Archive for the ‘history’ Category

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.

A Short History of Hardcore Chipmusic

March 9, 2014

This post is an attempt to save some of the history of the harder kinds of chipmusic, before all of us forget what happened. Please comment or get in touch with corrections and more suggestions. This post will be continuously updated thanks to people like Alex Yabsley, Peter Swimm, Takashi Kawano, Abortifacient, Ant1, Nordloef, C-men, Rioteer, and … you?

Glenn Rune Gallefoss' C64

Those who think that chipmusic is cute and innocent will be surprised to know that there are thousands of evil, rough and hard chiptunes around. In fact, what we call breakcore today developed in the mid 00’s by using the same tools as chipmusic had done a few years earlier: amiga trackers.

In the mid 90s, the hardcore 4×4-pounding of gabber slowly evolved to a slightly more, uhm, “mature” genre. This evolution, I’ve been told, was driven forward by the Australian Bloody Fist label. Many of their artists worked with Protracker on Amiga. The label manager Mark (aka Nasenbluten) told me that they made 20 releases during 1994-2004 that were more or less only made on Amiga (see timeline).

The Amiga was likely used because it was affordable and available, reasonably portable, and also very sturdy. So it wasn’t only Bloody Fist who did this. I did it too, although there wasn’t exactly much interest for it. Elsewhere in in Europe the labels Fischkopf, Fifth Era and Digital Hardcore put out plenty of amiga hardcore with artists such as Patric Catani and Cristoph de Babalon. In USA, Milwaukee seems to have had a big Amiga following with eg Davros and Unibomber, later followed up by Dispyz who is now running Radio Graffiti that puts out plenty of hardcore Amiga music.

This music is sometimes called amigacore. This is not just a geek term – I saw it used in a record shop just a few years ago. It seems to be characterized by a raw and unedited sound, and isn’t necessarily made on Amiga. Remember, it was during the 90s that sample chopping and VST-wankery became popular, so this formed a sort of anti-thesis to that.

But in fact, the choppers and wankers of IDM wasn’t so far away from amigacore as you may think. Chopping and wanking had been done for years with trackers. And trackers are still well-suited to mess around with samples and create intricate beats by easily assigning effects to individual trigs and so on. Famous breakcore artists like DJ Scud and Venetian Snares seem to have started on Amiga, though I’ve yet to confirm this. But many famous IDM-artists started with trackers, such as Bogdan Raczynski, Brothomstates and Machinedrum.

After the 90s boom of amigacore, the next 8-bit hardcore booms came along with the growing hype of chipmusic. In the mid 00’s, gazillions of artists started to mix chipsounds and breakcore. My impression is that chipbreak often uses quite poppy and even trancey harmonies, along with amen breaks. I was doing quite a lot of this too at the time, and I really enjoyed the combination of happy & hard, like in Comsten. But I think Sabrepulse (UK), Saskrotch (USA) and possibly Bit Shifter (USA) were the biggest names in this field, and later maybe IAYD (USA)?. Tons of other artists worked in high tempos, such as Paza & Psilodump (SE), David Sugar aka Logic Bomb (UK), Divag and Computertruck (FR), Dorothy’s Magic Bag (SE), USK & Maru & BSK (JP), Jellica  & his Kittenrock label (UK), Eat Rabbit (FR) and Uoki Toki & 777 minus 111 (RU).

In tandem to chipbreak, others worked with darker atmospheres, sometimes bordering to noise and rock. Overthruster and Timeheater from USA seemed pretty outstanding at the time, and were also aggressively anti towards the more lightsided chiptunery. :|krew was an early-2000s group including Overthruster & Starpause. The mp3death-labelmaintained by Starpause, also put out plenty of evilry, as did 8CYLINDER. Baseck (MP3), though operating a bit outside the chipscene, put out plenty of good stuff too. American artists like Shitbird, Stagediver, CCDM, Kool Skull, WizwarsYatagarasuNarwhalz of SoundWet Mango & the label Datathrash continued to work in this field. 

In Europe there’s plenty of rave/noise/breakcore/gabber-disco people like Mobb Beep (DK), DJ Scotch Egg (UK), Next Life (NO), Gijs Gieskes (NL), Huoratron (FI), Dr Von Pnok & Zombectro (FR),  Hexadeci (UK), Kodek (LV), Distortled Box (ES) Lo-Bat (BE), Rioteer (NL), Unas (FR), and the French label Chip’n’Damned released some good stuff. Japan also had many artists, but right now I can only think of Aonami and Hizmi (and the rest of Ground Zero). Also check Kizan518. In South America I remember Una niña malvada used to get some pretty harsh stuff out there, and now Yz Yx is delivering some new goods.

Australia has continued to deliver the goods ever since Bloody Fist years. Ten Thousand Free Men and Their Families and Godinpants with a taste of punk rock, Abortifacient, Peaches the Wale… The Thematics Radio had tracker specials with lots of the aussie low-res hardcore, including links to mod and xm-files – check here.

Ok, that’ll have to be enough for now. Feeling pissed off that X wasn’t mentioned? Please help me to document this history by making a comment or get in touch.
Update: ()

A Fluxus Tracker from 1961 (sort of)

September 2, 2013

tumblr_mrq30wWhnl1qbrhlco1_1280

In a previous post I suggested that a print-out by Lejaren Hiller as the first example of a tracker. Now I came across another interesting example, which appeared even earlier.

Music for Piano No. 7 was made by Toshi Ichiyanagi (Fluxus) in 1961.The instructions are arranged vertically instead of horizontally, just like in a tracker. And it could also be seen as a text-mode representation. While trackers normally only use the alphanumerical parts of the charset in its notation, this utilizes the other symbols of the charset. Just like I did in Remote Control Music Studio.

I think this is interesting as an odd proto-tracker. But the other isntances from this series are not as text-modey and seem to work with both horizontal and vertical organization. So, it’s not a spot-on example. But still. I wanted to have it here for future reference. So please enjoy responsibly.

More Computer Music Recordings From the 1950’s

May 6, 2013

zuse Z22_1

Before “the father of computer music” Max Mathews there were others who made computer sounds. In places like Manchester and Sydney, most notably. I assume that there are many just-for-fun examples that are long gone and forgotten. Rumour has it that Saab played computer music in the 1950’s, for example.

But here’s something more concrete. The German computer Zuse Z22 played music in 1958, and there is even a recording of it. It was Irrlicht Project who brought this to my attention (see his lecture on chip history) and he heard it from Stefan Höltgen. In an e-mail, Irrlicht Project told me:

In 1958, the Zuse Z22 was playing “Hänschen klein”, “Mitternachtsblues”, and probably some other stuff as well. I’m guessing this was first done at the production place in Neukirchen, Germany, though there is no info on the actual location available.

This was the same year that Janet Norman played computer music on TV, the Univac played christmas carrols, and Max Mathews released the second version of his computer sequencer.

10 years later Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 movie came out. As you might know, there’s this Daisy Bell song playing in the movie. It’s there because Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote the book) heard a computer sing that song in 1961, and wanted to include it in the book.*

In Germany however, there was another song, mr Irrlicht told me. Germans have a thing for changing the audio in movies, you know. So instead of Daisy Bell, they chose to play Hänschen Klein – the song that the Z22 played! So Hänschen Klein is like the European equivalent to Daisy Bell. Or atleast was. But it didn’t really catch on, I guess.

Hänschen Klein means Johnnie Small if you ask Google Translate, but it actually means small chicken, I think. If you ask Wikipedia, the song is called Little Hans. So a bit of confusion there. On the other hand, I think the real name of Daisy Bell is Bicycle Built For Two, right?

There is also confusion about the music of Z22. Plenty of information seems to be offered in a DVD, which these two links talk about. If you have more info (or the DVD) feel free to get in touch. If you want more computer music history, check out the timeline.

* Daisy Bell is usually credited Max Mathews. He did the background music, but it was actually John Kelly who made the voice programming. Let your loved ones know.

A Tracker From the 1960s?

April 9, 2013

lejaren hiller knobs 1970

 

Lejaren Hiller was one of the first people to generate music with a computer. He was doing it already in the 1950s, just like for example Douglas Bolitho and Martin Klein (info).

The picture above though, shows something else. It’s a dot matrix print-out with instructions for how to operate the volume and EQ knobs on your hi-fi system while playing the record “Program (Knobs) for the Listener”, released in 1970.

While others would surely salivate over the random (?) numbers and the interaction/remixism that this presents, I’m more interested in seeing it as a tracker. A primitive tracker, but nevertheless:

  • It’s a text-mode list of instructions that runs vertically.
  • There are discrete steps fixed in time and all the instructions are locked to these steps, like a soundtracker.
  • The instructions are not absolute, but relative to whatever sound is coming from “under the hood” like a hypertracker.
  • It’s divided into tracks, and the tracks affect eachother just like they do on many old soundchips.

Sure, you could see this as an analogue step sequencer, combined with the ideas of John Cage (who Hiller worked with). It’s only the print out that makes it seem like a tracker. Makes sense. But then again, it is the level of interface that is the most defining part of trackers. Trackers could use analogue synthesis and generative features. They just never do. :–)

Btw – some people claim that Lejaren Hiller did the first computer music, but that is not true. In Australia and the UK people made computer compositions and audio as early as 1951. See here.

But could we say that this is the first example of a tracker interface? Yeah, of course we can. This is Chipflip, where dreams come true. So who’s up for the challenge of finding something older that looks like a tracker? I’m sure it exists, right?

What Was Mainstream Chip in 2009?

November 28, 2012

I’m going through old post drafts for this little bloggie-blogg, and I’ve deleted about 20 of them so far. They were too good for this world.

But I came across a post-that-never-happened about mainstream chipmusic. As an initial research I was lurking around last.fm, to see which artists were the most popular. At the time those stats were pretty boring and pointless, but today they seem more interesting. Who remember anything about 2009 today?

As you can see the selection is pretty narrow, and there’s tons of important artists missing obviously. But these were the ones I checked before I found better things to do:

  • Slagsmålsklubben (Sweden) 3,500,000
  • Sabrepulse (UK) 1,400,000
  • She (Sweden) 900,000
  • Bondage Fairies (Sweden) 850,000
  • Dubmood (Sweden/France) 750,000
  • YMCK (Japan) 700,000
  • Anamanaguchi (USA) 550,000
  • Nullsleep (USA) 450,000
  • Random (Sweden) 400,000
  • Bitshifter (USA) 350,000
  • Goto80 (Sweden) 200,000

There were a few popular artist at the time that I didn’t include, since they werent’s popoular at last.fm at all, despite big popularity elsewhere. DJ Scotch Egg, Meneo and Patric Catani were three of them.

Also, I guess there were bots to improve the last.fm-statistics, right? Iirc, some people (on this list) used those kinds of bots for MySpace.

Why Videotex is Better Than the Web

June 14, 2012

Videotex was one of the precursors to the web, invented in the early 1970’s. It’s a two-way communication standard that uses a standard television set and a modem, and was used for both commerce, leisure and art.

Viewdata is one form of videotex. In the USA it was mostly known as Viewtron, and reached some 15,000 users before it was cancelled. It was unsuccesful since most consumers simply do not have a need nor a desire to access vast computerized data-bases of general information (A. Michael Noll, 1985). But in France, there was apparently a need for exactly that. Minitel still had 10 million connections every month when it was shut down in 2009. (one reason is that the French government gave away plenty of terminals for free)

Videotex is slow and lacks graphical details. But on the other hand – it’s  easy and direct. You plug it in, and you’re set to go. Wi-fi. In the comfort of your TV-couch, instead of your computer work chair. CRT-lifestyle! No annoying operating system, no maze of protocols that control your interaction.

It’s actually quite easy to get sucked into the magic of Videotex advertising. There’s something very appealing with it. No more overload! No www-addiction! Oddly enough, it was actually markated like this already in 1983 – described as an alternative to information overload. Check out this video, for example.

My own fascination might come from growing up in Northern Europe, where videotex’s sibling teletext has always been quite popular. In fact, it is really popular. About 25% of Sweden’s total population checks out teletext on TV – every day. In Denmark it’s almost half! And it’s just not just on TV. There are teletext apps for smartphones that are some of the most popular ones around here. Last year, the most popular iPad app was public service teletext. Yeah!

Scandinavia is extremely into both internet and news. So these are informed choices, or atleast not a choice made from a lack of options. But is teletext just something that old people are into? Or is teletext used by young people too, as an alternative to the spam freedom of the web?

It’s likely an old tradition in decline. But at the same time, I can definitely see a demand for a cheap, reliable, ad-free service with Twitter-like shortness in the future too. And if you want to go a bit more luxurious with a two-way communication, videotex is your lady!

Also, it’s worth mentioning that teletext and videotex doesn’t have to use text graphics and a low amount of colours. Take for example the amazing Telidon, developed in Canada around 1980. It is an alphageometric standard that works with changeable fonts and vector graphics instead. Telidon looks incredibly good in my eyes. It’s a shame that the UK won the standardization war, otherwise teletext might’ve been even more popular today.

Or maybe the text graphics are actually part of the winning concept. More reliable; more serious. That might be. But just look at these Telidon wonders! (and if you want more, check out text-mode.tumblr.com)

Al Warka and the Iraqi Home Computer Scene

May 1, 2012

The history of home computer hacking seems to be very centered around Europe, US and Australia. But it’s important to not forget other regions. I’ve previously written about C64 cracking in Argentina, but there’s lots more to research about e.g Asia, Africa and the Middle East. After reading this blogpost I got in touch with Salwan Asaad, who told me more about the early days of home computing in Basrah, Iraq. As it turns out, it was similar to what I grew up with: platform wars, competitions, floppy swapping and meetings. Salwan:

Annual school competition on a local and national level in students developed demos [..] Gaming circles: I met many enthusiasts back then at the arcades, we used to gather up and go to arcades to play, talk, and exchange floppies. The last such gathering took place around 2001

While other arabic countries settled for the MSX-computers, which Salwaan refers to as “the enemy”, Iraq developed a unique series of computers called Al-Warkaa (or Al-Warka), named after an ancient babylonian city in Iraq. There were two popular models, which were both based on Japanese home computers. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any photos of them but Salwan told me that it looked like the NEC-ones, but in white instead of black. (photo from old-computers.com)

The Al-Warkaa PC-6002 was the Iraqi version of the Japanese NEC PC-6001 Mk2 SR. Soundwise, it used the the common AY-soundchip but I found a similar model that had a built-in speech synthesis (yeah!). It was probably the first home computer that could sing (my YouTube-playlist).

The Al-Warkaa, unfortunately, didn’t have this feature. Instead, it offered an extra soundchip (probably FM, judging from what Salwan says) with 3 voices. It had 12 preset sounds and also the ability to make custom sounds. A home computer with both FM and PSG built in! It seems that the NEC also was able to combine FM and PSG, just look at this great demo!

The Al-Warkaa PC-6002 had seven different BASIC-versions built in. One of them (mode 7) was the Arabic text mode – a complete arabic text editor with abilities like searching, replacing, printing, and could even format floppies, according to Salwaan.

Unfortunately, Salwan doesn’t know of any text art on the Al Warkaa. I haven’t seen much arabic text-mode stuff at all, actually (if you know of any, please get in touch). To get an idea of the possibilities though, here’s a chart showing how the characters looked in the MSX-computers (copied from msxblue).

The platform battle in Iraq was between MSX and Al Warka. Atari also released arabic computers (and ROM-upgrades for hebrew), like the rare Najm 65XE from which the first picture is from. The most popular MSX-version in Arabia was the MSX 170 which was called Al-Sakhr (“the rock”). While MSX was popular in many different countries, the Al Warkaa was mostly found in Iraq. MSX-users had professional Arabic manuals at hand, but the Warkaa’ers relied on photo-copied English manuals that were mostly focused on BASIC. Salwaan writes:

That’s kinda how Warka guys ended up losing in most head-to-head competitions to MSX guys, the best we can do is draw stuff using BASIC commands and may be binary-load an image from disk to accelerate displaying bitmaps a little. They were doing hardware-sprites and full-motion graphics…

If anyone reading has more knowledge about arabic demos or text-mode things, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail info at goto80 dot com. Finally, a big thanks to Salwan Asaad for sharing this!

What happened in 2006?

March 16, 2012

Time for some statistic disco! Four years ago I thought that the term chipmusic was doomed, because chiptune was so popular. Let’s have a look if things have changed.

This graph from Google Insights shows the increase in the amount of searches for chipmusic. The increase is probably caused by the launch of chipmusic.org (in early 2010, right?). I believe that Blip Festival switched from chiptune to chipmusic around the same time, but I could be wrong. So, it seems like chipmusic is back! Right?

Wrong! You see that little blue line at the bottom? That’s chipmusic. Now look at the red line at the top, flying lying a killer hawk in the skies. That’s chiptune. Well, atleast it stopped its increase during 2011. Micromusic (in orange) is now about as popular as the term chipmusic. “Chip music” (in green) shows a very similar development to micromusic.

So why is there such a huge difference between the tune and the music? Since Insights doesn’t go further back than 2004, it’s hard to say. We can’t see how the McLaren bonanza affected things, for example. (If anyone knows how to search -2004, let me know). But it’s clear that in 2005 the terms were rather equal. They were battling it out. But chiptune won. In 2006-2007 it was taking off. So what happened back then?

The first Blip Festival happened at the end of the year. That probably made chipmusic a lot more popular in the US. And once something is big in the US it probably gets big elsewhere too, right? It’s the freedom virus! ^__^ But what else happened that could have caused this? Several artists got attention outside of the scene. David Sugar, Bodenständig 2000, Nullsleep & Bitshifter with their big tour, Paza and those 8 bit rappers (via Beck), DJ Scotch Egg. Hopefully I made some impression aswell – I made three gigs and one release every month in 2007 :). But perhaps it was the dawn of 8bitcollective (as music.gameboymall.com) that made the difference? Any ideas?

Btw – USA is not the country where chiptune is the most popular search term. It’s not a European country either. And it’s neither Japan nor China. Not Australia either. And it’s not somewhere in South America. It’s Indonesia!

For those of you who don’t know, Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world. And the people who Google in Indonesia, they like chiptune twice as much compared to Norway (which comes in second). To put it in a weird way. I remember when this guy called Jar-Wo contacted me in 2006/2007. At that time there wasn’t much going on, but he was one of the people who got it started. Big up, Jar-Wo! (and rest in peace)

Update March 17: As Optiroc pointed out in the comments, it’s also interesting to see how “keygen music” relates to these.  It has quite steady (relative) amount of Google searches. For the past years it’s been 4 times as popular as chipmusic/chip music/micromusic – and 4 times less popular than chiptune: http://is.gd/1uTBs7.

Amiga in the UK-charts: Dex & Jonesey

January 13, 2012

In the 1990’s you could use chipmusic tools to make dance music hits. It was r rare to hear 8-bit songs in public before that. With a few exceptions, records with 8-bit music appeared in the 90’s and were made on the Amiga (see the timeline).

The British duo Dex & Jonesey have probably been involved with more chart hits with the Amiga than anyone else. They worked with 15 UK chart hits between 1996 and 2001, even with mainstream folks like Phil Collins and Lionel Richie. Imagine feeding some phresh Phil Collins vocals into OctaMED, eyh!

They mainly worked with more dancefloor oriented artists though. Their remixes of Josh Wink’s Higher State of Consciousness apparently sold about half a million copies (including their radio edit). Dex & Jonesey used the Amiga for Hardfloor, Usura, Todd Terry and about 40 other releases (check the discography, up until Strings of Justice).

Back in the 1990’s, music retromania was more about synthesizers than computers. It wasn’t like today, when you get bonus points for any 8-bit reference. I mail-talked with Jonesey to get some more information.

– The music biz found out soon enough after attending the studio that we were literally running a Phil Collins record from 1000 pounds worth of studio and out doing David Morales and Arman van Helden. It was bizarre looking back! We did some huge magazine interviews which was really fun. Yet the music industry hated the fact we were not Apple Mac focused and produced so many hit records from a ‘poor man’s’ computer. There was a lot of negativity that we had to fight, but content as always was king and we made it through the storm!

Dex & Jonesey started with Amiga 500 and Protracker, but quickly moved on to using two Amiga 1200 running OctaMED, complemented by a keyboard. – The 44khz quality of DAT was good enough to master from. We had literally a full studio although everything had to be recorded live to DAT including live keyboards which I played. It was daunting but at the same time great fun, it was like being on tour and playing in a live band.

Dex & Jonesey had a competetive edge in two ways. They had a huge library of sounds that they’d sampled from extended mixes amongst other things (all stored on floppies, of course). Secondly, the sound of the Amiga made it stand out from the others. – The sounds were crunchy and tough, not dull and bland, thus allowed my music to have an advantage that others could not replicate. I even had a famous product downgrade to an 8 bit to get the ‘sound’ but it was more than technology that drove the output/results.

In 1999 the duo split up, but Jonesey continued to use the Amiga for hits like Independence. He stuck with the Amigas for another two years, but then switched to Logic on Mac. – When finance got much better I bailed out on the Amigas as technology had caught up and the machines had broken down. I had bought around 15 of them and grown tired of the failures. I went to Apple Mac and still have the leading 8 core system that runs Logic Pro. 

What OctaMED provided compared to the new setup, was a fast work pace. – The part I missed about the Amigas the most was the quickness of operations. It was so user friendly where Macs are always so complex!

Such ‘immersive’ qualities of trackers are often forgotten. Once you know them, they are really quick to work with. A lot of the people I interviewed for my thesis mentioned it, and it was recently empirically researched by Nash & Blackwell of the Rainbow Research Group (pdf). But trackers are not made for handling long chunks of audio. If you’re a remixer and use the original audio, even a modern tracker like Renoise is a bit painful. So respect to Dex & Jonesey for keeping it up for so long!


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