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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Vektron Modular (2010) - Niklas Roy

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Parametric Synthesizer

Originally via today and tomorrow

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Interview with Temporary Services

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Copies of "Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor, and Politics"

Independent, Chicago-based collective Temporary Services, comprised of Brett Bloom, Salem Collo-Julin and Marc Fischer, have been producing exhibitions, events, projects, and publications since 1998. More recently, they published the newspaper and website “Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor, and Politics” which assembles writing by artists, activists and academics about the economic decline and its influence on the livelihood of artists. (I previously posted one article to Rhizome from this collection, "Art Versus Work" by Julia Bryan-Wilson.) I had the opportunity to interview Temporary Services over e-mail, and they answered my questions as a group via Google docs. - Jenny Jaskey

This post is the concluding article in a series on art production and economy. To read the other articles in this series, go here for an interview with Caroline Woolard of OurGoods and here for an interview with Jeff Hnilicka of FEAST.

How did Temporary Services begin?

TS: We began in 1998 as a storefront space that presented experimental art projects and exhibitions. In late 1999 there were several people collaborating in and around Temporary Services. We decided to form a group. Since that time, the group has fluctuated in membership to arrive at the current configuration of Brett Bloom, Salem Collo-Julin and Marc Fischer, which has been stable since 2002.

Your most recent project is a paper and accompanying website, "Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Economics." What led to its development?

TS: We were invited by Christopher Lynn, the director of SPACES Gallery in Cleveland, to organize an exhibition. SPACES is an important art organization that has its origins in the nationwide alternative art spaces infrastructure built in the 1970s, and funded in part by a more adventurous National Endowment for the ...

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Interview with Jeff Hnilicka of FEAST

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As the second part of a series on art, labor, and politics, I spoke with Jeff Hnilicka of FEAST, a Brooklyn-based community dinner that funds the work of emerging artists. FEAST will be hosting their next meal tomorrow evening, February 6, from 5-8 p.m. at Church of the Messiah, 129 Russell St, Brooklyn NY. The event is open to the public. - Jenny Jaskey

What is FEAST and how did you begin?

Jeff Hnilicka: FEAST has been going on for a little over a year and runs out of a church basement in Greenpoint. There are around twenty people who help facilitate it. We come from the art world, food world, and design world, and we are connected to ideas of collectivism and immediacy - things like zines, living room dance parties, bike rides, and dinners. Many of us are also involved with Hit Factorie, an artist collective.

FEAST grew out of our desire to investigate the collapse of cultural production in the face of emerging sustainable food production systems that were successful. We wanted to ask “what is localism?” in relation to cultural production and how the structures of a farm co-op translate to an art economy. In the food world, the sustainable is the heirloom - that is the desired experience. In cultural production, the sustainable is relegated to the amateur, the “craft.” But we wondered: can you produce high quality cultural products using a sustainable model? Those were our basic goals. What developed was a dinner party, where around 300 people come to a church basement every couple of months. We ask for $10-20 donations at the door to attend the dinner, although no one is turned away. Artists propose projects over the course of the meal, and the guests select one project to fund. We vote democratically. Whichever ...

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Imperfect Sound Forever

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Many scholars within the field of media archaeology opt to focus on the backstory behind an influential medium or technology and map out how its inception and organizational logic (re)shaped the world. An alternative approach is the excavation and arrangement of fringe/forgotten prototypes into an array to problematize dominant historical narratives regarding technological progress. Caleb Kelly's recent text Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction uses two consumer technologies, the phonograph and the compact disc, to survey 20th century musical and artistic production. The book catalogs a broad range of experimentation with these playback technologies to create detailed timelines of misuse and critical engagement. In bracketing this realm of sound-producing practice, Kelly proposes "cracked media," a subversion of technological devices whereby "...tools of media playback are expanded beyond their original function as a simple playback device for prerecorded sound or image." Given the prominence of the glitch and lo-fi malformed digital artifacts everywhere from media art to pop music to web video, it is easy to take the aesthetics of failure for granted. The investigation executed within Cracked Media prefigures many of the discussions that underpin generative and glitch aesthetics by focusing on work that foregrounds and interrogates the materiality of two specific mediums. Kelly methodically tracks projects that subvert the CD and phonograph over the entire 20th century and in doing so he builds a fascinating discourse about musical performance and reproduction that is equally comfortable referencing Friedrich Kittler as DJ Qbert.

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Social Vibration (2009) - Dana Gordon

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A garment that bridges between our life in the real physical world and our web 2.0 increasing social activity. The hoodie can recognise other hoodies from same or related “social network”. In case a member of the same online community is present in the same physical space (around 10 meters), the hoodie activates a subtle vibration, announcing this presence to the wearer in a discreet manner.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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Interview with Caroline Woolard of OurGoods

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I first learned of OurGoods from an advertisement in “Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Politics.” Intrigued by their claim to provide an online infrastructure for artists to obtain goods and services without cash, I wrote to Caroline Woolard, a co-founder of the OurGoods project, to find out more. For those in the New York area, OurGoods will host "Trade School" in a storefront at 139 Norfolk Street in the Lower East Side from January 25th through March 1st.

What is OurGoods?

Caroline: OurGoods is an online barter network for artists, designers, and cultural producers to barter skills, spaces, and objects. Members of OurGoods organize creative projects with "haves" and "needs" and OurGoods matches barter partners, tracks accountability, and helps the business of independent, creative work. The site can be used to find collaborators, see emerging interests, or execute projects without cash. For example, I can help you write a grant if you make my costumes. OurGoods is a new model for valuing creative work. It fosters interdependence and strong working relationships. You will get your independent work done with mutual respect instead of cash.

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Required Reading

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Never mind that the decade really ends in a little over a year, it's time to take stock of it. Today's post looks back at the decade just past while tomorrow's will look at the decade to come.

As I observed before, this decade is marked by atemporality. The greatest symptom of this is our inability to name the decade and, although commentators have tried to dub it the naughties, the aughts, and the 00s (is that pronounced the ooze?), the decade remains, as Paul Krugman suggests, a Big Zero, and we are unable to periodize it. This is not just a matter of linguistic discomfort, its a reflection of the atemporality of network culture. Jean Baudrillard is proved right. History, it seems, came to an end with the millennium, which was a countdown not only to the end of a millennium but also to the end of meaning itself. Perhaps, the Daily Miltonian suggested, we didn't have a name for the decade because it was so bad.

-- EXCERPT FROM "A DECADE IN RETROSPECT" BY KAZYS VARNELIS

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It's time for my promised set of predictions for the coming decade. It has been a transgression of disciplinary norms for historians to predict the future, but its also quite common among bloggers. So let's treat this as a blogosphere game, nothing more. It'll be interesting to see just how wildly wrong I am a decade from now.

In many respects, the next decade is likely to seem like a hangover after the party of the 2000s (yes, I said party). The good times of the boom were little more than a lie perpetrated by finance, utterly ungrounded in any economy reality, and were not based on any sustainable economic thought. Honestly, it's unclear ...

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Top 5 - 10

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Loud Objects Noise Toy

Nick Hasty is Rhizome's Director of Technology



Here's my top 5 list of DIY audio art kits to keep you busy in 2010.

► Arduinome

Open source, Arduino-based version of the monome controller interface that utilizes usb midi and open sound control. Great for controlling instruments, installations, and performances.

► Casper Electronics Drone Lab

Peter Edwards' Drone Lab is a 4 voice analog drone synth, rhythm generator and FX processor. A great kit from one of the kings of circuit bending.

► Loud Objects Kit

Simple but powerful kit from the Loud Objects performance group. You can easily integrate your own code to write new low-bit jams.

► Triwave Picogenerator and other assorted kits by 4ms

4ms has been making a wide variety of wonderful and novel instruments for nearly 15 years. These guys are pros and extremely nice to boot.

► the x0xb0x

Open-source version of the Roland TB-303. What more could you ask for?

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Interview with Ele Carpenter

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Image: Open Source Embroidery Window Display at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art
(Photo credit: Travis Meinolf)

The exhibition “Open Source Embroidery” opens tonight at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco and it will be on view until January 24, 2010. The show is part of an ongoing project, initiated by Ele Carpenter in 2005, which examines how both embroidery and code can be used as tools in participatory, open source production and distribution models. “Open Source Embroidery” brings together artists, crafters, and programmers to explore this topic in the form of workshops and exhibitions. I spoke to curator Ele Carpenter further about the evolution and multiple realizations of the Open Source Embroidery project. - Ceci Moss

How did your larger research into socially engaged art and new media art evolve into Open Source Embroidery?

Socially engaged art and new media art practices share the language and concepts of social networks, participation and collaboration but they also have distinct histories and operate within very different social spheres. In the world of media arts people have been excited about the potential of the internet to be used to connect communities of interest for a long time. But new media didn’t invent participation; people who work with social networks on the ground already knew how much time and genuine involvement is needed to facilitate meaningful interaction. New media seems to have pulled ‘participation’ into the culture of ‘cool’ technology. But the most radical impact is the politicized culture of digital media testing the legal and ethical frameworks of production and distribution.

I was looking for a way to make tangible some of these ideas: to make visible older forms of collaborative production such as patchwork, and newer collaborative projects such as open source software. I wanted to ...

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