Homebrew Electronics

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noteNdo Live at Blip Festival 2008

Homebrew Electronics is a new series on the Rhizome blog. For these posts, I will be conducting studio visits with artists and inventors who create unique electronic instruments.

Last week, I met up with Jeff Donaldson, aka noteNdo, on a particularly sweltering summer day in his studio in Bushwick. For close to a decade, Jeff has been modifying video game consoles to produce glitchy audio and visual material. These machines form the backbone of his practice, which began primarily in a live performance context, and has expanded from there. In the past few years, Jeff has begun to apply the patterns created from his consoles into material form by making scarves and prints, and more recently, he’s moved into fully immersive, interactive installations. For this studio visit, he walked me through a number of his consoles.

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Jeff Donaldson's modified Nintendo NES Leo

Meet Leo. Named after Leon Theremin, this Nintendo NES from 1985 was one of Jeff’s first projects and has become a staple in his work. He got the idea to make animation after a vivid dream - and set out on his Nintendo NES, the only tool he had at the time.

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This is the patch bay for Leo. Patching the jacks offsets a short circuit that creates a visual effect, which Jeff discovered through trial and error. The patches allow him to revisit these effects - which are essentially bad reads by the system. Leo allows you to swap in and out different games - exposing the cartridges to the visual effects produced by Jeff’s modifications. Jeff described Leo as essentially an “auto-collage system” allowing a reworking of the original material through the settings he has determined.

Early, basic NES glitch from noteNdo recorded straight to VHS tape in 2001 ...

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IX (2008) - H3X3N

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H3X3N is a group of Computer Witches who have built an enchanted cube that casts magical spells on computers. This cube, called IX, is a New Media Artwork that will be shown at DEADTECH, an art and technology center and gallery in Chicago, this Saturday May 10. The IX cube casts spells on Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers, hacking and hexing these operating systems. IX combines traditional stage magic tricks and irony as elements of Hacker culture to create an Interactive Installation and Software Art project. IX has been exhibited previously at the Interactivos? exhibition at the Media Lab Madrid in Madrid, Spain.

-- DESCRIPTION FROM THE H3X3N BLOG

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A Visit to Babycastles

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The setup downstairs at the Silent Barn.

Yesterday Ceci and I went out to Silent Barn in Ridgewood to meet with Kunal Gupta and the other guys who run Babycastles. Babycastles is a DIY arcade space with a rotating set of independent games curated by local artists and game designers. The space is usually set up for play during shows at Silent Barn, but they'll turn the machines on and let you play if you come by any time they're around.

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Dismantled laptop for a costume in Babycastles "Indie Game Cosplay Music Video Shoot Machinima" party

When we arrived, the guys were prepping for a big "Indie Game Cosplay Music Video Shoot Machinima" performance/dance party with CHERYL that they are throwing this Saturday, part of Game Play at the Brick Theater. Upstairs they were disassembling old laptops so that could be attached to the costumes of cyborg dancers that would double as playable arcade games. While they tinkered with soldering guns and laptop guts we played a few rounds of Tristan Perich's 1-bit game KILL JET on a small portable TV about the size of a car battery. The game is operated using two buttons, one to move the plane up and the other to move it down. For previous installations the game was played on a larger TV with the buttons attached to the back, so that the player had to hug the screen in order to play. Kunal showed us some of their costumes in progress and discussed some ideas for interactive dancing machinima gifs before we headed downstairs to see the arcade.

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Jacob playing Tristan Perich's KILL JET

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Glamour shot of Tristan's circuit board for KILL JET

The current series of games on display at Babycastles is curated by Zen Albatross ...

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1 Question Interview with Billy Rennekamp

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Billy Rennekamp, Big Head Mode, 2010

This weekend, DIY storefront art space Cleopatra's in Brooklyn will be hosting an exhibition for Billy Rennekamp's WIN WIN. The event kicks off tonight with a talk on video games and cheats hosted by designers/writers Charles Pratt and Simon Ferrari. This exhibit is an extension of Rennekamp's BA thesis project at Bard, titled Big Head Mode. Focused on the idea of cheats in video games, and especially the agency yielded by the use and development of cheats in game play, the works in this installation comprise a 3D video game made by the artist, a prepared version of a Pokemon ROM, and a mix of hand sewn and store-bought sports balls littered throughout the space. In anticipation of the show, I conducted a one question interview with Rennekamp, à la Rafael Rozendaal's One Question Interview blog.

(Full disclosure - Billy is a former Rhizome intern extraordinaire and a member of badass internet surf club Loshadka.)



What makes cheats so satisfying?

We spend our life building up this little rule book that describes how everything works. So when we see something that defies these fundamental rules, we freak out. The unusual and unexplained are always fascinating.

Things are supposed to work a certain way. They've worked that way forever. But then they stop and the rules might bend or even break. When that happens a special energy is produced. Every time something rare occurs--something outside the ordinary--people make wishes and try to harness that power. Needless to say the power is felt. When I was three I got bitten by a Brown Recluse. My arm was swollen with pustules for weeks and the necrosis on my hand left a permanent scar. There's nothing beneficial about a scar, but I ...

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The Kick Off

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Internationally renowned OFFF festival convenes in Paris, France, from today until the 26th at La Grande Halle De La Villette. Born from art collective/art agency Inofffensive, the festival stakes its claim as being the “vanguard of the avant-garde” for digital culture, with a simple mission - to earn “some money by doing commercial works and then spending it on crazy, commercially suicidal art projects.” In keeping this ethos, speakers/performers range: from French artist Patrick Jean, to street art bloggers Wooster Collective to former New York Times art director Steven Heller.

Befittingly, in its tenth year of inception, OFFF looks to reflect on the zeitgeist of nostalgia. Titling this year’s show “Nostalgia for a Past Future”, the festival hits upon a key problem for any designer that John Berger lays out in Ways of Seeing: the promise of the future sold by capitalizing on the longing for the past. Yet, heightened by the speed with which trend cycles move (and even more so with the speed of digital culture), for OFFF this issue is circumvented when we forgo trying to recreate narratives of the past and approach nostalgia as a tool for communication.

So, what can we expect?

In the Processing Pixels workshop, Daniel Shiffman looks to transform the treatment of pixels by reconfiguring the relationship between the coded information and its pixelated representation.


Patrick Jean will give a talk about his work in the Openroom. Inspired by the aesthetic of late 80s/early 90s video games, Jean has made a name for himself across the Internet with the video “PIXELS”.


Bleep Labs have come to the fore with its Thingamaboop instrument. Playful from inception, Thingmaboop, embedded with Arduino programming capabilities, is modulated by movement, light sensing LEDs, and is amenable to most synthesizers. In addition to a demonstration ...

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"Mark Essen Makes 8-Bit Action an Art" on Motherboard.tv

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In this clip, Motherboard.tv profile video game artist Mark Essen. It's a nice, brief overview of Essen's practice.

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Two New Turbulence Commissions

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Networked art non profit Turbulence announced two new (sound-related) commissions yesterday - WWW-Enabled Noise Toy by Loud Objects and Moments of Inertia by R. Luke DuBois, with Todd Reynolds. Be sure to check them out - you can read a bit about the works below.



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WWW-Enabled Noise Toy by Loud Objects (with funds from the Jerome Foundation)

Loud Objects (Kunal Gupta, Tristan Perich and Katie Shima), NYC-based circuit sorcerers, present a wacky way to learn hardware audio programming. The WWW-Enabled Noise Toy invites anyone with a web browser to write their own audio code, program it remotely onto a Noise Toy, and play it live via webcam. In the spirit of “try it yourself” software demos, the website provides a simple environment for experimenting with low-level microchip-generated audio. Load code from the Loud Objects’ own library of performance algorithms, hone your own noise techniques, and add your work to the online archive to share it with other microchip coders and create an open source noise community.



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Moments of Inertia by R. Luke DuBois, with Todd Reynolds

Moments of Inertia is an evening-length performance based on a teleological study of gesture in musical performance and how it relates to gesture in intimate social interaction. The work is written for solo violin with real-time computer accompaniment and video. Moments consists of twelve violin études written for Todd Reynolds - ranging from 1-10 minutes in length - each of which uses a different violin performance gesture as a control input for manipulating a short piece of high-speed film (300 frames-per-second) - of objects and people in motion. Taking its cue from principles in physics that determine an object’s resistance to change, the violinist’s gestures time-remap and scrub the video clip to explore the intricacies of the performed action.

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Interviews from netpioneers 1.0

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The following interviews were sourced from netpioneers 1.0, a research initiative active from 2007 to 2009 that was devoted to early net-based art, organized by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Media.Art.Research. in Linz, Austria. All the interviews were conducted by Dr. Dieter Daniels.

Interview with Wolfgang Staehle

Interview with Helmut Mark

Interview with Robert Adrian X

Interview with Konrad Becker

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The East is Coming! The Demoscene in Eastern Europe

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Altered States by Tabo0

In 1988, a short note - titled “THE EAST IS COMING!” -- was published in well- known German cracker zine Illegal:

Have you ever heard of groups like "H.I.C." or "F.B.I."? Well, these crews are from Hungary! There is also an eastbloc-scene like in West Europe. I got demos from POLAND and U.S.S.R.

This is one of the first documentations of something like “the scene” in Eastern Europe. The Iron Curtain separated the editors of Illegal from people that were making cracks and demos in the Soviet Bloc, but this text is evidence that this barrier was not a problem for young computer nerds.

“The scene” in Eastern Europe has its origins in so-called “computer markets” in Warsaw and Budapest, where every weekend hundreds of people would sell hardware brought from the West along with pirated software. Such markets were just big copy parties. Teens with their C-64 brought in their backpacks would copy dozens of pirated games. Back then, nobody had even heard the word “copyright”. There was no need for cracks, as most games were provided with them by German and Scandinavian groups. Obviously, every game also had a cracktro, but at the beginning it was difficult to figure out what the scrollers and greetings were about. Some people even thought that Triad, Ikari and Hotline were just decent game companies.

Later local crackers started replacing the cracktros of Western groups with their own to make ads for their small entrepreneurships. One of the first Polish cracking groups was named WFC - World Cracking Federation - quite a prestigious name for a few guys pushing warez on the Warsaw market. Because of strict border controls there were no computer markets in Czechoslovakia, “the scene” was very small there.

Cracktro by World ...

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Diskmags: Underground Journalism of the Demoscene

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Sex'n'Crime #14, one of the first disk magazines (Commodore 64,1990)

Disk magazines, or just diskmags/mags for short, are digital journals that were originally published on diskettes (hence the name). They share some common properties with their traditional printed counterparts, such as ads, sections and articles, but some features, such as their background music, distribution channels and interactive navigation spring from their digital nature. The demoscene has actively created diskmags starting from the late 1980s, and before the Internet age they could be considered as one of the most important international communication channels of the community. There were also commercial diskmags published by companies and user clubs, but they will not be discussed here.

Diskmags, quite naturally, deal with topics that are of interest to the community. There is a wide variety of content available in them: for example, the largest issues of Imphobia sported as many as 250 articles, spanning several hundreds of pages. Among the most typical topics are news, discussions about the changing field of technology, swapping ads, programming tricks, party invitations, competition results, and interviews of notable demoscene members. Back in the day the discussions were often heated, complete with wars between groups and name-calling. Charts, where people could vote for their favorite groups and productions used to be common as well. Such ranking lists serve as an example of the competitive nature of the community.

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R.A.W. #6, an example from the golden age of diskmags (Amiga 500, 1993)

The first diskmags, such as Sex'n'Crime, were simple and contained maybe only a dozen of articles. In a few years the amount of content and the audiovisual sophistication increased considerably, and as can be seen in the second picture, the magazines on the Commodore Amiga already featured a graphical user ...

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