Archive for the ‘noise’ Category

80% listening, 20% improvisation. A Modern Composer?

January 20, 2013

I just watched a Norwegian documentary about noise music from 2001 (ubuweb). It featured mostly Norwegian and Japanese artists, and it struck me how different they talked about music. While the norwegians got tangled into complex and opposing ideas about concepts, tools and artistic freedom, the Japanese gave shorter answers with more clarity. Straight to the point.

It made me wonder (again) how human-machine relationships are thought of in Japan. Over here, it’s very controversial to say that the machine does the work. Deadmau5 did that, in a way, and I doubt he will do it again.

In the documentary, the Japanese artists said things like “When I am on stage I spend 80% of the time listening, and 20% improvising”. A very refreshing statement, and electronic musicians can learn a lot from it. Shut up and listen to what the surroundings have to offer!

There are many similar ideas in the West, especially after cybernetics and John Cage. The sound tech and the author melting together in a system of feedback. Machines are extensions of man (á la McLuhan) and we can exist together in harmony.

In the documentary, one Japanese artist turns against this idea. He doesn’t believe that the sounds and the author work closely together at all. For him, they are separated, with only occassional feedback between the two. Hmmm!


It’s an intriguing idea. When I first started reading about cybernetics, it was in the context of the dead author. Negative feedback loops that take away power from the human. I felt that my musical ideas were heavily conditioned by the tools that I used, and there was something annoying about that. How could there be harmony from that?

Maybe it’s better to think of it as a conflict. The computer is trying to steer your work in a certain way. And you want to do it another way. Like two monologues at the same time. It’s a reasonable idea, especially if you consider computers to be essentially non-graspable for humans – worthy of our respect.

However, that’s not how we think of computers. We’ve come to know them as our friends and slaves at the same time. Fun and productive! Neutral tools that can fulfill our fantasies. As long as the user is in control, it’s all good. No conflict. Just democracy and entertainment, hehe.

As much criticism as this anti-historical approach has received over the years, I think it’s still alive and kicking. Maybe especially so in the West. Computer musicians want to work in harmony with their tools. Not a conflict. “I just have to buy [some bullshit] and then I’ll finally have the perfect studio”. You heard that before? The dream lives on, right?

It’s  almost like 1990’s virtual reality talk. Humans setting themselves free in an immaterial world where “only your imagination is the limit”. Seems like a pretty christian idea, when you think of it. I doubt that it’s popular in Japan, anyway.

To conclude – it’s of course silly to generalize about Japan, judging only from a few dudes in a documentary. But I think there is still something important going on here. If anyone has reading suggestins about authorship/technology in Japan, please comment.

After the Trackers: John Cage Bukkake

July 30, 2012

Trackers have remediated plenty of Western ideas of music. Typical time signatures (4/4) and tonality (12-TET) are the most obvious. Less apparent is the distinct separation between instruments and notation; sound and code. Most trackers force the users to make strictly defined instruments which sound basically the same every time it’s triggered. As such, trackers are essentially the opposite to modular synthesis, where anything can modulate anything (ideally).

Perhaps that’s why trackers never seem to go mainstream. They are too deterministic and controlling. Too manual. The contemporary way is to have fun with stuff you can’t understand: nothing is a mistake á la Cage. It’s okay too be lazy, 2 cool 4 skool. So trackers like Renoise are going that way too, and seems to be getting pretty bloated in the process.

In a similar way, some of the most talked-about chipmusic tools are not trackers. New physical interfaces like Gatari and C64 keytar are obvious examples, but sometimes software also gets some attention. Nanoloop, of course, can be seen as a precursor to the now popular grid interfaces. Viznut’s Ibniz is more of a mathematics tool, but it got a lot of attention earlier this year. It’s been designed to make text-based generative works with a tiny filesize (sometimes called ?bytebeat). Since Ibniz works with both visuals and sounds, it also blurs the boundaries between visual interface and content, like little-scale also demonstrated a few days ago.

For me it seems clear that visuals and music will melt together in new forms of interfaces in the future. Let’s look at two experiments that can give some pointers for the future of low-tekk composing: Gijs Gieskes’ TVCV-sequencer and Chantal Goret’s mouse-controlled Crazy Box!

Minidemos: 32 bytes = better than 300 megabytes

May 20, 2011

What does a computer want to say, really? What is inside the machine? If there’s just 256 bytes of software, we might be getting closer to some sort of answer. Or is that just bullshit?

It is of course a craft that demosceners have worked with for many years. Ever since the 1990s demoparties have categories for intros made in for example 4 kilobytes. But in the last years, this has dropped well below 1 kilobyte. Now there are audiovisual “demos” that consist of less than 32 bytes. Usually it’s “coder porn”. There’s for example the 224-byte tunnel-effect for PC, coded in Photoshop (!) – check the video. Also, Loonies have made some impressive audiovisual Amiga-works with hot code and soft-synth electro: ikadalawampu (Amiga, 4096 bytes). On the C64, there’s music that use almost no CPU-power at all.

Other works are chaotic systems that look so good that it doesn’t have to matter that it’s just 256 bytes. Look at the video of Difúze by Rrrola (PC). It’s some kind of audiovisual (General MIDI) new age minidemo. Rndlife 2 by Terric/Meta is a text mode C64-production where the PETSCII characters are sliming around the screen like there’s no tomorrow (exe).

256 bytes is, in itself, rather useless. In a way, software doesn’t exist without hardware. Minidemos require nice hardware. If the hardware is complex enough, then 4 kilobytes can look and sound like a Hollywood movie intro. If the hardware is low-tech fresh, then 23 bytes can be a 9-minute audiovisual data catastrophe/victory. Just look at the video of 4mat’s Wallflower for C64. I wonder if he himself can explain what’s going on?

It’s also possible to do story telling in minidemos. Check out A true Story From the Life of a Lonely Cell by Skrju (256 bytes, Spectrum). Dramaturgy with two pixels. Viznut made a similar thing in 4k, that also has music to help the storytelling.

Still, my favourite minidemo is still Rrrola‘s 32-byte masterpiece for MS-DOS: Ameisen. Two years ago I recorded it, so I could show it at the online exhibition Minimum Data >> Maximum Content that I curated for Cimatics’ defunct Intermerz project. If you don’t like compression, the video looks pretty crappy. I really made my best to translate the data performance into recorded video, but well, a performance is usually better than a recording! 32 bytes of instructions can obviously be better than 300 megabytes of video.

C64 Graphics – Data or Light?

July 21, 2010

There is a very geeky discussion about C64-graphics over at CSDb, which is strangely annoying and fascinating at the same time. It is essentially an argument about what a C64-image ‘is’, or perhaps more correctly, how it should be represented at CSDb. Is it the raw pixel data, or is it the way the image looks on an old CRT TV-screen?

From a data-materialist perspective, the image is archived most correctly as pixel data. Nobody in the thread disagrees with this. The discussion concerns the screen shot, and whether it should be modified to look like it does on a CRT-screen (by re-constructing a ‘correct’ palette and using a TV-emulation). It is a question of what is the most ‘accurate’ representation of the image.

By STE’86

STE, a commercial pixel artist from the 80s who was active in the demoscene-ish universe Compunet, wants CSDb to “let me display my work in the manner and spirit it WAS created in. and let ME be the judge of that being as how i actually did it 25 years ago and may indeed have some recollection of what it looked like”. His idea of the image is a construction of e.g. two things: memories and screens. The way he remembers the image is not necessarily what was actually on the screen. Even if it was, his CRT-screen was different from those of others. Furthermore, his PC/Mac-screen might show graphics a bit different compared to your screen. Nevertheless, his point is that an archive such as CSDb should not modify the images in anyway, because for one it’ll be a huge problem to update it as the emulator improves.

The problem is that some images need some kind of filter/emulation, because they rely on the blending that PAL-artefacts create. In short, C64-graphics looks different on modern ultra-sharp screens. Bogost describes the inaccuracies of emulators in terms of texture, afterimage, color bleed & noise. These can be vital aspects for  pixel artists who work with CRT-screens, of course.

By Joe

What’s funny is how the technical discussions runs into a little halt half-way through the thread. It’s discussed if we can actually tell the difference between palette-issues and TV-emulation. In fact, the cause of the whole thread is revealed to have been an anti-alias issue in Firefox that was interpreted as a case of TV-emulation. For me, this is a little reminder to not get too stuck in technical details that, when it really comes down to it, is not something we are aware of anyway. In another way, it’s a reminder of what makes demoscene forums great!?<

The Playlist Exhibition, and How Modern Technology Can’t Handle C-64

June 4, 2010

Playlist is an exhibition centered around chipmusic and had its opening party yesterday. As it moved from Spain to Belgium there were some new artists added, including yours truly. I wrote about the previous exhibition here, before I had even read the Playlist Reader, to be honest. There are some very interesting perspectives there, such as Ed Halter’s piece about digital materialism. It is great to read texts that take these works seriously, and go beyond naive perspectives of nostalgia or über-romantic notions of hacking. I think the Reader gives a refreshing art-oriented description. It doesn’t necessarily fit with the motivations and traditions of the demoscene and chipscene, though – for good and bad.

Many art works are also available online, so have a look. Demosceners might complain about the lack of demos (whatever that is), but there are four demosceners in the exhibition: Chantal Goret, Erik Nilsson, Julien Ducourthial, and me and Frantic. (Probably not the most representative demosceners though I suppose)

As usual, our C64 noise-play HT Gold proves almost impossible to show correctly with modern technologies. The frenetic glitch-shakes require 50 progressive frames per second, which is a piece of cake for oldschool CRT-televisions but a nightmare for modern screens and beamers. It’s a perfect example of planned obsolescence or the systems of secrecy that Kittler talks about. It is really difficult to show HT Gold to people! I’ve tried to transfer the video signal through myriads of protocols to finally end up with an online video that has lost all the things that made the original video special. I’ve tried to emulate it, but it doesn’t do the trick either. Sure, it’s fun to trash things, but it has to be classy trash! If anyone reading has a professional video capturing device, let me know!

Also, showing HT Gold was not made any easier by the Belgian post-man that destroyed the floppy disk I sent to Playlist. Someone should’ve told him that double-glitching is forbidden according to international law.

Photo by Rosa Menkman

Passionately fucking the scene: Skrju

May 20, 2010

Skrju is a (Russian?) demogroup founded in 2001, still releasing brain-smashing ZX Spectrum demos unlike any other demogroup I’ve seen. Their demos are usually noisy and greyscale, sad and dark. Pleasently uncomfortable. Let’s get sucked into their world with Fuckyouscene (2003).

It makes me think of Alih’s C64-demo Fuck the Scene, which is another kind of alternative to the demoscene aesthetics with its fucky appearance but complex code. But to me Skrju’s works are more consistent, and is definitely not only a rebellion against the scene. Check their 20-second invitro for Chaos Construction 2004, which they made in 2005 (!).

You have to give credit to a group that works primarily with greyscale ZX Spectrum, right? At first, they used colours and a more demoscene-ish aesthetics. Lovemaker (youtube) is a teenage angst poetry trash demo which according to their website was inspired by Fairlight’s Drop the Basics and its childish graphics. For Summermilk (youtube) they mention a Replay-demo (with a classic Radix/Loonie song) as inspiration. After this they started establishing their greyscale-style with Why (2003).

After that they released their Fuckthescene-demo, which I think appears a bit different in the light of their past productions. It’s not just an outside thrashing of the scene without consideration of its traditions. They are not just “making some glitches” but building on the demoscene ‘canon’ (see the end here). Atleast that’s the way I see it. The excellent demo Mother (youtube) is perhaps a bit of an anti-demo, but then Ussr2185 (youtube) features plenty of rotating cubes. Had it used more pixels, colours, and sounds, it could’ve been a quite typical PC-demo, right? Here’s Idiot from 2004.

This demo makes me think of the PC-demo _ by $, which caused quite a discussion in the scene about what a demo is supposed to be. Shanethewolf finally said “let’s give up what once was a target of the demoscene.. high quality real-time multimedia.” Although Skrju are perhaps more traditional than $ in some ways, there are also some similar tendencies in the comments of Skrju-demos at Pouet. Perhaps it’s because they undermine a technodeterministic definition of demos, where demos can be anything as long as they obide by certain technical details (filesize and format, platform, etc). This is proving to be a problem in demoscene-archives such as CSDb, where it has to be discussed what constutites a ‘scene release’. Why is Jeff Minter’s Horses a scene release, for example? This also applies to the chipscene in many ways.

Anyway, let’s go back to Skrju. The current members are sq, nq, kq and t. Their musician, nq, has a website and also did a ZX noise release on Ubiktune called Onomatopoeia. Among their latest releases is the 256-byte story of a lonely cell (youtube) which pre-dates Viznut’s Dramatic Pixels. There’s the dark Reminescence (youtube) and also We are (youtube) which, again, reminds me of Hollowman‘s work, and also Wrath Designs.

Some randomly semi-similar thing-stuffs: tbk – bl, eerie norwegian demos, chip noise, disco calculi, put on your goggles, jodi, hatebitZX Spectrum Orchestra, Lukas Nystrand’s “crack intros” or check out the noise category here. Hardcore will always die!

Neurobit: 8″ 8-bit Release Made of Plastic

December 11, 2009

Neurobit is a Dutch 8-bit ambient/noise artist working with Gameboy/NintendoDS/etc and lots of effect pedals to create some pretty lush-horror sounds. He has also released breakcore-oriented things as Rioteer. Neurobit just released an 8″ single that is not made of vinyl but from recycled plastic bottles. So it’s light and has its own sound to it, I suppose. Both songs are improvised Gameboy music, with no post-production. If there is a real deal, this might be it! “Every record is individually cut and all the artwork had to be delivered on a printed sheet of paper and was photocopied for the labels.” Limited edition of 100, so get it while it’s hot! More info here.

Ready > Run Exhibition: What is in a system?

October 13, 2009

A month ago the Ready > Run exhibition opened in Philadelphia, and will run until November 7th at the Esther M. Klein Art Gallery. It shows works from Enso, minusbaby, noteNdo, Nullsleep, VBLANK, Animal Style, MET-Lab, NO CARRIER, Paul Slocum, Dan and Winckler. From the site: “Chip musicians and pixel artists work within the limitations of these vintage technologies by hacking their childhood toys to generate complex new genres of music and visual art that challenge and reflect the identity of contemporary art on an international level.” The text thus places the works as operating within the ‘limits’ of material systems, but expanding symbolic systems through ‘complex new genres’. Is that really what the exhibition does…?

As noted before, chipmusic is usually accompanied by either glitch aesthetics or 8-bit craftmanship; what Heidegger would label bringing-forth and challening-forth respectively. Videogame hardware or software are obviously used, and maybe more often than some artists want to admit (me?!) the symbolics and aesthetics of videogames are also used. This exhibition shows all of these discourses.

Enso and minusbaby represent craftmanship with their good-looking printed pixel graphics.The NES musicdisk Teletype by Animal Style and No Carrier, operates in a similar domain. Animal style also exhibits a Gameboy connected to a home made amplifier. Paul Slocum displays his old work ‘Combat Rock’ where a cover of “Rock the Casbah” has been added to the Atari 2600-game Combat.

There are several works that combine videogames and interaction, with glitch aesthetics. In Data Spills, Nullsleep hacks a NES-game and makes it spill program logic into the representational layer, producing glitch artifacts. No Carrier presents his GlitchNES that you can control with a Power Pad and noteNdo works with hardware-glitches of the NES that can be controlled by intercepting lazer lights. VBLANK also creates glitch aesthetics when he transcodes the ROM of an Atari XE onto the screen, and enables joystick interaction.

These works go beyond the limitations of systems in several ways. There are physical interfaces that are not inherent to the systems. There are no NES-printers and therefore printed NES-graphics can only exist outside the system. There are unfortunately no lazer interfaces to the NES either, and it is possible that the hardware modifications by noteNdo produces effects and artifacts that are out-of-system-experiences; things that software and emulators can only (try to) dream of. The ideal glitches; those that cannot be reproduced or explained.

To me, it is highly relevant to think of what constitutes a system and, from that perspective, define limitations and possibilities. How is a system empowering and disempowering? Chipstyled works are described both as remaining within systems, and transgressing the limits of systems, which seems quite true. But it would be interesting to study more in-depth what a system really is, by studying the transgressive aswell as traditional uses. It is not only relevant for chipmusic; such platform-specific analyses could maybe say a thing or two about popular culture in general. All photos below taken by Marjorie Becker.

Animal Style: Juvenile Amplifier

NES Landscapes by enso

Reset v2.0 by noteNdo

Teletime by Animal Style and No Carrier

3 Videos with Rough Data

October 8, 2009

Just a reason for some self-promotion, or something else?

Lukas Nystrand: Ikioma Taide Cracktro

ZX Spectrum Orchestra: Look & Listen

Erik Nilsson & Goto80: Come Together (Skwee Beta Boink)

Hot Glitches II – The Return of Lukas

September 8, 2009

Lukas Nystrand, known for Amiga hiphopdubjazz, noise, AHX-dub, a musical loom, ascii and pixel art, and gigantic inflateable whales, has another surprise up his sleeve. Apparently now he started coding C64, and it is brutal glitchy punishment for you! This audio is beyond me…

Check more at his Vimeo.

Also, two super-new glitch videos that I was involved in are here and here and if you need more you could go here.