cover the topic thoroughly. Still, it offers plenty of surprises compared to the usual clichés about hacker aesthetics. Perhaps that’s because the theoretical perspective is down-to-earth instead of pretentiously post-whatever or ideologically biased (e.g. humans or machines).

I can’t wait for the translation, Daniel! :) Meanwhile, check out the great Demoscene Research site and join the (scarce) discussions in the Google group.

 


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