The Demoscene -- an Overview

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Ikari crack intro for Commodore 64 from 1989

1. Introduction

The demoscene is an international collective of programmers, graphics artists and musicians who create real-time audio-visual presentations with home computers. These people call themselves demosceners or just sceners. The real-time presentations are in turn called demos. Geographically the demoscene is a European phenomenon, with relatively little activity on other continents.

In this article, we want to introduce demos and the demoscene to the uninitiated reader.1 In the recent 10 years or so, social scientists, humanists and media researchers have written a number of texts that present the topic. These studies have been overviewed in our online research bibliography, Demoscene Research.2

Generally, the existing studies can be separated into two domains. In the first of these, the demoscene has been viewed as artistic activity. Secondly, many researchers have assessed demoscene culture as a particular way of life, for example as youth culture, counter culture, multimedia hacker culture or gendered community.

These existing works have opened up important and relevant points for discussion. But at the same time, they have often taken quite an abstract and an outsider perspective to demoscene practices. Having been active demosceners ourselves from the 1990s, we feel that the real live action of being in the scene should also receive its share of attention.

In this introduction, we thus focus on what demosceners do and the diverse artifacts they produce. We describe the basic concepts used by the sceners and explain the scene's key social conventions. The final section concludes with tips for further reading.

2. What Demosceners Do

As the name already suggests, the main activity of the demoscene is making "demos". A demo is a series of computer graphics effects with a music soundtrack. In most cases the demo -- short for demonstration ...

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Don't Mouse Around (2006) - Jeremy Bailey

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Eten (2008) - Olivier Otten

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From the series "selfcontrolfreak"

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Unknown Continents (2010) - Anders Bojen & Kristoffer Ørum

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Unknown Continents from Kristoffer Ørum on Vimeo.

Computer generated landscapes in films and computer games increasingly influence the way we imagine alternatives to our present day lives. In collaboration with Ardor3D, who have worked with among others NASA, the artists have developed a real-time 3D programme. Continents emerge on one globe after another in an infinite series of alternative worlds. Each potentially inhabitable world is a unique computer generated model and exists only while it is observed.

-- DESCRIPTION OF UNKNOWN CONTINENTS FROM THE SHOW "ADVENTURES IN IMMEDIATE UNREALITY"

Originally via VVORK

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Hello Process! (2008) - Marloes de Valk and Aymeric Mansoux

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hello process! shows a machine doing what it does best, deleting, copying and moving blocks of data. The installation consists solely of a computer and a printer. The computer functions as it usually does, as a black box theatre of processes. The only output comes through the printer, giving us clues about the activity inside, while in the background, the raw noise of the machine creates a sound scape, a sonification of this theatre of naive computation.

A file of 128 blocks is created. In this file, each block can be occupied by a small piece of code. Every piece of code has its own strategy. Some try to conquer as many blocks as possible, others simply target one specific piece of code or an unsuspecting neighbour. When the process is set in motion, all blocks are executed one after the other. This results in a battle between the file’s inhabitants. After forty iterations, a fresh file is created with a new combination of code.

Each piece of code has a special ID. This ID is sent to the printer every time the block is loaded in which the code is residing. Each printed line represents the result of one battle cycle. 128 small graphical representations of code are printed. This process repeats 40 times, creating a map of abstract patterns depicting the changes that took place. There is some duality in this theatre of naive and nonproductive computation. We like to think of processes as actors in a machine theatre, playing with anthropomorphism and metaphors to trigger the imagination. Each piece of code has a descriptive name such as copycat, eraserhead, destroyer, or swapmaster, and displays behaviour to match. But at the same time these programs are just mechanical low level operations, totally inhuman. In the end the ...

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Four Letter Words (2010) - Rob Seward

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Four Letter Words consists of four units, each capable of displaying all 26 letters of the alphabet with an arrangement of fluorescent lights.

The piece displays an algorithmically generated word sequence derived from a word association database developed by the University of South Florida between 1976 and 1998. The algorithms take into account word meaning, rhyme, letter sequencing, and association.

The algorithm's tendency towards scatological or "dark" subject matter is influenced by a variety of language and perception studies, especially Elliot McGinnies' 1949 study "Emotionality and Perceptual Defense."

While the piece was conceived with idea of displaying algorithmically generated lists, it was designed with flexibility and expandability in mind. The individual units can be connected ad-infinitum, and are theoretically capable of displaying any length of text. While Four Letter Words deals with a specific range of content, the technology can be easily expanded for future textual experiments.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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Group Theory Grid (1969) - Tony Longson

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computer assisted painting

Via the compArt Database of Early Computer Art

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Untitled drawing (1978) - Stephen Bell

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Data generated using Ranstak program and "helix" shapes
Plotted on newsprint with cyan, magenta, and yellow edding 1380 brush-pens. 9" x 9".


Via the compArt Database of Early Computer Art

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untitled (sine curve 2) (1969) - Charles Csuri

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black and white plotter drawing

Via the compArt Database of Early Computer Art

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Compart Nr. 11 (1970) - Peter Kreis

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Colored plotter drawing

Via the compArt Database of Early Computer Art

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