Archive for the ‘recording-performance’ Category

Cartridge Music – the Best of Two Worlds?

August 18, 2016


Releasing music on a cartridge that needs an old 8-bit platform to work, might seem like the worst way of releasing music today. But if you think about it a bit more…. A cartridge takes the best parts of the software-world and the hardware-world: You get a good-looking physical object, and it doesn’t have to contain only static recordings that are the same forever and ever.

The first cartridge release I heard about was Vegavox, a NES-cartridge made by Alex Mauer in 2007 with a basic interface to select songs. The follow-up, Vegavox II (below) was more refined with custom moving graphics for each song.

This looks similar to music videos, but under the hood it’s actually quite different. A video is a recording – a stream that plays from A to B the same way every time. Vegavox II on the other hand, is code and instructions that requires a very specific platform for playback. It’s more like a theater than a movie. Potentially, the user/viewer can ruin the whole thing by interrupting and destroying.

In the 1960’s this was a politically fueled idea that became prevalent in the computer arts to come. The power of the user. Today there are of course countless apps, games and sites with playful audiovisual interaction. But there’s not a whole lot of musical apps and situations where the composer really tries to give the user power over their own composition. Ah, the neurotic narcissism of music folks, eh? ^__^


In the mid-1980’s, people started to rip game music and make compilations for the user to choose songs and trigger sound effects. The teenagers in the burgeoning demoscene started to make their own music, and by 1991 the music disk was an established format with quality releases such as Bruno’s Box 3, Crystal Symphonies and His Master’s Noise and plenty of gritty hip house megamix type of things, like Tekkno Bert.

These music disks normally pretended to be recorded music, even if it wasn’t. Under the hood there were notes and instruments being played live by software/hardware. You can see it in The Top Boys’ music disk above, where the notes are “played” on the keyboard. Theoretically the user could change each and every note, unlike a video where you can’t change the music at all. Music disks normally didn’t allow that, but commercial releases like the Delta Loader and To be on Top did.

While musical interaction almost seemed (and seems) a bit sinful to the genius music brain, visual interaction was (and is) more common. Back in the 1980’s there was 8-bit generative visuals like Jeff Minter’s Psychedelia (and other acid-ish stuff hm) that taps into earlier things like Atari’s Video Synthesizer.

Returning to the topic of cartridges and jumping ahead to 2016, RIKI released the Famicom-cartridge 8bit Music Power with music by eg Hally and Saitone. The user could interact with the music aswell as play games, and there were visualizers for the music. It’s like a mixture of a music disk and interactive music games.

Musical user interaction is still a rather unexplored field. Perhaps the user can mute instruments (8bit music power), move back and forth through a timeline (, dynamic game music) or trigger sounds/visuals in a game/composer environment (Playground). One recent interesting example is Yaxu’s Spicule, where the user can change the algorithms that compose the music in realtime.

A while back, Ray Manta at DataDoor came up with the idea to make a C64-cartridge and continue this exploration. So me, 4mat and iLKke got to work (and also did this). DUBCRT is our attempt to merge ideas from these different eras. There’s some music disk vibes to it, but in a kind of abstract and 1960’s modernist way. For each track there is a visualizer that spits out PETSCII-graphics, based on the music that is played.

The interaction is not all rationally easy to understand, but you can change the parameters of the visuals and (in a hidden part) change which audio sequences are played for each voice. You can also superimpose audio waveforms onto them, which means that you can pretty much ruin the song completely. A big plus! Nobody’s in charge. You can hear an example in Tim Koch’s remix in the album-release on Bandcamp.

All of this fits in 64 kilobytes, which means less than 8 kilobyte per song/visual. 4mat is known to only need 23 bytes to make good C64-stuff, and I tried to optimize my songs to fit aswell. All of ilKke’s graphics are in PETSCII, which also helped to keep the filesize down.

Here’s hoping to more absurd musical power interactions in the future! And since DUBCRT sold out in three hours, it actually seems like more people see this is as the best of two worlds. He he he…

About the Floppy Category at

November 1, 2014

Discogs is supposed to be an open place where everybody contributes with information about music releases. Theoretically, atleast. In praxis, decisions need to be made and that doesn’t exactly involve thousands of people… About a year ago there was a discussion whether a NES-cartridge should be listed at the site or not.  No, someone said, because it’s not recorded music. The NES-cartridge contains code that only plays once the right platform is there to execute it. After all, it’s not as direct as a vinyl record that you can play with your own finger nail.

Most other music formats, however, require complex platforms to be played. CDs in particular, need complex digital error correction to be played correctly. What’s on the CD might be better described as data, compared to the code of the NES-cartridge, but still – you can store “pure audio data” on an NES-cartridge aswell, if you’d like. A storage medium can contain different kinds of information. A CD can contain the code of the NES cartridge. You can encode an MP3 or a JPG or a Hollywood movie on to a piano roll, as long as you have the right technology to decode it with. Didn’t the modernists teach us better than to argue about that?

People pretend like there is a definite answer to the debate about recorded music. It’s certainly a question about media technologies, but it can’t be answered in some pure technical sense. This is a cultural question because the answers depends on ideology, aesthetics, history, and so on. In Western music, there has been a solid separation between written sheet music and performanced music for a long time. It would roughly correspond to the separation between “author” and “performer”.  Ideas and praxis. Art and work, even? Maybe. And then piano rolls came and disturbed the dichotomy. Then recorded music arrived and caused a terribly complicated music economy in order to make both composers, labels and musicians’ unions happy. And we’re still stuck with that mess.

gabber demo loops

Computer music has made these concepts even more hard to use. What is the difference between sheet music and code? How does algorithmic music fit in here? If chipmusic is not recorded music, then who is the performer? When I was a member of a Swedish copyright society (to get money when e.g radio/tv uses my music) I tried to discuss this. Since the radio show Syntax Error played my C64-music straight from a SID-emulator, I told them that it was performed live by the C64 and not recorded music (which affected the payment). Needless to say, they were not impressed by my argument.

And neither were the discogs people. After the discussion last year, they deleted all the NES cartridges from the database and lived happily ever after.

Or did they…?

una nina malvada

On discogs there is this category called Floppy. In the format list you can also see things like USB sticks, File, CD, miniDV, flexi disc, and so on. Problem is – these are not formats. They are storage media, that can store many different format. All in all, discogs is bound to run into some pretty difficult choices in the future…

But anyway. This floppy category. What kind of releases can we find there? Right now there are 605 floppy releases listed. Quite a lot of them have been released within the last couple of years. The Hungarian label Floppy Kicks has been very active and there seems to be plenty of noise/lo-fi/drone kind of stuff. Diskette Etikette and Floppyswop are two other floppy labels. I made a release for Floppyswop, and they were sort of connected to the micromusic world it seemed. Here we should also mention Sascha Müller’s Pharmacom records with floppy releases that sometimes had some 8-bittish things. I released stuff there too.


Some floppies are additions to other storage media. Mainstream artists released floppy disks in the 1990’s, likely with jaw-dropping interactive multimedia. Mark Knopfler, Erasure, Everything but the girl, and of course Billy Idol the cyber man himself. There were screen savers by Pink FloydRadiohead and Beastie Boys (only in the Netherlands). J Dilla put out a floppy disk with samples for the SP-1200 sampler in 2014, which atm is the most wanted floppy release on discogs. Also, REM made a white label-ish floppy promo in 1994.

Ryuichi Sakamoto included midi-files for 8 tracks off his album BTTB (1998) and someone put out a .mid-file of Tarkan on floppy. Songs made famous by Eric Clapton is a collection of .mid-files of Eric Clapton songs from 1996.

A psy trance compilation was released on 20 floppy disks in 2014. With 20 songs in FLAC. Now that’s pretty impressive! DUMPSTERAC1D released four acid floppies on the Moss Archive label, but Chris Moss Acid has never heard about them. Ethnic techno is a 1989 floppy release from Zambia that also includes a 4″ vinyl.

melkweg timemachine

Most of these releases are legit for the discog man, because they usually contain lo-bit MP3s, interactive media, promo material, and so on. Proper music industry stuff. My releases had mod-files, which is not recorded music. But it seems to have been accepted.

In fact, there is plenty of mod/xm releases in discogs. There’s things like Metal moduleNoisetracker modules no.6, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and public domain disks that are basically just collections of mod-files. Metallica Meds is even listed as an official Metallica release.

But wait – there’s more! To my surprise, there is plenty of demos and music disks in discogs aswell. I won’t mention them here, out of respect for their discogs presence. But we can be sure that the discog man will eventually hunt and destroy.

And why shouldn’t they? Discogs reflect the “recording industry” and if you’re looking for non-recorded digital music you’d be better of looking at demoscene forums, media art, games, and so on. Things like that might be listed at discogs – like Brian Eno’s Generative Music I or Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Music, but they are merely tolerated anomalies, it seems. If you don’t like it, you could always buy and start ze revolution!


iron bitchface free mahi mahi

► 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.