Archive for the ‘published’ Category

Beyond Encodings: A Critical Look at the Terminology of Text Graphics

June 15, 2017

I used to write a lot about text art here in the blog, but it’s been a while now. I’m still very much into it, though, and I do update TEXT-MODE every now and then. Today, I’m publishing an article about text graphics in the Finnish academic journal WiderScreen’s new issue focusing on text art. It’s pretty great, I have to say, with contributions from active artists and scene researchers alike. Raquel Meyers gives a thorough look into her KYBDslöjd approach where she, among other things, disses the oft cited ideas from media archeology that old media are more or less dead. Gleb Albert takes an interesting economic approach to ANSI art in the warez scene. Daniel Botz talks scrolltexts, Dan Farrimond shows teletext works, and Tommy Musturi shares very interesting artistic techniques with PETSCII graphics. And there’s much more.

I’ve contributed with the text Beyond Encoding: A Critical Look at the Terminology of Text Graphics. In my text I give brief overviews of ASCII, ANSI, PETSCII, Unicode and Shift-JIS art; some of the most popular forms of text graphics today. Text graphics is my own umbrella term for these visual forms, because I don’t think it’s necessary to downplay the skills and work involved by calling this “art”. Just like with the demoscene, I think it’s a lot more relevant to generally consider these works as a form of craft. Raquel also touches on this topic in her text.

My key point though, is that I find terms such as ASCII art or PETSCII art to be more difficult to use by the day. After all, these are forms of encoding. They only stipulate what number each character has. A lower-case a is 97 or 129 or 65 or something else. That’s of course very important for the technical purpose of displaying it correctly, but mostly… I mean… Who cares what numbers are there?

It’s about time to start to look beyond the encodings to discuss and categorize text graphics according to other criteria. Which fonts are used? Are the fonts customized? What kinds of characters are (not) used? What style does it have? How many colours and what resolution does it use? How was it made, and which media is it presented on? In what (sub)cultural context does it exist? For these purposes, I’ve included a model in the text to look at the different material levels of a piece of text graphics.

I also suggest the term text mosaic to refer to text graphics that use blocks rather than lines. These are especially popular in Western ANSI and PETSCII art, but exist in all forms of text graphics where the font has block characters. Block ASCII, Unicode or Shift-JIS art based on block elements, Chinese ANSI, and so on.

Text mosaic is different from ASCII art. I think we can accept the popular idea of ASCII art mostly using line characters, and alphanumeric characters. You know, all the ASCII-converters work in this kind of Matrix-style. And this idea actually also exists in the ASCII art scene, where you talk about block ASCII if it’s not like “normal” alphanumeric line-based ASCII art.

In this way, we don’t have to fight against the dominant idea of ASCII art, but we can and should develop more refined terminology for when it’s necessary.

OK, over and out.

Demoscene Week at Rhizome

May 18, 2010

Rhizome, one of the leading sites for digital art, is focusing on the demoscene this week. So far, there have been two articles by Markku Reunanen and Antti Silvast at Demoscene Research and one by me. I was invited to write about chipmusic but decided to write a Micro History of Demoscene Music. The impossible mission of writing that history in 400 words somehow appealed to me, although the text is perhaps a bit fragmented. The purpose was to give a broad idea of what it is and give plenty of hints of where to look for more. So I left out larger topics such as the ontology of demoscene music, and authorship versus remixing in the scene. If you want to hear about those things, you are welcome to come to my lecture this weekend at the Demode Festival in Zagreb, Croatia. :—-)

And now, for now apparent reason, an old Amiga production by Otro and Non Plus Ultra:

Minimum Data >> Maximum Content

May 4, 2009

The VJ-festival Cimatics are running an online exhibition, so I have just “curated” something called Minimum Data >> Maximum Content. It is a tiny presentation of what people have achieved with 1024 bytes or less. I will return to this subject many times in the future, because it relates to many things I try to approach in this blog: maximising technology, not exploit limitations but embrace possibilities, hug bugs, media specificity, posthumanism, and so forth. In the mean time, enjoy the three lonely videos I have posted, and check an 8bittoday-post, and check how you can make cinema material in 4 kilobytes here. (warning for superman trance) And remember: recordings are sooo 20th century. 256 bytes look better than 256 megabytes!

(Some chip music curiosa: behind the name ate bit , included in my selection, we find 4-mat who is often blamed for inventing chip music with Amiga songs around 1990. Back when chip music was sample-based and semi-nostalgic music, *cough*. Nowadays he codes incredible tiny productions for 8-bit machines, like the recent interactive “DJ-tool” for Spectrum called 1kdj.)

From Pac-Man to Pop Music

June 19, 2008

Karen Collins, one of the few scholars writing on 8-bit music, has just published a book called From Pac-Man to Pop Music. Apparently, it is the first book to present a wide range of texts about music for computer games and game technology, written by both academics, composers and programmers. It includes several interesting texts on adaptive and interactive music composing, and games audio and marketing. And, since I am mentioning it here, also texts about chip music. Actually, yours truly wrote a chapter about the history of chip music. By now the text is not mega fresh, but I got good feedback from prominent chip folks during the writing of it. The main purpose of the text is explaining the history of chipmusic from a non-commercial perspective, ie demoscene rather than videogames. I briefly explain the foundations of the demoscene on one hand, and computer music on the other. My main point is to differentiate chipmusic as medium from chipmusic as form. Chipmusic as medium is any music made with a specific medium (a range of soundchips from the 80s, typically) and chipmusic as form is a music genre made with any kind of technology. YMCK is mostly referred to as chipmusic although they use Mac, while DJ Scotch Egg is typically referred to as breakcore although he uses Gameboy.

What I argue in the text, is that the term chip music was first used in the Amiga demoscene around 1989 by artists such as 4-mat, Duz, and Turtle. Prior to that, it is hard to find references to the term chip music, as it was probably just called computer or digital music. When the term chip music was first used then, it did not refer to music with waveforms coming straight off a chip. The waveforms were sampled and manipulated by the composer using sample-based trackers such as Noisetracker or Protracker. Furthermore, chip music seems to have been predominantly happy 4/4 music often flirting with C64-aesthetics. This might be annoying to people arguing that chip music is 1) not a music genre and 2) based on sounds generated in realtime by a chip. But although it might break a common historiography of chip music, it is because of using a sociocultural perspective rather than (techno)logical empiricist one.

As I wrote in the previous post, computer generated music has been around for almost 60 years now. By tracing the birth of chip music to 1989, we can (atleast theoretically) differentiate between chipmusic as we know it today, and the pre-1990 chipmusic which was mostly made in the names of science, art, conceptual music, and videogames. Technically speaking it might be 57 years old, but culturally I argue that it is 19 years old. This is a theoretical distinction that might seem unnecessarily absurd to some, but I find it useful. Atleast at the moment. I believe that the production, dissemination, and approaches within today’s chip music shares more with the (old) demoscene rather than videogames or art. Fun rather than monetary, playing with limitations rather than concepts, static rather than interactive.