Archive for the ‘odd’ Category

Are Humans More Disabled Than Ever?

September 9, 2012

This long post will provoke some of you, and feel free to lave a comment. I just want to clarify something first. The purpose of this post is to examine the similarities between how we talk about lo-fi computing and human disabilities. It is not about comparing machines with humans, but rather about the dominant discourses surrounding limitations and capabilities in general.

I was watching football 5-a-side, where more or less blind people play soccer in teams of five. Blindness, as you know, is considered as a handicap because visual culture makes it difficult to live without the small part of the electromagnetic spectrum that humans call light.

Playing blind football might seem absurd at first, but I was completely fascinated by it. The TV makes it look clumsy as the players stumble, fall, look for the ball, etcetera. But from a sonic perspective (sic) there is something very different going on. The players are navigating with sound, as the ball makes noises and your team shouts instructions for you. They create a small new world on the field. And it’s inaccessible to us who look at it.

Just like I initially valued 5-a-side as a less elite form of football, lo-fi computing is often seen as something less worthy by most people. Or perhaps it’s more worthy – “the results are good eventhough the tools are bad”. It doesn’t matter – it’s all centered around the same basic idea. Hi-fi is more useful, expressive or productive. It is the norm from which we value other things, just like with the human body. Perhaps some of you find it offensive, but I see many parallells between the mainstream discourses of low-res media and human handicaps. Specifically, the political discussions about them are often polarized between the “objective” and the “social”.

Social vs Objective

The objective model sources the problem to a single entity (human and/or machine) and is as such an ahistorical, essentialistic or psychological understanding. According to the social model, the physical ‘impairment’ is a problem mostly because society is not willing or capable to deal with it. This seems to be the dominant model today, adopted by e.g World Health Organization. But there is much confusion in terminology, and there doesn’t seem to be a term that will work in all contexts (disability, handicap, impairment, etc). And why should it? Why should there be a word that grouped together blindness, autism, crippled people and cerebral palsy?

The conflict that the two models are organized around is obviously an on-going process with very real consequences for people’s well-being, of which I’ve had some experiences during the past four years. I’ve seen how hard it is to deal with bureaucracy and daily life.

Are we more disabled than ever?

According to WHO, fifteen percent of the world’s population is disabled. That’s an increase of 5 percentage points since 1970, which is quite noteworthy. It’s not a fact – it is an estimate that varies with the choice of methods and terminology.  Nevertheless, we seem to think of ourselves – in general, in the developed world – as more ‘handicapped’ than before. We need drugs to be normal. We require digital tools to organize our daily life. Our knowledge has become prosthetic. And our lifestyle affects the prevalence of certain diseases and diagonses.

It could be argued that humans are handicapping themselves by creating machines that do the things we want to do, but cannot do ourselves (see this documentary). Or – are humans and machines working closer together to create a better world?

Whichever perspective is taken, it seems that in a techno-consumerist society, normal humans are not good enough in themselves. Post- or transhumanism is perhaps a taste of what is to come when we further develop glasses, hearing aids and artificial organs (btw, new aesthetic is back).

One possible consequence is that we accept more kinds of sensory perceptions and lifestyles. Perhaps we can learn to to respect and take advantage of the unique characteristics of each so called disability. Deaf police are better at video surveillance. There is (was :() a blind kid who relies mostly on sonar navigation. Deaf people perceive sound and make music. And so on.

But it is probably naive to think that the conflicts will disappear. There are norms to relate to and those norms grow from limitations of human perception and, in the case of computers, from progress as second nature. The conflicts concerning human disabilities is a much more pressing matter than legitimizing low-res computing. Perhaps this post has contributed with something, without offending too many people.

But the main purpose is to build a background for a future post about limitations in computing. Coming soon!

Hidden Data Satan In Audio

September 13, 2011

Via the excellent Prosthetic Knowledge, we learn that 1983 was the first year for real-time “music videos” on a home computer. Chris Sievey’s 7″ single Camouflage had 3 pieces of software on the backside. You recorded this to cassette and ran it with a ZX81. One of them was a text art piece that showed lyrics and graphics in sync with the music, played on vinyl. Quite a nice piece of work, especially considering that he made it all himself in BASIC. Pete Shelley, who made a similar thing later that year with XL1, had assembler geeks to help him out (read their story).

In the comments to Soundhog’s original post, other attempts are mentioned: New Order, Kraftwark and Dire Straits. Here you can also read about Shakin’ Stevens, Inner City Unit, Thompson Twins’ ZX Spectrum text adventure, The Stranglers and below you can see Urusei Yatsura’s Spectrum-message from their album. An important precursor was Isao Tomita’s Altair 8800-experiment in 1978 with Bermuda Triangle. (Maximum respect to anyone who’ll get that running!)

Image taken from kempa.com

There were other odd ways to distribute data at the time. Around 1980 Mel Coucher (who did plenty of acid-ish things) made a series of AM- and FM-broadcasts with software. Several radio stations broadcasted software like that later on. Around the same time there were experiments with telesoftware – data broadcasted through the teletext band and fed into your computer via a teletext interface. Information Society put a 300 bps modem signal on their album, which formed a message that you can read at kempa.com.

Meanwhile the bourgeoning demoscene was mostly about crackintro aesthetics. There were probably musicvideo-like productions around elsewhere though. Commodore’s Seasons Greetings (C64 1983) is a charming text mode BASIC demo, synched to music. A few years later Jeff Minter made things like Psychedelia, and there were probably things around at Compunet aswell.

On the other hand, some musicians also got more involved with data. On the Amiga you could hear Coldcut. Nation 12 and Bomb the Bass collaborated with Bitmap Brothers for some impressive hits like Xenon and Gods. KLF’s producers made some sort of promo-track for Lemmings 2 aswell. And long before that there was Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells as a C64 “demo”.

Time to get out of the MP3-box!

 

The First Recording of Chipmusic, or What?

May 9, 2011

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For the past months I’ve been using early 80’s computer magazines as toilet literature. It’s incredible to see the ideas and projects that seem to be part of a completely different world compared to now. In Allt om Hemdatorer #2, 1984 I read that the Spectrum game company Automata Ltd were releasing their soundtracks on cassettes. Since this might be the first chipmusic ever to be recorded and released, I thought I’d check it out.

But it was a bit more complicated than that. Automata’s games were pioneering “multimedia” games, which used a separate audio cassette player for the music. I mentioned their game Deus Ex Machina here, which had a very strange atmosphere to it. PiMania seems to be an equally bizarre game, that featured a competition that took 4 years for someone to figure out.

Last year the Automata soundtracks (from PiMania and Deus Ex Machina, afaik) were released on vinyl by Feeding Tube. All of those songs are also available for free download here, plus a lot of other ones. If you listen to them you’ll notice that it has nothing to do with chipmusic. But it’s pretty good stuff, some kind of witty step-sequencer acid electrock. Perhaps Automata released other cassettes with recordings of their Spectrum music, though, but I didn’t find any.

Afaik, it was all composed by Mel Croucher. He was a computer renaissance man of the 1970s and the co-founder of Automata Ltd. He made lots of world’s firsts such as sending data over the FM and AM-band, multimedia games, stereo VGM, etc. Also, his use of the TR-606 and TB-303 in Groucho (1984) is quite early proto-acid that reminds me of Alexander Robotnick’s pioneering acid (which is fantastic). Also, the PiMania song is a charming piece of VL-Tone toasting.

So, according to my timeline the first release with recorded chipmusic continues to be this strange flexidisc from 1984, which demonstrates a C64-software. If you have any other ideas, would be great to hear it. (There are plenty of examples of digital music since 1951 in the timeline, but the question here is about massproduced recordings of music made with a soundchip)

Btw, I recently got a Thomson TO-7 where the cassettes contain both data and audio. For example, you can hear classical music while the data is loading. Or get a nicely human-narrated description of what’s happening on the screen, perhaps while you’re messing with the built-in light pen. I wonder what would’ve happened if Mel Croucher would’ve worked with this machine..

Lft’s Chipophone: Playing Chipmusic by Hand

July 22, 2010

Linus Åkesson, aka Lft, is a programmer and musician who has mentioned featured several times at Chipflip. He works a lot with combining the aesthetics of chipmusic and “classical” music. He uses soundchips but also programs custom “soundchips” using microcontrollers, often with rather impressive programming. Perhaps not surprisingly, he has a background in the demoscene. In Reverberations he simulated the hands of an organ player with delicate Assembler programming, and executed it on two C64s. Technique and concept in a tight interplay: yum-yum!

In a way, the Chipophone turns this approach on its head. Here, it is hands that simulate chipmusic rather than the other way around. The Chipophone instrument features some of the most characteristic aspects of chipmusic software: arpeggios, slides, looped bars and noise-attacks. Consequently, a skilled pianist can play chipmusic in something similar to a chipmusic platform (8-bit CPU, 1k RAM, 8.5k ROM) and add all the typical chipmusic ornaments with the hands. It’s quite surreal to see Hubbard’s Spellbound actually being performed by hand:

I think that this is qualitatevly different from using, say, Chipsounds and a MIDI-keyboard. The Chipophone is not an emulation – it’s a music instrument that is inspired by the aesthetics of chipmusic. Rather than using modern equipment to mimick something that it will never be, this is a custom-made low-tech platform using an oldschool organ interface. Surely this would inspire musicians to perform in a different way, compared to the hi-tech VST-world.

According to the 00-decade’s discourse of hardware purism, where chipmusic has to use certain soundchips, this is of course not chipmusic. But considering the Chipophone’s low amount of RAM, ROM and CPU and its low-level implementation of typical chipmusic effects, this is a refreshing alternative to the, eh, mainstream chipmusic (LSDj with default samples).

I have interviewed Lft for my (nearly finished) thesis, where we discussed the aesthetical elements of chipmusic among other things. The Chipophone is a very clever way to bring these stylistic elements into a postdigital context, where it is motor skills that condition the music rather than tracker-skills. He demonstrates it so elegantly aswell, by playing some songs from “the chipmusic canon”. Hopefully this can be an inspiration for chipmusicians to experiment with improvisations and performances, rather than doing another playback gig.

Update: btw, look at his combination of 480 bytes & piano: The Swan

The First English Book on Chiptune!

June 27, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Demoscene is big in Sweden: Bit för Bit

May 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TCTD Award 00101101

May 12, 2010

The TCTD-awards has been hi-jacked and turned against itself! Ever since VORC started to fade away in 2007-2008, there was not really any good chip-news-dealer. But Peter Swimm aka Toilville, saved the day and with the help from Random, Akira, Lazerbeat and Dotdummy he’s been doing an impressive job serving us foxy news ever since. And Chipflip thinks its due time to pay the prize. Since no one awards the awarders, here’s a juicy GIF-trophy to TCTD.

The award for best TCTD goes to TCTD! Keep up the great work, we datalove you.

(original trophy designed by Kef .. sorry)

Was there a Chipscene in the 1990s?

May 6, 2010

Lately I’ve been collecting plenty of examples of 8-bit music released on records in the 1990s, and I still haven’t updated the timeline with the info that Patric Catani was kind enough to send me. But anyway, most of it is Amiga-music that has little to do with the aesthetics of chipmusic. In the 1990s most people probably only heard chipmusic that came from mobile phones, handheld games, toys and the occasional ‘retro-games’. It was in the demoscene that it was happening. (and the term chipmusic was still mostly used for sample-based Amiga/PC-music)

But I’d like to quickly mention some of the chipmusic releases I’ve found from the 1990s. There is some ‘arty’ stuff. Via ne7 I recently heard about Chatarra Informatica (free dl) which was a noisy jam-session with a TI-99/4A, a Timex Sinclair 2068, a C128 and a Radio Shack 128k. It was recorded in Argentina in 1997, and it’s quite disturbing stuff, I must say : ). A bit less disturbing is Mariopaint, made by the Electric Family in 1995 using a SNES.

In 1997, one of the very few chip-EBM releases came out. Body Mass IndexLive im Haus der Jugend, Valhall (free dl) is a live-recording from Sweden, released on cassette. Body to body! In 1998, Christian Morgenstern released an Amiga chiptune on his techno-12″ Sexy World. You can pre-listen Sexy World 2 here.

And then in 1999 the history of the modern chipmusic movement begins. Micromusic.net is formed. There are releases by Bodenständig 2000, Oliver Wittchow and Role Model, aswell as Nintendo Teenage Robot (aka Alec Empire) who used Mariopaint Trippy-H on the Gameboy. Also, probably the first netlabel chip-release is Vim’s 4-bit Christmas on Monotonik.

It’s surprisingly few releases, isn’t it? What did I miss? Let’s enhance!

Update: Judging from the comments, I need to clarify what I mean. With chipscene, I don’t mean the demoscene. They are (still) two quite separate fields. The demoscene started talking about chipmusic in 1989, but the chipscene started talking about it in 1999, sort of. The point here was to find out about chipmusic outside of the demoscene and game industry.

Offline Chipmusic Radio Shows

March 17, 2010

For some reason I just thought of Syntax Error. It was a radio show on national Swedish radio every week for about 3 years. It was pretty much on prime time – something like Tuesdays at 7 o clock – playing mostly 8-bit videogame music, but also demoscene works and other related music. In the first show, aired almost exactly 10 years ago, there was Hülsbeck and Leitch but also Travolta, DMX Krew, Drax, Proxyon and Lizardking. They even played a trashy C64-mashup of two Spice Girls songs by yours truly. That was quite bizarre. What was even more bizarre, was that I e-mailed them to complain about them using an emulator. You know, I was a teenage gangster purist.

I rarely listened to the show back then. But listening to it now, it feels completely surreal to picture this as part of prime time national radio. The host has a great southern Swedish accent and talks about typical prime-time things like helping back2roots.org with server fees (spelling out their URL not once, but three times). Or this one: “If you’re as mature as I am, head to http://www.c64.org and use the SID-find to search for something indecent… like… poo! And what do you get then? Yep, two songs by Goto80!”. Hehe. And this was part of a show with the specific theme of pee & poo (bajs & kiss). Uh-hu.

At the time there was also a local American radioshow playing strictly C64-music. The 6581 Show ran every week at KDVS in California from 1999 to 2001. Hard Hat Mack had themed episodes like one on the demoparty Mekka Symposium 2000, one for Zyron & Kjell Nordbo, for multispeed music and for PRI. It was mostly game music though, as far as I know.

So what other chipmusic radio shows have been around, off the Internet? I’m guessing Syntax Error is the only nation-wide show of its kind, but I’d be happy to be surprised! There must’ve been something in Germany? Or Netherlands or the UK?

Monotrona: SID, Freaks and Children

December 23, 2009

Yes! C64 and weird people freaking out children on television! We’ve seen it before, but this is one is from 1998. The performer is Monotrona and the song is Cadillac Fantasy, from her album Hawkeye & Firebird. The C64-music is not made by her though, it is Hotrod and was made by Jeroen Tel in 1989.

Hailing from the Chicago noise scene, Monotrona was started in 1996 and she used self-built instruments, circuit bent toys, lo-fi keyboards, the Sidstation, MC-505, and of course other people’s C64-music. I also consider it more as “posthuman” than mere goofery: the lyrics are about mechanical beings and computer life, and she apparently had the girl from Fischerspooner replace her when she couldn’t attend her own gigs. A lot of the chip-styled stuff is found on Hawkeye & Firebird and The Might Mun, which you can download here. If anyone has a list of the original songs, please share it. Montrona was discontinued in 2003.

Although I suppose some people are disturbed by this (like the original composers), I think she makes is pretty obvious that she didn’t do the music herself. Also, she includes the original composers’ names in the CD, or so Peter at TCTD told me (who informed me about Monotrona, thanks!). So maybe not so posthuman after all. But maybe it is not much different from what Fitts for Fight did. It’s just that this won’t get the same attention, partly because it’s old, and partly because it is something very different than what FFF did, imho. But I’m biased because I like Monotrona and the music. Then again, I’m the kind of person who puts on Fitts for Fight in a DJ-set…