Archive for the ‘network’ Category

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 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.

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 net.art 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.

\O_ The Internet is Dying!

November 6, 2009

If we define Internet as a wild ecosystem of hyperlinks that fosters a collective intelligence built up by e.g. swarms of anonymous users and protocols that do not discriminate between different content, the Internet seems to be dying. It’s atleast changing in serious ways. Why?

If your IP-address does something naughty like distributing content that copyright owners or publishers want money for, the ISPs are obliged to reveal the “identity” behind the IP-address if they are asked (e.g. Sweden), or shut down your Internet access (e.g. France) — without evidence or trials, as suggested by EU’s IPRED. And recently in Sweden, a small ISP was demanded (by law) to shut down the Pirate Bay or pay 50,000 euros, due to copyright infringement that happened somewhere in their cables. So ISPs are responsible for what flows through their cables. Hm. Hello censor! And according to a recent boingboing-article, this style is about to go global thanks to ACTA.

Even if it’s bad enough that IP-addresses (e.g whoever uses your wireless connection) are policed by ISPs (concerned more with profits/survival than politics), it is even more alarming when such procedures can be automatized. Youtube and its ContentID analyzes the audio of videos and pays a part of ad revenues to copyright holders/publishers. IFPI’s ISRC embeds copyright information into audio. Similar systems are likely to be demanded for open networks to satisfy those in line with 4 bloated music corporations, like with the re-launch of Napster. As my favourite doctor of copyriot says, copyright control is no longer focused on works but on regulating the tools/media.

And how does all this relate to chipmusic? Well, chipmusic culture as I know it grew out of the will to copy. Early 1980s cracktros used chipmusic ripped from games. 1990s Amiga demoscene lived the ruined dreams of hiphop and sampled whatever music they wanted in its own network culture using mod-files, BBSs and postal mail. In the 2000s there is keygen-music and online there is hundreds of thousands of (copyrighted) chip-songs nicely indexed, free for download in its original format, ready to deconstruct or remix. That situation won’t come again if corporate protocols and codes permeat chipmusic just because e.g. ISRC seemed like a convenient way of making a few MP3-bucks. And remember, Internet politics is not some obscure matter for a separate digital world. It is probably already in your pocket. Bzzzz!


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