Archive for the ‘recording-performance’ Category

► Animal Romantics

November 1, 2013

Animal Romantics (slightly NSFW) is an audiovisual maxi single. Or music disk. Or … internet multimedia? Demo? Net art? Whatever you want to call it – this is 7 songs with synchronized visuals in Javascript and PETSCII. The music, text & visuals blend together to describe the construction of a lady, who has romantic dreams about monkeys.

You can even insert your own text and get a custom link to insult your friends with! Made by Raquel Meyersevilpaul and Goto80 for the pl41nt3xt pavilion @ Wrong Biennale and Chipflip.


The song comes in one slow disco version and a faster vocoder pop version. They have been remixed by Limonious (the grand father of skweee), Steve (UK’s new king of FM-swing), The Toilet & Ljudit Andersson from the very underrated Mutantswing label, and finally a version from the don of Amiga disco, Dr. Vector. The whole thing runs in evilpaul’s text-mode Javascript library.


Works on most browsers, as long as you have a normal keyboard (hello mobile world).

Why Chipmusic Is Not Retro

February 22, 2012

Here are seven points about why chipmusic is not retro. These ideas apply mostly for chipmusic as medium.

1. Unrecorded audio. Even if music can be nicely generative like Icarus (who I remixed once, btw) or performed live, it’s usually distributed as recordings. That has rubbed off on chipmusic, but there are hundreds of thousands of chiptunes that are performative: Each execution is unique. Chiptunes are to music what theatre is to movies; a different ontology. Especially with dodgy chips like the SID. And this is futuristic, simply because there’s no other large scale music like this.

2. Media materialistic music. There are several problems with a technical definition of chipmusic (= anything from a soundchip is chipmusic). But perhaps it will be more common; perhaps the aesthetic crisis in pop culture (retromania) will be followed by a renewed interest in tools and instruments. From language to object, if you will. You know, bye-bye to genius authors and sonic genres – hello to software virtuosity, digital materialism and folklore, artifacts, and live performance.

3. Audiovisualism. Music and visuals are interlinked. PAL/NTSC connects them technically (the available tempos are normally extracted from the framerate) and the low resolution connects them aesthetically. It seems obvious to me that music and visuals will grow stronger connections in the future, and chipmusic seems to have pioneered that.

4. Remixability. Chipmusic was concerned with remixing music already in 19511961 and 1970. But during the 80′s and 90′s the sampling, ripping and reverse-engineering of music spawned a unique music remix culture in the demoscene. It could thrive outside of law and economics, since the scene had their own network infrastructure (BBSs, swapping, etc). And the mod-format for music was (and still is) superior to MP3/etc for a LEGO-style remix culture like Manovich writes about here. No copyright, no creative commons, no laws, no money — just good data and angry teenagers making up their own rules. Definitely futuristic.

5. Originality. It is made from scratch, manually. It’s not pomo remixism. Read more about that here.

6. Archive fever. The chipmusic archives that exist are meticulous works by enthusiasts. They are not threatened by copyright claims, and can usually offer almost everything. The music is also very searchable, since it’s not stored as recordings. For example, you can make powerful search engines to search for specific notes and instructions, like the SID theme finder. Definitely better than the centralized ultra-corporate options of today.

7. Unused potentials. There’s still so much to be done! Where’s all the interactive music players, generative visuals, auto DJ:ing, database explorers, etc? Syphus’ ChipDiscoDJ is only the beginning! If anyone is interested in getting involved with coding for such projects, let me know.

Originality is Back!

December 19, 2011

Talking about originality is asking for trouble. So not many people talk do anymore, atleast from where I’m standing. It’s just not a very relevant topic in a world where “everything is a remix“. In remix culture everyone (and everything?) is a DJ that is always inspired by others in various ways. Yeah, okay. Sure. But…

Still, I don’t value all music the same way. Consider the difference between a DJ who plays other people’s music, and someone who improvises with her own compositions using home-made software. It’s not that it’s more impressive, or better, or more complicated – but there is some kind of difference, right?

It’s not about the performance: a DJ is just as likely as a composer to use Ableton with 100000 clips. It’s not about the composition, because even if you don’t sample you’re probably stealing subconsciously anyway!! It’s impossible to find an origin to the composition.

Most importantly though, is that originality is not about “creativity”. What I’d like to propose here, is that it’s about the ontology: what is the song actually made of? I got this idea from Raquel, and thought I’d think aloud about it.

For example, if you take yer average electronic music release, it likely uses plenty of samples, effects and instruments that someone else made. It’s not super-difficult to copy the song if you find the source. For example, look at how Jim Pavloff rebuilds Smack My Bitch Up from scratch. The value in this bitch-song comes from the idea, not the labour.

Yeah, I said labour. By using music tools with a bit more friction you can move away from presets, towards manualism. Instead of tweekin’ sum knobz, you have to spend an hour to write a list of numbers instead. There are no instruments or samples to load, no automatic sliders or fancy algorithms to produce automatic variations. In the ideal manualist case there’s absolutely nothing but your hands.

Chipmusic is not 100% original – nothing is. But it does get pretty close sometimes. Most chipmusic software does not use samples. A lot of them don’t even let you save an instrument that you’ve made. Sure, you get some basic timbres and effects, and an interface with plenty of character. If u’re lucky there’s even some copy-paste functions. But then it’s up to you.

Por examplo – when lft makes Bach-music in C64 assembly, they are original works event if he didn’t compose them first. They are original, because he typed them by hand, from scratch. The list of common denominators is short: assembly, C64 and keyboard.

In Exedub from 2SLEEP1 you can see me composing the song live, starting with nothing but an empty music program. This seems to go well with this idea of originality. But the song is a recording. It doesn’t exist as an executable (a bit like with live coding) but I’m not sure if that’s important or not. Indeed, it does change the ontology of the music.

What is important is that purist chipmusic – provided in non-recorded file formats – is original by default. The ontology of chipmusic is quite unique. I’d say that it’s the only digital music genre in the world. All the others are just platform-independent recordings. I doubt that there’s any other genre that has 10,000′s of songs as executables or open-source.

Anyway. This idea of originality is an analytical concept, more than something useful for everyday life. Who knows how the songs are made, anyway? But I think it’s important to have concepts that are neither antropocentric nor über-structuralist. Materialism, yo.

We call them VJs

November 13, 2011

…but it’s not really fair. It’s a misleding term since VJs usually create their own material (unlike a DJ). I think it was Jean Poole who first pointed that out to me, many years ago. Anyway. I started writing this post as a reply to “Which European VJs are there?” but then I digressed, and then it turned into this. Feel free to complain!

I’ve written before about the popularity of glitch in the chipscene. In Europe Gijs Gieskes (nl), RealMyop (fr) and Kissdub (fr) are some of the foremost 8-bit glitcherz, although people like Karl Klomp (nl) and Rosa Menkman (nl) also work with low bits every now and then. In USA there’s e.g. Notendo and No Carrier who work with glitching the NES – in hard and soft ways.

For a VJ, it seems pretty common to be stuck in a corner somewhere playing for something that you don’t even know what it is. But there are a number of closer cooperations between musicians and visualists. Distortled Box (es) work in the glitch field. Meneo (es) have/had Entter (es) on the visuals. ZX Spectrum Orchestra (uk) did some über-fresh audiovisual sets straight from the machine. 8GB (ar) did both music and visuals for his performances.

Just like with music, the 8-bit visual tools are quite poor when it comes to interaction, afaik. If demo coders weren’t so obsessed with non-interactive things the situation would be different, of course. Imagine if there were more things like VBLANK’s VJ on a chip, or Atari Video Music or all those crazy visualizers from Jeff Minter. Since it’s all code, it should be more easy and obvious to add interactive features. If all those 32-byte-thingies were interactive, it wouldn’t take many floppies for a full night’s VJ-set!

I believe Paris (us) was talking about this a few years ago, as a key feature of making visuals from scratch with old tech. With his background in analogue modulations and physics, he should know.

Anyway: one of the titans of low-res VJing is the C-men (nl). Starting as a duo, it’s now a one-man army who’s brought his Amigas around for over a decade, and not only for chip-related gigs. His visuals don’t use the “8-bit aesthetics” even if they technically are.

Two of my favourite VJs are Otro (fr) and Raquel Meyers (se). While Otro is perhaps more known for graphic design, his VJ-sets are incredible aswell. Raquel has recently taken an interesting turn into the text mode world, with e.g. 2SLEEP1 (together with yours truly). Both them have also made a few works for the demoscene.

And finally: Enso (us) has a nice psychedelic flair to his visuals, Pikilipita (fr/uk) made VJ-software for e.g. the GBA and VjVISUALOOP (it) seems to have made some nice stuff. Now I’m going to eat, but please comment about all the VJs I’ve forgotten here!

Btw: lulz @ writing a post about visuals that only contains text.


► Goto80 + Raquel Meyers: 2SLEEP1

September 14, 2011

2SLEEP1 is a playlist of audiovisual performances in text mode, designed to make you fall asleep. The idea is to show the music being composed in real-time (Exedub) along with typewriter-style animations (e.g. Sjöman).

Both the music interface and the graphics are built up from text symbols. This means that the (graphical) objects can work together with the (musical) instructions, on a visual level. Vank is a first rough test of this and Matsamöt makes a similar thing, without the improvisation. Finally, Echidna is a silent movie with semi-live music.

Made by Raquel Meyers and Goto80 (me), mostly using c-64 and Amiga. The videos are early explorations of new methods, so it’s rather brutal at times. Greetz to Poison (rip) and Toplap!

A New Hi to the High

September 2, 2011

There’s an interesting article in Vague Terrain about low-bit audio: A New High in Low: Adventures in Low Bitrate Audio. It’s a pretty good read, because it mentions 20kbpsDex and the City and Floppyswop which I released music on several years ago. :) Just have a few comments to make quickly before I go for some food.

It starts by talking about zombie media, and how benders salvage electronics that other people throw away, even if it usually still works. So anti-consumerism is the starting point. The article writes about low bit-rate music as a new approach that comes with a visual aesthetics that the author describes as infantile (hi Kodek and Overthruster!), but also fills an important function for poorer parts of the world. “More interestingly, though, is that no clever scripting, hacking, bending, or esoteric software was required to kickstart this audio micro-revolution: the ability to encode an MP3 at sub-’CD quality’ bitrates is a feature built into the iTunes application”.

Hmmmm! It’s grounded in critical theory to describe lo-bit as a subversion, and art perspectives to say that presets can be used creatively. Or something like that. The standard way, you know? That’s all fine, but I think there are better ways to talk about this, which perhaps is less alien to the practioners themselves.

Not all music are recordings. MP3/OGG is just one option. For example, on my release at Floppyswop I used mod-files. Sounds better than a lo-bit recordings and it’s smaller in filesize. Non-recorded music is truly tricky for contemporary culture to deal with and it’s a shame that this article doesn’t discuss it. Well, I guess it wasn’t the point. Nevertheless, denouncing chipmusic as videogame remixes and emulations, is a bit perverse.

Lo-bit doesn’t have to be about authenticity. One charm with low bitrate is that it leaves things to the imagination. Low resolution gives more room for the listeners’ own interpretations. Some kind of brutalist hauntology. The articles says that authenticty is a mandatory selling point for culture consumers (which might be true), but it seems more refreshing to say: who knows or cares if it’s authentic or not?

Neither low bitrate recordings or chipmusic are re-animations of zombie media. People have done it for ages — it’s the things around it that has changed. And it’s not about unintended uses. Remember when it became possible to stream audio in the 1990′s? Real audio! It was quite useful, and it still is. Why wouldn’t it be? Because technology has changed? If yes, then you=technodeterminist and that’s not frexxy.

Fantastic PhD Demoscene Book

June 27, 2011

Daniel Botz has finally published his PhD dissertation on the demoscene. Chipflip’s conversation with him in 2009 revealed some of his approaches. Entitled Art, Code and Machine – the Aesthetics of the Computer Demoscene, it is an extremely well-researched study of the demoscene’s history and aesthetics.

The theoretical base is Friedrich Kittler, who is more interested in machines than humans. From this Botz constructs a media materialism that takes the potentials/limitations of the machine seriously. Human fantasies about subverting the machine is not primary. Demos are immanent in the machine and are only “carved out” by the sceners. They are states of the machines, and not products. There is no software, even.

Still – as a researcher of art rather than computers – Botz describes the aesthetical norms also from a social perspective, occasionally with some ideas from cultural studies. New effects typically reference “oldschool” elements to make it graspable. It’s not a virtual and limitless digital “freedom” where anything is possible, which is often implied elsewhere. You know, Skrju can make lots of fucked up noise but still fit in, while perhaps Critical Artware could use some more rotating cubes.

Unfortunately this book is only available in German. You can read a sample here. My German is not very good, so my apologies if this post contains any misinformation. Having said that, this book is the best demoscene research I’ve read. It’s quite traditional in its theory and methods, which I think is required to cover the topic thoroughly. Still, it offers plenty of surprises compared to the usual clichés about hacker aesthetics. Perhaps that’s because the theoretical perspective is down-to-earth instead of pretentiously post-whatever or ideologically biased (e.g. humans or machines).

I can’t wait for the translation, Daniel! :) Meanwhile, check out the great Demoscene Research site and join the (scarce) discussions in the Google group.


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.

MP3 is so passe

December 29, 2010

Apparently, we are so used to MP3s that we actually prefer music that has the sizzle artefacts that MPEG algorithms produce. Although it’s hard to believe, it’s not unbelievable. The MP3-standard was set in 1991, and a decade later it had become the standard for music compression. In 1999 Wall Street Journal wrote that “MP3 has created an underground online culture, in which hackers hang around chat rooms and online ‘gangs’ prowl for tunes” (*).

Part of this gang war was Monotonik and other early netlabels. For them, MP3 was a natural progression from releasing tracker music (mod/xm/etc) for free. Monotonik came from the demoscene, where copying was not a problem but actually the only form of distribution. The more copies the better, period. It was not a big step to go from that to releasing MP3s. Still, distributing music in the original tracker had advantages. Monotonik released mod-files until 2003 because they were smaller, sounded better and were open source.

The chipscene has a different background, it can be argued. The music in the chipscene was usually spread as MP3-documentations of the original tracker files. It was, and still is, rare to see chipscene people releasing their source files. As far as I’ve found, all MP3-releases with chipmusic was like this at the time – at 8bitpeoples, 20kbps, Kikapu, No’Mo’, Commie, Slapart, Toilville and mp3death. Maybe they were scared of being scrutinized or maybe LSDj was not designed for this purpose. But also, spreading music like open source means to share every detail of the work you do – the small tricks that are important for “your sound”.

But like Education of the Noobz says in his new release, “open source” music has a long history as a sort of folk music. “Before professional games, before cracker intros and before demos, home computer users were peeking and poking around their machines’ memory in search for the addresses the soundchip would react to”. Flip through any computer magazine around 1980 and you will see BASIC-listings of pop-songs and classical music. They were open source by default, since they were distributed as code to be executed by the listener. Sort of like mod-files, and very much like previous hacker music as found in e.g HAKMEM and Creative Computing in the 1970s, or elsewhere in the 1960s.

In hindsight it’s perhaps tempting to see this in terms of hacker ethics and politics, but maybe it was just about academic traditions and a lack of cheap recording technologies. I haven’t seen any open source music that is framed in any political rhetorics, not even from the chipmusic hippies in LOAMC, who didn’t share their source code afaik.

But the situation is different now. Music usually equals recorded music, or performed music. Even digital music is almost always distributed in the proprietary MP3-format. A jam becomes a song becomes a file, with title and author, start and finish, that sounds the same every time you play it. Chipmusic doesn’t have to be like that, but ever since it pretended to be recorded music in the late 1990s, we’ve learnt to like the convenience. Sure it’s convenient with recorded C64-music, but it also deletes some of the mysteries for the listener, and the open source luxuries for the composer. The ontology of chipmusic is removed, which means removing the potentials for remixability, modularity and imperfection that no other music genre is blessed with at such a large scale. Educate the noobs!

(By the way, Monotonik is now on “(permanent?)” hiatus. Bad and sad news, for the label that brought us chip-releases such as Virt’s fx EP (2001), Vim!’s At the Front (1999), Aleksi Eeben’s Grand Rules (2002), Blasterhead’s Killbots EP, and my own Monkeywarning from 2002).

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


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