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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Alpha+Beta (2009-) - Michael Willis

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Excerpt from Spanus Iros (2010) - Laurence Punshon

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Poster Company (2010) - Brad Troemel (for IMPRESSIONS)

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Untitled (2009) - Poster Company (Travess Smalley and Max Pitegoff)

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Pietà (2010)- Micah Schippa

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Marble Workx (2009) - Petra Cortright

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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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Sunset Solitaire (2005) - Joe Mckay

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[Video clip of "Sunset Solitaire" here]

In this performance/video I've written a program on my computer that lets me mix the sunset live. I have three gradient fields that I can constantly change with specially devised hardware. I then project from my computer onto a garage in a field behind my studio. I did this a few times - each time I went back to the studio and messed with the software, and each time I got a little better at the game.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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Knowledge Work(s): In Search of a Spreadsheet Aesthetics

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I sympathize with the protagonist of a cartoon claiming to have transferred x amount of megabytes, physically exhausted after a day of downloading. The simple act of moving information from one place to another today constitutes a significant cultural act in and of itself. I think it's fair to say that most of us spend hours each day shifting content into different containers. Some of us call this writing.

- Kenneth Goldsmith, 2004

While Kenneth Goldsmith's wry statement about knowledge jockeying is directly discussing the plight of the contemporary author, his comments are useful for thinking about other disciplines. In editing this quote, the word "writing" could easily be replaced by any number of verbs (programming, composing, painting, storyboarding, etc.) as we undoubtedly inhabit an era where creative transposition rather than raw creativity can be enough to drive a project. The ctrl-c clipboard, the layer palette in photo editing software and the flash memory of a microcontroller are all examples of spaces that serve as staging grounds for storytelling and crafting aesthetic experiences — these are interstitial zones where art gestates. Goldsmith clearly doesn't approach the creative process with reverence, and his blasé attitude is an excellent springboard into reading contemporary artistic production in relation to knowledge work. An important question: How might we appropriate this daily activity of "shifting content between containers" as a site (rather than a means) of artistic production? This article will consider the aesthetics of the spreadsheet, and act as the first installment of a series that will engage projects that explore the documents, software, interior architecture and politics of the contemporary workplace.

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