More Networks, Less Internet?

January 3, 2014

When I started this blog 6 years ago, the internet was still a poster boy for freedom. Anyone could publish or access anything, anywhere, anytime. We were all pretty amazed by how “far” we had come. Surfing the waves of neoliberal postermodernism, we celebrated the right of individual freedom online, free from physical constraints. Free knowledge for all! We were all living the American dream. Or something.

So, at that time, it seemed almost irrelevant to talk about other networks for communication. Even so, I was writing a paper on the Amiga music scene in the 1990s, and what it could teach us about the future of copyright and distribution. Amiga musicians formed a teenage folk culture that effectively worked outside of the “music industry” and its long arms of the law.

While this seemed more like a historical curiosity at the time, these issues are now becoming relevant again. We’re starting to question “the internet” again, although our behaviours are still pretty much the same. We silently agree to mass surveillance by continuing to use platforms infected by spyware and backdoors, through infrastructure that analyzes and profits from that information.

I’m not sure we should be surprised. Maybe we should be more surprised that we had this “digital wild west” in the first place. I mean, we were able to reach billions of people at almost no cost at all, with very little control from corporate or public institutions. Is that a realistic situation? Well, for companies that work with “personlized content” and authorities who need to “fight terrorism”, or stock market bots that predict the future, it’s most definitely not.

In 2006 Alexander Galloway wrote that the internet was always about control, and not freedom. I assume that there’s more understanding for that statement today, compared to 8 years ago when YouTube was all the rage. Not only because of all the surveillance scandals, but because of an increased interest in net politics and new materialism. There is a need to understand the technology and the politics, to deal with things like net neutrality, hobby surveillance, drones, censorship algorithms, bots, IP, spam, etc. 

Many recent attempts at creating alternative networks have not been so successful (as in big). But there’s been many successful attempts in the past, and I for one would love to read more about it. So I’m glad that Lori Emerson is writing a book on other networks, and that Kevin Driscoll is writing a dissertation on hobbyist networks 1977-1997. And I know that Jörgen Skågeby is doing interesting work on software distribution with cassettes.

There is probably a lot more out there. But most of the research done in this field has been made by enthusiasts so far. They usually get the details right, but lack a certain critical distance. It often gets retro-romantic rather than future-fantastic. But these old networks can be an inspiration for the future!

Just look at the Amiga music scene. They used open file formats, free distribution, a distributed informal copyright system, and its own kind of infrastructure combining bulletin boards and postal mail. It was a small-scale network of like-minded people with no worries about big business hindering your work. It wouldn’t surprise me if such networks became more common again.

So, here’s to a 2014 full of BBS theory, Fidonet history, real sharing economies, low-tech infrastructures and platform politics. Bring it on!

About My Demoscene Talk at Øredev

November 18, 2013

Last week I made a presentation about the demoscene at the developer conference Øredev. Before the talk I did an improvised C64 ambient dinner performance – where I just start the software and do everything from scratch, and show the screen to the audience. (see image)

by emiebot @ flickr

Photo by Emiebot

The theme of the conference was art, so my talk was more or less “demoscene vs art”. I argued that the scene and the art world are fundamentally different. The themes of 1960′s computer art might be similar to the scene: moving graphics, sound, code, making “new” thing with technology, networked communications, etcetera. But today the scene and the art world basically doesn’t overlap at all.

The scene competes with skills by making works that you go WOW!LOL!WTF! the first time you see it. The execution is more important than the concept, which connects to scene to craft rather than art. I’ve emphasized this since 2008, because it’s one of the most defining traits of the scene imo.

I talked about the years around 2000 when 8-bit works started to appear in the art world. Usually that was in the shape of glitch (Jodi), chipmusic (, Nanoloop), ASCII art (Vuk Cosic),  circuit bending (Notendo), videogames (Cory Arcangel). Sceners were not involved in this, and some of them (including me) were annoyed with the lame execution. “Hey, it’s not eliteeeee!”.

Photo by Codepo8

Photo by Codepo8

So… then I went on to talk about why I started to move towards the art world myself. We played HT Gold, which didn’t really work in the scene because it’s full of trash. I showed demos that doesn’t work in the art world (ie, most of them). And I showed Dansa In which I think is the first time I’ve worked with something that worked both as “art” and “demo”.
Nevertheless, I discussed the possibilities of scene-style coding playing a bigger role in the art world in the future. Doing things for www, smartphones and microcontrollers could surely use some of the über-rationalistic yet trial-and-error-craziness that sceners are so good at. Efficient use of the hardware, of course, will become more important if digital art goes monumental but wants to not waste more resources than necessary.
Finally, I mentioned three cultural traits of the scene that could/should have a bigger influence:
Distribution is always free in the scene, and they developed a sort of DIY infrastructure for that. There was an international network established already in the 1980s, using both telecommunications and postal mail. Distribution was hard work by dedicated traders, swappers and sysops who copied software around the world. I was always fascinated by this, and we’re once again seeing the need for this with the recent waves of censorship, surveillance and control.
Copyright remains an infected issue in the scene, despite (or because of) the normalization of free distribution, and its close ties with the cracking scene. Amiga MOD-music is my favourite example, where composers sampled sounds from records and basically claimed ownership of them. “Don’t rip my samples!” was a common statement. In the scene, it is always better to do it yourself, rather than building on someone else’s work. It doesn’t want to be a remix culture.
If someone was “stealing” they would be shamed in public (diskmags, parties, bulletin boards) so they lost their reputation. We could, perhaps, compare this to how Timbaland was attacked by “an angry nerd army” when he sampled Tempest’s chiptune. To me, this seems like a much more modern way than to have a court decide which methods are okay, and which are not. But yeah, it will probably take some decades before we go back to that behaviour.
Formats. Distributing most things as real-time programs instead of recordings, leads to a treasure for future historians. The massive online archives means that the demoscene is one of the most well-preserved subcultures so far. Imagine what we can do with all that data in the future! It’s like cultural analytics done on “open source” artefacts – or even better. Also, this puts some demands on the platforms. They need to support wild methods and low-level trickeries, not punish them. Strictly enforced license agreements embedded in the hardware (“if you try something funny, your gadget will blow up and call the police”) or underlying mega-protected systems are not really the future, from this point of view.
Finally: I know the few sceners that were in the audience were disappointed that I didn’t show many traditional demos. That wasn’t really the point with the presentation, which I probably should have made more clear. The idea was to discuss the scene from the perspective of art and highlight its advantages and disadvantages. Also – I showed many of my own works because I was asked to, and because I have worked many years in that grey semi-desertic area inbetween art and demoscene.

► 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).

Stop Laughing About Ministry of Sound

September 5, 2013

There’s been some recent bashing of Minstry of Sound, a British label that makes music compilations. They have sued Spotify for not taking down their users’ playlists that are copied from their compilations. I think this is fascinating, and I don’t share the critique that they’ve received around the web.

I don’t know MoS very well at all. But let’s assume that they spend shitloads of time to make these compilations. Keeping up with trends, upcoming artists, getting to know the right people, know their audience, and so on. It’s a bit similar to how a DJ works. Or a newspaper. Or a professional blog. Or any other job that requires you to assemble things together rather than creating something from scratch. Some would say that everything works like that now. “Creativity”, they say, is the basis of everything – not just art, music and design but business, science, personal relationships, sports, health, etc into infinity. You have to be creative!!!

I once talked to an artist who exhibits his own works, but also makes presentations about his field of art. He said that it took a lot more work to do the presentations, than to make the exhibitions. Finding the works that you want to present is the first step, but then you have to put them together in a way that makes sense. For him it was clear that this is worth more (money) than his own works are. It also makes me think of the times when a book review has been better than the book itself.

Most people might disagree, because content is considered as sacred. Content creators must be protected by complex bureaucracy so that they can make money. But times are changing. Curators, organizers and DJs make more money than the people who create the content. Good or bad? That’s not the point. It’s a growing tendency that we need to consider.


From this point of view, it makes sense for Ministry of Sound to protect their work. Now I don’t really know their compilations, but spontaneously I feel like what they do is more important than what composers and artists do. I guess most people would disagree, but in my world music creators are spammers hehe.

The last year I’ve put vast amounts of time and energy into research for that I run with Raquel Meyers. I have found plenty of other tumblrs who scan images from obscure old publications, and make them available with info, links, credits, context, etc. It’s really important and useful work, and it’s usually more interesting than following some music d00d or artist that only talks about themselves. Or a reblogger that has reduced him/herself to a distribution machine.

I really value the work of researchers, curators, compilers and compressors (??), reviewers, etc. Sure, the legal action from Ministry of Sound is absurd. But it’s no more absurd than the copyright industry who is currently fighting to incorporate streams, links and mentions into their business model. And that’s just about control and repression that puts money into lazy pockets. It has nothing to do with helping artists or audiences.

Anyway. Ministry of Sound probably sucks.

A Fluxus Tracker from 1961 (sort of)

September 2, 2013


In a previous post I suggested that a print-out by Lejaren Hiller as the first example of a tracker. Now I came across another interesting example, which appeared even earlier.

Music for Piano No. 7 was made by Toshi Ichiyanagi (Fluxus) in 1961.The instructions are arranged vertically instead of horizontally, just like in a tracker. And it could also be seen as a text-mode representation. While trackers normally only use the alphanumerical parts of the charset in its notation, this utilizes the other symbols of the charset. Just like I did in Remote Control Music Studio.

I think this is interesting as an odd proto-tracker. But the other isntances from this series are not as text-modey and seem to work with both horizontal and vertical organization. So, it’s not a spot-on example. But still. I wanted to have it here for future reference. So please enjoy responsibly.

Teletext Art – An Overview

August 16, 2013

If you describe teletext as obsolete, you couldn’t be more wrong. It is one of the most popular media in Scandinavia. Here in Sweden for example, teletext is still the #1 public service medium, and commercial channels still sell plenty of advertising for it. Despite public service serving people with decent content on tv and www, most of us can not stay away from teletext. It remains the #1 public service medium in Sweden, and in 2011 it was also the most popular app for the iPad, and the third most popular iPhone-app. Stick it to the hi-res man!

And you’re thinking: omg wtf lol why? I’m not sure. But it’s not due to a lack of fast internet. The access to high speed broadband internet is high around here, which indicates that “internet” is not a competitor to teletext. Teletext was not replaced by www, because the hi-res spam freedom of the web is no match for the editorial no-bullshit-no-advertising tranquility of teletext. Atleast not for the time being.


Now when that’s clear, let’s turn to teletext art. If context is what defines art, then teletext art is a quite recent thing. Early examples include works by Maki Ueda (Dutch TV, 2000), Jodi’s noisy Teletext (Dutch TV and www, 2002) and the xxxellent Teletext Babez by Dragan Espenschied (Dutch TV, 2001). Microtel (Dutch TV, 2006) was a group exhibition that involved plenty of people from the community. Page 444 by MOMS (Icelandic TV 2007) is also worth mentioning here, although the YouTube-clip has been removed since I found it in 2008.

We should also note Dan Farrimond’s The Pixel Is Power (2008), the first (?) teletext video clip I Will Glam (Spanish TV, 2009), The Sound of Ebay by Ubermorgen (www, 2008), För Text-TV i Tiden by Fredrik Olsson & Otto von Busch (Swedish TV, 2010) and fok_it by Joonas Rinta-Kanto (Finnish TV 2012). UPDATE: Also check out the conceptual Social Teletext Network (2013).

And of course, the International Teletext Art Festival is right now doing its second year, running in a number of European countries. I was asked to contribute, so I presented my Remote Control Music Studio. This year it seems to receive more attention than before, and will be featured at the prestigous Ars Electronica art festival.

sorry, I know it's annoying

The last few years Raquel Meyers has been doing plenty of teletext work, and I’ve been lucky enough to make music and stuff for it. We used teletext for live VJing at Transmediale earlier this year (Mind the Volcano) and at Bonniers Konsthall we exhibited Datagården – a teletext graveyeard, remote controlled by the visitors. In Datagården there was also a DIYobituary, with a video-camera/teletext feedback loop, as shown below.

These things ran on standard TVs, since it used the teletext inserter vbit by Peter Kwan. At the time this was the only affordable option for custom teletext, but now there are even cheaper solutions for Raspberry Pi (with less features, though).



If we turn away from the art world and consider teletext art in terms of craft and techne, teletext art is much older. Ever since the early years in the late 1970s people have been trying to master the craft of teletext. And it’s no simple task. Teletext only uses text characters (with semigraphic characters for the pixel-style) and 8 colours.

You can use control characters to change colour and size, aswell as add effects such as blink. But these control characters are shown as blanks, so changing a colour means that you have to insert an empty character. This is why there are usually thick black outlines in teletext graphics* and it’s also why horizontal compositions are so common. Below is a piece by LIA for the ITAF 2013 exhibition:


Almost all teletext graphics have been lost. It is not easy to archive for researchers since it exists somewhere “outside” the screen. For the TV-companies it would be easy to save the teletext pages, but I would be surprised if they ever did.

But hey – you might have a teletext archive at home! If you have a VHS-tape with a movie recorded from a TV-channel with teletext, you can play the tape and browse teletext as it appeared when the movie was aired. If you’re lucky, anyway. If you are one of those rare SVHS-people, chances are much higher.

Even so, there are still plenty of good teletext works online. We collect many of them at Go there and check it out (NSFW and meanwhile you should check these two teletext animation series:

Hands Up!  by Intelfax. A mindblowing effort! An animation series to teach sign language. It was done on a BBC computer (which had built-in support for teletext) using the Movie Maker software. Although it might seem absurd to do this in text-mode instead of using pixel graphics, this was likely a good option for long animations, considering the amount of memory available. Btw: teletext graphics was also (sort of) supported by the ABC80 computer, aiit.

Bill Geers painstakingly animated biblical stories in teletext are equally impressive to Hands Up and afaik made with similar tools.

If you want to dig more into the world of teletext, you should also check out its sibbling protocols: the interactive videotex used both teletext and more complex protocols like antiope (used by Minitel) where you could change the font, and telidon that also featured vector graphics. Check out John Fekner’s Toxic Waste From A to Z below. Finally, there’s telesoftware and the bizarre browse-the-internet-over-your-phone-in-public-on-a-specific-teletext-page thing  3text maffian (in Swedish).

* Pro tip: circumvent the blank control characters by clever uses of background/foreground colours and “inverted” characters.

₪ Future Potentials For ASCII Art

August 6, 2013


A. Bill Miller and I wrote a paper on ASCII art together last year, which was presesented at the French conference on computer art, CAC 3. Now we’re releasing it on behind a paywall! Nah, just kidding. This is PHR33 ZI3NCe w4R3Z!

Read Future Potentials For ASCII Art
(Logo by Spot/Up Rough)


For some purists, ASCII art is only representational text graphics that uses 128 characters. In this paper, we define it as a broader genre with several subcategories.

The paper explains some of the origins of ASCII art, such as square kufic, poetry, hacking, typewriters and net art. It briefly mentions the different levels in which ASCII art can be understood and manipulated (such as character encoding, typeface, screen).

We discuss the future potentials of ASCII art mainly in terms of non-representative art and the ways in which ASCII art affects the way we communicate. How, for example, tricky Unicode band names pushes us to come up with words for symbols we never talked about before (hey Prince!). Or how URLs, account names and text advertising has given new relevance to ASCII art skills, and also created new challenges for ASCII artists.

In that sense, ASCII has gone from object to subject. It is no longer only an invisible transmitter, but an active ingredient in the way humans communicate.

We’ve edited the original text slightly and added links and pictures. Without permission. Sorry. Enjoy! If you have any suggestions feel free to leave a comment or send a mail.

Text-mode Can Show Everything That Pixels Can, So…

July 16, 2013

Handmade carpet by Faig Ahmed, 2011

To say that all digital graphics consists of pixels, is a bad case of essentialism that makes us stuck in a loop. Here’s the full story!

On a perfect screen, pixels are the most basic element of digital graphics. Everything that is shown on that screen can be described perfectly by pixels. Obviously. But that is just the level of apperance. If we look beyond that, there is other kind of information and quite possibly more information, like here.

The pixel is a metafor much like the atom is (see this). It’s useful for many purposes, but it’s a model that doesn’t reveal the whole story. The same pixel looks different depending on context. It’s changed by the screen’s colour calibration, aspect ratio and settings, and it looks different on a CRT, beamer and retina screen. The data of an image is not the same as the light it produces.

It would be easy to claim that the lowest common element of digital graphics is text. Anything digital can be described perfectly in text as data, code, content, algorithms, etc. After all, it’s not real computation. But it’s not that simple. As you can see in this video, it’s possible to write code by pixeling in Photoshop. So, pixels and text can be interchangeable and neither is necessarily more “low-level” than the other. Another nice example is this page, where you create “pixels” by marking the text.


From Click and play!

In the work with I’ve thought a lot about this. One conclusion is that text-mode can show everything that pixels can. By using the full block text character (█), text art works like pixeling or digital photography – as long as the resolution is high and the palette is big enough.

In other words: any digital movie or image can be perfectly converted into text-mode as long as it’s “zoomed out” enough. This sort of watch-from-a-distance style applies to many other things of course, like the printing technique halftone. Halftone is pretty textmodey, especially when you can overlay several layers of text, like on a typewriter or on the forgotten Plato computer.

Alright, so. Normal thinking => images consists of pixels. Abnormal thinking => pixels consist of text characters (both literally and figuratively). The carpet by Faig Ahmed above is a traditional carpet design that’s been pixelized in the top half into a typical “retro” pattern. The bottom shows the original, which has many similarities to other ancient crafts. And to (non-typical) text-mode works using e.g PETSCII or ANSI.

So: digital imagery pretends to be analogue film but it actually shares more with e.g textiles and mosaics, which has looked digital for thousands of years. To replace the pixel metafor with the text mode metafor is to bring forth the medium and its history, instead of obscuring it. It’s also a way to put more emphasis on the decoding process, since we all accept that a text looks different depending on font, character encoding, screen, etc. And that’s pretty rare in times of media convergence psychosis.

Text-mode acknowledges that its building blocks (text characters) are not some kind of essential lowest level entity, but something that always consists of something else. And that’ll have to be the moral of this story.

More Computer Music Recordings From the 1950′s

May 6, 2013

zuse Z22_1

Before “the father of computer music” Max Mathews there were others who made computer sounds. In places like Manchester and Sydney, most notably. I assume that there are many just-for-fun examples that are long gone and forgotten. Rumour has it that Saab played computer music in the 1950′s, for example.

But here’s something more concrete. The German computer Zuse Z22 played music in 1958, and there is even a recording of it. It was Irrlicht Project who brought this to my attention (see his lecture on chip history) and he heard it from Stefan Höltgen. In an e-mail, Irrlicht Project told me:

In 1958, the Zuse Z22 was playing “Hänschen klein”, “Mitternachtsblues”, and probably some other stuff as well. I’m guessing this was first done at the production place in Neukirchen, Germany, though there is no info on the actual location available.

This was the same year that Janet Norman played computer music on TV, the Univac played christmas carrols, and Max Mathews released the second version of his computer sequencer.

10 years later Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 movie came out. As you might know, there’s this Daisy Bell song playing in the movie. It’s there because Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote the book) heard a computer sing that song in 1961, and wanted to include it in the book.*

In Germany however, there was another song, mr Irrlicht told me. Germans have a thing for changing the audio in movies, you know. So instead of Daisy Bell, they chose to play Hänschen Klein – the song that the Z22 played! So Hänschen Klein is like the European equivalent to Daisy Bell. Or atleast was. But it didn’t really catch on, I guess.

Hänschen Klein means Johnnie Small if you ask Google Translate, but it actually means small chicken, I think. If you ask Wikipedia, the song is called Little Hans. So a bit of confusion there. On the other hand, I think the real name of Daisy Bell is Bicycle Built For Two, right?

There is also confusion about the music of Z22. Plenty of information seems to be offered in a DVD, which these two links talk about. If you have more info (or the DVD) feel free to get in touch. If you want more computer music history, check out the timeline.

* Daisy Bell is usually credited Max Mathews. He did the background music, but it was actually John Kelly who made the voice programming. Let your loved ones know.

Media Convergence as Bubble-Bubble

April 22, 2013

I’ve complained about Bruce Sterling before, and now I’m about to do it again. The reaon is this chart of platform convergence by Gary Hayes that he posted on Wired. It argues that we’re moving towards one device that can play everything. But here’s the thing:

No device can play everything. That’s just common sense, right? You can digitize a VHS-tape and convert it into a format that modern media players can understand. But then it’s not a VHS-tape anymore. Everything that is special about VHS has been removed. It’s a bleak imitation, at best. Sure, the difference is less if you discuss, uhm, Real Audio or executable files. But it’s still the same principle. The juicy materiality (hard- or softwareal) has been stripped away.

Emulators are not the same thing as the original machine. They are not worse or better – they are just different. One example is the C64-emulator for iPhone that wasn’t allowed to include BASIC. Coding is not something that the iPhone should support. So the C64 became yet another boring gaming device, in iWorld. Btw, that follows the logic of the chart, that places the C64 just before … XBOX! Lol! The point is: every remediation & convergence both adds and subtracts. Things disappear. For good and bad.

Media convergence is obviously something that’s going on, in many different ways. And when I think about it – perhaps Sterling and his crew are right. There will be a machine in the future that can do everything. Yeah. I’m pretty sure there will be. Because we already had that machine so many times before. The magical device that can delete the material constraints and make your dreams come true instantly and without friction. Remember virtual reality in the 1990′s? Or home computers in the 1980′s? Or … I don’t know, beamers and wheel chairs and jet paks?

Silly comparison? Maybe a little. But we have to accept that these interface fantasies are cultural constructions that were as “real” or relevant in the 80′s as they are today. In 30 years people will patronize our fantasies just like we do today.

And when you think about it… A touch screen that you can use some fingers on? No keyboard? Unprogrammable systems, automatic surveillance, distribution monopolies… I mean. Eh?

This convergence is just a bubble-bubble. It’s not some unavoidable teleological future. Seems more like a temporary phase before we move towards divergence and paint that in terms of progress and optimism. Just like we did with the 1980′s computer market, for example. Seems pretty likely to me.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers