Archive for the ‘documentaries’ Category

Generation 64: A Harmless Story About the C64 Generation?

October 4, 2014

I just got a copy of the book Generation 64, and wanted to make a quick blurb..

Generation 64 is a new book about the generation of Swedes who grew up with the Commodore 64. It’s only available in Swedish, but I think there’s a Kickstarter somewhere to get it translated into English. And that would be great. This is an important story to be told, and it’s well researched and contains lots of curiosities, good photos, and so on. It’s definitely a book worth reading. Get it now!

It’s a book about the past. There are interviews with famous public figures about their childhood with computers. There are also more “advanced” users like demosceners, crackers, music makers, designers, game makers, and so on. There is a clear aim of making this generation relevant by essentially describing the current successes of many of people from Generation 64. In the games industry (Candy Crush, Minecraft, DICE), in music (Axwell and Swedish House Mafia, The Hives and also non-Swedes like Legowelt, Aphrodite, and Paradox are mentioned) and of course as programmers. And as entrepreneurs.

This book paints a nice-looking picture of an important background to Sweden’s hi-tech industries, basically. I haven’t read more than half of the book yet, but it seems clear that it’s not much about politics and hacking. Which is fine, of course. It’s a book for a wider audience, and not a critical look at computer culture and society.


It connects to a history that goes something like this: in the 1980’s we had piracy and out-of-bounds hacking, in the 1990’s they went online, and now they work in the “creative industries”, with computers & networks, or at universities. There is a special section in the book about entrepreneurs. But no special sections on, you know, remix cultures or open source, file sharing, copyright fights, and so on. It’s basically more like the story of Spotify than the Pirate Bay – although both of them are represented in the book (by Peter Sunde and Oskar Stål, respectively).

As Spotify was quickly presented as The Solution to the “problem” of file sharing in Sweden, with it came a sort of white-washing of piracy. Kazaa and Fairlight are now mostly accepted as something like childhood mistakes. It’s not as controversial as it used to be.

Meanwhile, Peter Sunde is treated like crap in Swedish prison, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg is involved in a Danish court case which seems to be run with very dubious methods. The third Pirate Bay member is still on the run. And yet – the Pirate Bay is still online and torrents are being shared at more or less the same rate.

And Spotify is nowhere near a functioning business model – they are losing gazillions of money.

Obviously, this is not relevant for a book about Generation 64. My point is just that there is also a different story to be told about this culture. This rebellious use of technologies has not just been sucumbed into entrepreneurship, science and open source rhetorics. There is still lots of controveries that are not solved at all. There is still a lot of politics in this.

And had I written a book on the C64 scene, I would have emphasized that more. Sort of like I did in my 2009-paper for the re:live conference in Australia. Because that will be even more important in the future, when internet and computers are not as free as they used to be.



Documentary on 80’s Japanese Game Composers

September 5, 2014

This documentary on Japanese game music from the early 80’s is interesting because:

  • It’s not exactly easy to get reliable info in English on the history of the Japanese chipmusic. But here you get interviews with experts like Hally and the original composers like Hip Tanaka.
  • It shows a little bit about the process. How these early 8-bit composers were designing their own waveforms, much like the Amiga chipmusicians in the 1990’s. I’m glad to see custom waveforms getting some love, and perhaps more people will learn about the massive 1990’s Amiga chipscene.
  • To see a notebook with drawn 8-bit waveforms talked about with so much love and affection, is pretty much all we need in life.

It’s the first episode in a series. The angle seems to be the influence of Japanese 8-bit music on contemporary dance music. Kode 9 is there, and he’s bound to say some very smart stuff. Still, these episodes will most likely leave out a lot of stuff that I (and probably you) think is relevant and important. But that’s probably how you get a proper budget to do these kinds of things, eh?


An Even More Secret History of Social Networks

February 1, 2011

BBC has published a radio documentary called the Secret History of Social Networking. It interviews people involved with BBS-communication in the 1970s, was influenced by the counterculture in California. It’s a rather expected historiography – pioneering Americans that used computers to network the whole world, and John Cage got into it. We’ve heard it before.

The counterculture merged with commercial interests in a Californian ideology that shaped the home computer revolution. This technolibertarianism probably made the term personal computer catch on so well. So in a way, it is a very relevant history of social networking: individual freedom and computer networks and entrepreneurs (yeah!).

Community Memory, a BBS from 1973

On the other hand, there are the social networks that emerged from software piracy in the 1980s. Already in 1979 there were digital networks for Apple II-crackers, and a few years later a lot of people were distributing cracked software. Not only modem-to-modem, but face-to-face and mailman-to-mailman. It was a network for middle-class kids that had little to do with highbrow art or traditional politics; it was merely a way to use computers for what they were designed for. Copying information.

In other words – it was a popular network where common people did common sense things. It was an early warez economy, which is not so different from the current network economy/culture. You make, share and remix things for free and you get stuff back – either as money or status. Or something like that.

The point is that the countercultural BBS-stuff is an interesting early example, but did it influence things to come?  Sure they conversed and organized through modems, but what else? The cracker/demoscene networks pioneered or perfected many things: text art, free distribution of executable artefacts, open source music and remix culture, mail art, computer parties, etcetera – and it had very real effects on the economy and culture outside of itself. Eventually. If the counterculture led to iTunes, then this network led to netlabels and the Pirate Bay.

I don’t blame the BBC for their angle and perhaps they will also deal with this topic in future episodes. But there’s been very little research made on the cracker- and demoscene networks. I wrote a text for the Media Art Histories 2009 that has some additional information, but it was hastily put together so don’t expect too much.

The First English Book on Chiptune!

June 27, 2010

Via TCTD I saw Kieran’s tweet about a new chiptune book. As far as I know, this is the second book on the topic, after Nils Dittbrenner’s one in German (which is very good, btw). But this one is a bit different, because it uses content from Wikipedia. But it doesn’t just copy the information. It’s a bit more fancy/trashy than that. Looking at the title of the book it’s quite obvious that it’s automatically generated content. The title reads: “Chiptune: Video game console, Sample-based synthesis, Golden Age, Video game music, Electronic musical instrument, Pulse-width modulation, Elektron SidStation, … Wavetable synthesis, Arpeggio, GoatTracker.” The title was made by using all the links in the order they appear at the chiptune-article at Wikipedia.

I would love to have this book! It’s 76 pages long, so there has to be some good stuff in there. I have some kind of love-hate relationship with these algorithmic attempts to communicate. Spam poetry, etc. The only thing is — the book costs 51 US Dollars!

The publisher of the book, Alphascript Publishing“anually publish more than 10,000 new titles and are thus one of the leading publishing houses of academic research. We specialize in publishing copyleft projects”. So they scrape Wikipedia for content and at the moment they offer almost 40,000 books at Amazon, priced at something like 40 to 80 US Dollars. All the books that I have seen are edited by the same three persons. There are books about blogs and bazookas, eyes and aztecs, the high court of Australia, Lufthansa and intestines, and so on. They also have three other books that mention chiptune. This is probably the most well-published and well-educated editors in the world, as a commenter hinted here.

I don’t know if they have a print-on-demand thing connected to Amazon, or some other smart solution. But I like the idea that Amazon is stocking up on tens of thousands of books full of generated shit-scheisse. How can you get 76 pages from a single Wikipedia-article? Spam-style gets materialized, and injected back into the economy, sitting on some Amazon shelves somewhere. Post-digital and post-algorithmic, yep. Everybody’s happy, because noone is stupid enough to buy these books. Right? We are supposed to be the rational economic man. Yep. Hello.

But please, if you bought the book — step forward. Or scan it and e-mail it anonymously. You will be rewarded with a unique dot matrix copy of my chipmusic thesis, when it’s finished in August. It’s definitely free from auto-generated content. Hand-made information to clean the universe.

Why the Demoscene is big in Sweden: Bit för Bit

May 13, 2010

“But now to the land beyond the future. To the movie (sic) about the computer world. To demo-fantasies and breath-taking computer games. To the world of Orcan!” (Orcon?). Cue posthuman sleazy-gas-station-jarre-cover spotlight smoke world*. Scrolltext @ 1.17: “The world’s first demo competition for all the crackers, hackers, packers, trainers”. Cue Amiga virus warning, data-jibberish by Orcan, and “Dad” saying “Shut up, Orcan“.

This bizarre clip is actually from a weekly TV-show that aired on national Swedish TV in 1989. It was called Bit för Bit (Bit by Bit). I was too young to see it, but I’ve been told by wise men about it. As I understand it (also from here), they showed clips from a number of demos each week, and people called in to vote for their favourite. Zyron told me that Horizon made a demo for it. Rebels won the competition once, according to a youtube-comment. RSI, Phenomena, Alpha Flight, North Star, etc. Elite!

There were also game competitions in each show, where you called into the show and controlled the game with your phone’s number panel. This was the future. But we missed a turn along the way, *old-man-sigh*.

Anyway, this has to be one of the earliest TV-shows with frequent demo-compos, if not the only one ever? Demos had only existed for a few years, but the scene was gaining momentum. There were also copy parties that the show reported from. One Youtube-commenter mentions the report from the AlphaFlight/VisionFactory/Powerslaves party in Holland as a highlight.

Maybe the Scandinavian demoscene was not strong because of the early computerization, social wellfare system, cold weather, or education system. Perhaps it was all about Bit för Bit! Well maybe not, but who wouldn’t want to become a scener after seeing this? It’s almost like an advertisement for a detached digital world without adult rationales (even if you have to shut up sometimes). And maybe the demoscene was actually surrounded by more by illegal things back then (piracy, cracking, VHS-trading, info-freedom, BBS-nazis..). Although Bit för Bit seems to have had pretty stupid parts, there were also lots of elite sceners that gave the show legitimacy. I mean, you can read a scroller @ 2.45 that has “a message for D.O.C.” who was one of the main improvers of Soundtracker. Scroller greets to tracker-reverse-engineerers on national TV, now that’s not bad.

I’m looking for copies of the show, or any kind of information. If you can help out please leave a comment.

* Gas-station-jarre-cover, ehm… Around here you can buy music at gas stations. I think there are even special distributors for that purpose. And back then there were always tons of “Best of Synthesizer Hits” CDs with bad covers of Jarre, Vangelis, and all those kinds of laser-harp future-dudes. They were often more like conversions than covers, because they sounded almost identical to the original. It’s almost a bit demoscene-ish come to think of it…

The Sound of Playing:

July 2, 2009

In 2007 Alex Yabsley (dot.ay) made an ethnographic study of the chiptune community, which is available online: The Sound of Playing. This may be very old news, but since it is 39 pages I wanted to give it some attention and mention some of the parts I liked in particular. I hope you don’t mind that I bring out your old university work, Alex! : )

He made interviews or questionnaires for 7 participants from the UK, Sweden, and USA, and also did participatory studies of 8bitcollective and Statistically speaking, seven people is not representative for a large subculture, but that is usually not the point with a qualitative study anyway. I think Alex rightly generalizes some of the results.

* Chip music composers usually talk about limitations when they motivate why they make chip music, and secondly about timbre. Newcomers seem instead to talk about this culture being “fresh and new”, what Alex describes as cultural reasoning rather than musical creative reason. No one really talks about videogames. Far from everyone has a background with making alternative electronic music.

* “Whilst the demoscene is responsible for much of the infrastructure on which modern Chiptunes are built, it seems that it has become quite a separate community. However, it is a noticeable phenomenon that, as newcomers become more informed of the history of Chiptunes, they develop an interest in the demoscene.” I would like to add that they were always quite separated, considering the low amount of chip musicians from the demoscene that are active outside of it. But I think Alex has an interesting point in that chip music has become a gateway-culture for the heavier stuff!

* “[..] Småm believes that just playing sequences back and pretending your doing something is something of a live standard for Game Boy musicians. This is partly the case.” Is it really? Do you know of any chip musicians that play more live than others? I was once forced to play my only ever Gameboy-only set (due to other broken hardware) in a forest in Gothenburg a few years ago (with Småm actually). I thought it went alright enough though, since I always enjoyed improvising with LSDj. Does it get boring after a while, or why do Gameboyers not do more things live?

* The part about the compositional effect of technology was very good and could have been even longer! Bitshifter’s answer about Nanoloop versus LSDj is spot on about how most chip music software uses traditional notation while Nanoloop doesnot, encouraging music that is more focused on texture and rhythm rather than melody. Pixelh8 said “If you were painting a picture you wouldn’t ask someone else to choose your colours would you?” referring to him making his own software. I think a better musical metaphor for colours is the timbre of the sounds, ie the audio waveforms inherent to a chip. Software is more like the brush and canvas, to me. Most brushes and canvases do a very similar work, but a few stand out from the rest either by offering variety or novelty.

* Chip music composers gain more from listening to chip music than an average consumer. By having used the same hard- and software, you know what is easy and difficult, and worthy of admiration. “This further builds and develops both the community and the quality of work produced, as the limitations allow for a simple shared understanding, which is how the demoscene has operated for years and how it continues to be a system conducive to high quality creative work.” A very good point, I thought. Although some would say it is elitist technofetishism, you could might aswell call it craftmanship. That makes me think why there are not more competitions at, say, 8bitcollective.

* Hope you got a good grade .AY!

The BliepBliep Exhibition

June 30, 2009

Did you know that Bleep in English is Bliep in Dutch and Piep in German [update: Piip in Finnish]? I learnt this at BliepBliep in Rotterdam that I mentioned before. It is an exhibition about computer sounds, and it seems most suitable for kids, who seemed to enjoy playing some old videogames. They had C64, Atari VCS, Sega Mastersystem, NES, Vectrex, and the other usual (European) suspects, and they were tucked away in cabinets with custom made controls for them. I would have preferred the original controls, since this made you miss the most obvious connection with the machine – the control interface.

They had a number of educational games aswell. One cabinet had a number of computers and peripherals, and you were supposed to connect sounds to the corresponding object. On another screen you could sample sounds and play it back while altering the bit rate and sample rate, to show what kind of quality the older systems work with (or, to teach future composers about bitcrushing?).The thing I liked the most was a sort of patch bay to show how people (usually women) operated computers five decades ago. It reminded me of why I was in Rotterdam in the first place, namely to patch analogue synthesizers.


There was also one installation where you could compose your own computer music. You could sequence predefined loops to make some kind of trance music. Most computer music might be arranged in loops, but I think this retro-style exhibition would gain more from relating to how the loops are made. The chip style way of composing (bit by bit, from scratch) seems more relevant than how to make music with long samples (“sound block around moving fever“).

But it became more clear that they wanted to relate to contemporary music in another cabinet, where you could listen to computer music. There was trance, breakcore, ambient, jumpen (Dutch for jumpstyle) and so on, with one song for each genre. Chiptune was represented by Nullsleep (with the track Chippon), which is a good choice. The genre 8bit was represented by Crystal Castles with the track Courtship Dating, which might not be an equally satisfying choice for everyone. Elsewhere, you could also listen to parts of Monty on the Run by Rob Hubbard and Cybernoid 2 by Jeroen Tel.

All in all – I think this exhibition gives an insight into the history of computers and consoles, and provides some fun for the gamers. It was competently put together in general, but it would have been even better if they connected this exhibition with the 10 year anniversary of, or the 10 year anniversary of C-men, or maybe most importantly the people around Rotterdam that use 8-bit hardware for music and visuals. Sometimes these kinds of exhibitions might perpetuate an image of old computers as old and unuseable rather than interesting media in themselves.

Reformat the Planet Online

August 17, 2008

From digitaltools I found out that the chip music documentary movie Reformat the Planet is now available online for a week. The first time I saw it I got a bit annoyed with the überfocus on New York and Gameboys. With that in mind it is a pretty good introduction. So grab it … uh, I mean stream it … while you can!

Soundchip-Musik 1977-1994

February 13, 2008

It’s out – the most comprehensive text about chipmusic I have read!

Nils Dittbrenner: Soundchip-Musik – Computer- und Videospielmusik von 1977-1994. Buy it here, read some here. You will notice it is only available in German and even if I keep brushing and brushing, the dust of my German skills won’t come off. But I will try to give you a very brief and general idea of the book.

1) Technology. It has in-depth explanations of the soundchips from Stella / TIA (Atari VCS) through to the early General MIDI chips. This covers roughly half of the book.

2) Musicology. Discusses composers’ ideas and tricks with composing on the soundchips. The technical limitations are defined as: polyphony, timbre, storage, CPU and other external restrictions. Some tricks discussed are the combination of bass and drums on one single channel, using arpeggios instead of chords, pulse width LFOs and samples. Dittbrenner also approaches some dilemmas of chipmusic: incompatibility problems when converting game music, the music in games having less priority than graphics and code, and the tempo-problems coming out of NTSC/PAL-sync.

3) Sociology. Like the book title implies, the focus is on computer- and videogames but there are also discussions about the demoscene and chipmusic in pop culture, etc. As for genres, Dittbrenner seems to focus on Micromusic and Chiptunes. This passage is hard for me to understand, but it seems like the making of genres is more about social than musical factors.

Ok, that’s the introduction. This book is quite a piece of work, and it’s very frustrating to not understand it. So please buy the book and translate it for me :-)

Chipmusic Movies

February 6, 2008

I recently got to see the French chipmusic documentary 8 Bit Generation, which premiered at Blip Festival 2007. Compared to 8 Bit, shown at the previous Blip Festival, this is more focused on the European chipmusic scene’s place in popular music culture, whereas 8 Bit had an American focus and discussed chipmusic more in relation to art and the future. In 8 Bit Generation you can hear a lot from Malcolm McLaren, who was quite into chipmusic a few years ago – when this documentary was essentially filmed. I will get back with more proper reviews when I can see 8 Bit again.

Reformat the Planet is movie documentary to be released soon by 2 Player Productiuons. Based on the Blip Festival 2006, it is “using New York as a microcosm for a larger global movement” and seems to focus on Nintendo products and videogames. update feb09: after seeing a private screener, the narrow focus on New York and Gameboy/NES feels a bit annoying (even ignorant?). But the inclusion of visual artists and interesting discussions about videogame nostalgia and commercialism in the second half, lifts the documentary.

The 8bit Philosophy is another upcoming documentary with an online trailer. It seems to be aimed at C64-gamers and people that enjoy remixes of C64 game songs, so I would expect less philosophy than history, really.Does anyone know of more chipmusic documentaries around?