Archive for the ‘network’ Category

Mapping the World of Amiga Samples

October 28, 2019

Mod Sample Master is a new project to look into samples in mod-files, and how they relate to each other. This is pretty amazing because it lets us delve into 30+ years of a digital music movement, to see how samples have traveled between songs, people, time, place. 75,000 songs and a million samples.

At the moment, the method for matching samples is very simple. Either it’s a perfect 100% match, or it’s not a match at all. For example, if I copy a sample from someone else and crop even just a fraction of it, it is not a match anymore. Still, there are plenty of matches. A lot, actually.

More than a third of the samples were used in two songs or more. Many of them are from the ST-01 sample pack that was extremely popular in the early Amiga years. Others are “chip samples” – tiny samples that are looped to produce beeps and stuff. Here’s a top-5 list to give you an idea:

Great to finally see Popsnare2 in the charts! And looking further down the charts, ST-01 (and 02) keeps popping up. It’s not surprising, because there were a lot of people making mod files in those days, and it wasn’t easy to record your own samples or modify them.

What surprised me was the prevalence of chip samples. I didn’t really think that people making chip mods would just reuse the same sounds over and over. And, well, then I remembered that’s how I do it myself.

I, the Triangle Thief

Here‘s a chip sample with a triangle waveform, used by 51 songs in the archive. Most of them are mine. I remember that this sound used to be part of my “palette” back in the days. (still is, tbh) I don’t know where it came from. But looking at other songs using the sample, it’s safe to say that I didn’t exactly sample it myself. 4mat used it for chip mods like Anarchymenu_06, and I’m pretty sure that’s where I blatantly stole it from. So my thoughts and copyright prayers are with 4mat in these troubling times. I hope he can find it in his heart one day to forgive me. :–)

Samples don’t really have names in mods. I mean, they do, but they are mostly used for writing messages to the listener. So when millions of sample names are listed alphabetically you get stuff like this:

On the other hand, if you list all the names that a sample has been given you get fragmented poetry like this:

It was common to make a sort of animation with the sample names. As you scrolled through the sample names, it would look animated.

Some listings are a bit like ASCII art:

Well, I’m pretty sure I’m going to spend way too much time playing around with this. And I hope this project will continue to grow. Some ideas moving forward could be:

  • Set “master names” to known samples (ST-01/02 in particular)
  • Include artists in the database, so you can see eg which artists that use the same samples
  • Expand the “exact matching”
  • Playing samples
  • Links to mod-files

Big up to Fred for making this!

What Can We Learn From the Demoscene?

November 28, 2016

I was in Montréal for the I/O Symposium and gave the talk What Can We Learn From the Demoscene? In 45 minutes I explained everything about the scene and explained what other fields could learn from it.

Or well, not exactly. I tried to give a broad view, but I zoomed in on four key points:

1. Computing as craft. The idea that code (and music and graphics) requires skills and knowledge about the material you are using. The techne is more important than the art, and the human is more important than the machine. Basically. This means that the scene is making computing sustainable, when most others are not and the internet already seems to require nuclear power to live.

2. Non-recorded formats. Releasing things as code rather than recordings gives very different possibilities. Scene productions are not products – removed from the platform once it’s finished – no, they are states of the machine (Botz). There are countless archives of data that future researches can unleash heavy data analysis on. What will the recording industry offer to future researchers? Not much. Especially not if they maintain their stance on copyright and related rights.

3. Collective copyright system. There has always been a tension around ownership in the scene. Early on there might have been plenty of anti-copyright among crackers, but later sceners who wanted to protect their works had a much more conservative stance. I exemplified this through the Amiga mod-scene, where artists sampled records and claimed ownership to the samples. “Don’t steal my samples” like it says in many a mod-file. On the other hand, the mod-format made it extremely easy for anyone to take those samples, or that cool bassline, or whatever else they might fancy. The remix culture was present in the materiality, but the scene resisted it for various reasons. They developed a praxis where artists who transgressed – who borrowed too much, or in a wrong way – would be shamed in public and have their status lowered. This sounds brutal and even primitive, but copyright praxis today means that you can do whatever you want if you have the capital for it. Which is perhaps not much better?

4. A bounded culture. There is a sense of detachment from the rest of society in the scene. The crackers and traders broke laws, the sysops didn’t want journalists sneaking around in their bulletin boards, and some artists follow the idea of “what’s made in the scene stays in the scene”. Some online forums today do not accept members if they are not sceners. And so on. There are all kinds of problems with this attitude, but it also meant that the scene could let their traditions and rituals take root, over a long period of time. Without it, it’s harder to imagine that kids in the 1990’s could maintain a network culture on their own, even before the www was commercialized. The question is, though, how many teenagers today are interested in all those obscure traditions and rituals?

Building on talks I’ve had with Gleb Albert, I also talked shortly about the neoliberal tendencies in the scene. How meritocracy and competition was so important, how groups were sometimes run as businesses with leaders and creatives and workers, and how there was a dream of having a network culture where The Man was not involved.

Discussions followed about how the neoliberal tendencies were different in the North American demoscene. In America, they said, people got into cracking games and making demos with a goal set on making a career and making money. I think this is one of the topics that Gleb Albert is looking into (in Europe), especially the connections between the cracking scene and the games industry.

There were also discussions about what I’ve called the collective copyright system. Some people in the audience talked about how coders would secretly look at other people’s code (because, again, that’s possible due to the formats used) and take inspiration from it. I’m sure most sceners did this at one point or another. But the point is that it wasn’t considered positive like in remix cultures such as hip-hop, vaporwave or plunderphonics. That tension between the Open and the Closed is probably something we need to understand better when we develop post-copyright networks in the digital.

What’s Chipmusic in 2015?

November 13, 2015

When I wrote my thesis on chipmusic in 2010, chipmusic was in a transition phase. Atleast in Europe, there used to be a lot of influences from genres like electroclash and breakcore, and towards the 10’s it was common to hear house influences. House, not in the 80s or 90s way, but more in the EDM kind of way. I remember playing a chip event in 2008 where all the acts before me played EDM-like music, so I felt compelled to start my headliner set with religious chip rock as a childish countermove. Instant anti-success!

That same year I mentioned in a blog post that more dub/2-step influences in chip would be nice. And then dubstep morphed from an obscure and ambiguous Brittish thing into a full-on mega-defined bro monster, and the chipscene followed suite. Bass!

So from where I’m standing (which is not super close to the chipscene), EDM and bass still seem to be two dominant influencers of the chipscene. It’s a bit like breakcore and electroclash was before, but with one big difference. Chipmusic as a genre/ideology/praxis has changed from putting the technology first, into putting the sound first. To put it bluntly.

Just like in the 1990s, the hardware used to produce the sounds of chipmusic is not the main thing. The pendulum has swung back, and continued even further. Not only is the hardware used not as important, but it seems like the sounds are less important too. Not everywhere in the chipscene, but in some contexts.

There are some oldschool names in the chipscene whose music no longer sounds like chipmusic, and is not made with chipmusic tools, but is still tagged as chipmusic, listened to in the context of chip, and discussed in the chipscene. It seems to be part of the chipscene, but it doesn’t connect to the platforms or aesthetics (media and form) of chipmusic. Go to a chipmusic festival and you can listen for yourself.

My last few releases might fit in here to some extent. I partly use other sounds and instruments than the standard chipmusic repertoire – and have been for quite some time. So I’m not saying that there is something “wrong” with this, just that it seems like a general shift in how the chipmusic/chiptune terms are used, and what they mean.

The other side of the coin is that there are people who should know the term, but don’t. I was chatting with Dubmood and he mentioned that a lot of newcomers start to make chipmusic without even knowing about the term. Even if what they do is “authentic” chipmusic (from a 00’s perspective), they don’t describe it as such, and people don’t listen to it as such, I suppose.

We’re painting with a big brush here. Or perhaps with many small brushed. I’m not saying this happens everywhere all the time, but it is a tendency. It might grow, it might disappear, but it’s here now.

It is the chipscene as a culture. A network of people in social platforms online, perhaps with a long history of making chipmusic, who now make other kinds of music but continue to hang out. They might use modular synths to make noise, or oldschool synth VSTs to make synthwave vaporwave something, or phat bass music, or polka drone, or something else.

Of course, the tech-focused and aesthetics-focused parts of the chipscene still exist: in the demoscene, in indiegames, in forums like, Battle of the Bits, the FB-group Chiptunes=WIN (with 4000 members now), and so on. But as for the performers and recorders in the chipscene, the technopurism that glued the scene together, for better or worse, is not there anymore. And if the sounds won’t be a defining factor either, then where does that leave the chippers?

Perhaps chipmusic, atleast in some contexts, has been de-genrefied to the point where it doesn’t exist anymore? And maybe that’s not a bad thing? Finally the people who say that chipmusic is not a genre will be right without a doubt.

Against Net Neutrality?

October 31, 2015

It’s easy to think of the internet as something immaterial that saves energy. E-mail instead of letters. Streams instead of plastics. No transportation costs… We easily forget or ignore how many wires and servers and how much electricity and air waves is required to do these things. In fact, we don’t even really know.

This long read in Low Tech Magazine gives an overview of how much energy the internet uses. In short, it argues that the internet is not only its backbone infrastructure, but also the smartyphones and the wi-fi connections and other stuff at the user-end of the spectrum. These things considered, the internet uses 8% of the global electricity production according to their estimate. That means that the internet requires nuclear energy to run; that the internet is not a sustainable technology.

While their estimate might be incorrect, we can be sure that the energy use of the internet is on the rise. Not because more people are getting connected, but because people in the rich parts of the world watch more HD-videos, use cloud services instead of their own computer powers, and use more wireless internet. Probably for highly crucial purposes. He he.

4G uses 23 times more energy than a wired connection and a streamed movie uses 30-78% more energy than watching a DVD. The article concludes that the internet needs a speed limit, because forces of technological progress and the rebound effect, aswell as freedom and commerce, will make the internet nuts.


Meanwhile, the EU recently voted “against” “net” “neutrality”. This has been discussed as a loss for the freedom of the internet. It’s rare to see someone who argues against net neutrality because that’s like arguing against freedom. But what are we talking about here, really? I know little about this topic, but the phrasing always put me off. Neutral? To me, technology is not and can never be neutral, so I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the discussion. Especially since it’s usually one-sided, atleast in the crowds I move in.

I found Martin Geddes who used to work high up in the techy hierarchies of British Telecom. Other than that I don’t know much about him. But he’s not afraid to speak out against what he sees as a nonsensical debate about net neutrality: The pile of literature on ‘net neutrality’ has been a waste of human effort and a loss of good wood pulp.

He argues that networks cannot be neutral and therefore cannot discriminate. With the way the internet works now, it’s chance that decides which packet arrive before the other. So it’s impossible to say whether it’s bad luck or discrimination; it’s impossible to say if it’s neutral or not.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Clearly it’s pretty bad if an internet provider gives a “fast lane” to Netflix while throttling the speed of the rest of the net. It’s also pretty terrible if internet providers can block sites and content. These are things that pro-net-neutrality people talk about. But that’s pretty much what’s going on already, right? More European countries are forcing ISPs to block domains. In Sweden we’re waiting for a court ruling on this in November. Platforms like Netflix use more bandwidth by offering more HD-blockbusters, therefore making the rest of the internet slower than it would be without Netflix.

In other words, Netflix means that online public services become less reliable. That’s something that libertarians and free market ideologues often miss when discussing the internet. Isn’t it important to make sure that important societal infrastructure on the internet works properly? If it is, then “net neutrality” is not what you want. You might want a special lane for societal infrastructure on ze information highway. Or you might want to build an internet where you can source problems and demand reliable broadband from the ISP. And not rely on chance. Or maybe just build your own mesh network or low-tech internet.

Freedom mongers will probably call you a communist for wanting a non-neutal network. Throw in some arguments about a speed limit to improve sustainability and help people get off their HD-addiction, and you should be good to go. Home.

(Obviously I’m not an expert at network technologies or energy consumption and I’m not a net activist so I’m sure I’ve gotten some things backwards. Comments appreciated!)

More Networks, Less Internet?

January 3, 2014

When I started this blog 6 years ago, the internet was still a poster boy for freedom. Anyone could publish or access anything, anywhere, anytime. We were all pretty amazed by how “far” we had come. Surfing the waves of neoliberal postermodernism, we celebrated the right of individual freedom online, free from physical constraints. Free knowledge for all! We were all living the American dream. Or something.

So, at that time, it seemed almost irrelevant to talk about other networks for communication. Even so, I was writing a paper on the Amiga music scene in the 1990s, and what it could teach us about the future of copyright and distribution. Amiga musicians formed a teenage folk culture that effectively worked outside of the “music industry” and its long arms of the law.

While this seemed more like a historical curiosity at the time, these issues are now becoming relevant again. We’re starting to question “the internet” again, although our behaviours are still pretty much the same. We silently agree to mass surveillance by continuing to use platforms infected by spyware and backdoors, through infrastructure that analyzes and profits from that information.

I’m not sure we should be surprised. Maybe we should be more surprised that we had this “digital wild west” in the first place. I mean, we were able to reach billions of people at almost no cost at all, with very little control from corporate or public institutions. Is that a realistic situation? Well, for companies that work with “personlized content” and authorities who need to “fight terrorism”, or stock market bots that predict the future, it’s most definitely not.

In 2006 Alexander Galloway wrote that the internet was always about control, and not freedom. I assume that there’s more understanding for that statement today, compared to 8 years ago when YouTube was all the rage. Not only because of all the surveillance scandals, but because of an increased interest in net politics and new materialism. There is a need to understand the technology and the politics, to deal with things like net neutrality, hobby surveillance, drones, censorship algorithms, bots, IP, spam, etc. 

Many recent attempts at creating alternative networks have not been so successful (as in big). But there’s been many successful attempts in the past, and I for one would love to read more about it. So I’m glad that Lori Emerson is writing a book on other networks, and that Kevin Driscoll is writing a dissertation on hobbyist networks 1977-1997. And I know that Jörgen Skågeby is doing interesting work on software distribution with cassettes.

There is probably a lot more out there. But most of the research done in this field has been made by enthusiasts so far. They usually get the details right, but lack a certain critical distance. It often gets retro-romantic rather than future-fantastic. But these old networks can be an inspiration for the future!

Just look at the Amiga music scene. They used open file formats, free distribution, a distributed informal copyright system, and its own kind of infrastructure combining bulletin boards and postal mail. It was a small-scale network of like-minded people with no worries about big business hindering your work. It wouldn’t surprise me if such networks became more common again.

So, here’s to a 2014 full of BBS theory, Fidonet history, real sharing economies, low-tech infrastructures and platform politics. Bring it on!

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 (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 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:

Derbyshire Ram and Megaswapping in Space

April 20, 2011

Derbyshire Ram was an English cracker and swapper who passed away a few years ago at the age of 68. I just heard that his collection of C64-software (one of the largest in the world) is now available as torrent. Part 1 is here. Afaik the rest is not yet available.

I like the idea of personal collections. Collectively maintained archives like CSDb are often larger and more indicative of what the scene thinks of itself at the moment (like what counts as a scene-release and what doesn’t). But collections like Derbyshire’s have a personal character to them, and they are more a sign of the times aswell. They should be copyrighted aswell.

But perhaps more importantly – they are physical objects. Worn floppy disks tagged by swappers, specially designed disk covers for releases, and the smell! Almost certainly a fetish unknown to most people. I’ve been using floppies for 15 years, but now I too have caved into the wonders of 1541U.

Anyway, I hope that in the future we’ll see more collections like this. An equally important collection was made by Jerry – the notorious leader of Triad, who also passed away recently at the age of 67. Both these gentlemen got into the C64 cracking scene when they were 40+ (which is unusual, for those who don’t know). They were doing the distribution work (with modems and postal mail) that maintained the crack/demoscenes as network cultures.

Mad respectz. Hope you guys continue to megaswap in space.

UPDATE: there’s an archive of personal C64-collections here.
UPDATE2: Archiving is the new Folk Art

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.

Anachronism or Typical Dreams? PLATO and Progress

May 29, 2010

“If a music teacher were asked to state the requirements of a classroom presentation “dream-machine”, the response would be a device capable of displaying musical notation, showing slides, playing recordings, and maybe even generating some new examples for aural training. Such a machine was dreamed about in the 1960’s by Professor Donald Bitzer (1961) at the University of Illionois. He made it a reality; it is called PLATO, and it is now a product of the Control Data Corporation.”

“For all subjects there is a basic PLATO display unit which contains a screen upon which graphics (like musical notation) can be drawn, a random-access microfiche projector which can show slides on the screen, a typewriter keyboard through which one can communicate with the computer, and a touch panel which allows students to answer questions by touching pictures or words on the screen.”

This is from a text from 1976: Hofstetter in Creative Computing. PLATO was the ultimate machine back then, and it’s not all that different from how some people idealize music and physical computing now, right? It’s a nice example of how technological development is not a one-dimensional anti-social progress upwards and forward. When some things are enhanced, others are per se made obsolete like the McLuhans said, and it’s not necessarily an improvement. PLATO is a good reason to think of history as cycles instead of lines.

PLATO V. photo by Mtnman79

PLATO enabled people to work with music in ways that has become attractive once again. Just imagine the feeling of showing slides on your TV/monitor. You could access recorded sounds on a magnetic audio disk, which I can imagine holds a lot of potential for physical manipulation of the sounds or songs. I’m not sure how the software worked, but it seems that you could work both on GUI-level and code-level with many programs. And of course, touch screens have become cool again and we perhaps forget that there were touchscreen GUIs to make music in the 1960s if not the 1950s (Samson and Mathews, see timeline).

PLATO presented “new realities for computer-based musical instruction” and it still does, and probably will on other occasions in the future. It makes me think about how the League of Automatic Music Composers were connecting KIM-1 computers in the late 1970s to create man-machine-software systems to improvise music with, and I can’t think of anyone doing it afterwards. I’m sure there are, but what I mean is that it never became very popular. Too controversial for humanism? (Stephen Stamper made me rediscover them with his similar chipmusic project, and the live coders in TOPLAP also mention them.)

As a nice by-product of searching for info on PLATO, I discovered that it was a pioneering system also for communications and games. The early models were more like terminals than computers and you could go to chat rooms, play 3D multiplayer games, instant message, draw bitmap graphics, etc – several years before the first BBS. In fact, in about two weeks there will be a meeting on this matter in California organized by Cyber1. You can find more info/pictures/videos about PLATO-communication at their site. And here I thought I was obscure for still using C64-BBSs

aSCIIaRENA – New Site for Scene Ascii

November 25, 2009

aSCIIaRENA has been announced by Up Rough and Divine Stylerz. Now you can easily watch fresh Amiga ASCII online, the way it was supposed to look, and hang out with elite ASCII boyz and girls. The site has some of the usual “social media” features such as a wall, forums, private messaging, voting, up/downloads. But those features are derived from old BBS-culture and not the Internet per se.

BBSs were extensively used already in the 1980s, and formed the backbone that allowed the cracker- and demoscene to blossom as somewhat isolated phenomena. Since a BBS is text-based, designers had to work with the default text characters that were sent over the phone lines. ASCII-artists designed graphics and logotypes in a graffiti-like style, quite different from current naive ASCII art online, the ASCII-style of the 1990s, or earlier attempts of text art in the 1920s or 1860s.

ASCII artists release collections of their work (ASCII collys) and it’s these collys that are indexed at aSCIIaRENA. I think that almost all of it looks great, but I have a very soft spot for Amiga ASCII. I ran a small and shitty BBS in the mid 1990s (google-one-hit-wonder, almost), and called local boards with my 2400 baud modem. If you want read more on text art, check this post.