Chip music and the 8bit demoscene – Hacking, Open Source and Remixing

On: December 15, 2008
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About Rosa Menkman
I like to take photos, make movies and read about new media and art. Last year I graduated on internet art (wrote my master thesis on the internet collective Jodi). Now I am in the Research Master media studies. My blog my Flickr my my


Anders set up a Commodore to give us a nice blue and white powerpoint straight from the machines memory. I have been wondering if this was an act of maximum open source or not…

Chipmusic and the 8bit demoscene – Hacking, Open Source and Remixing
Lecture by Goto80 aka Anders Carlsson

demo•|ˈdemō|: noun
A demo is a linear, non-interactive audio-visual presentations that runs in real-time on a computer or console (Added by Anders: also advanced calculators etc.)

Whereas the demoscene is predated by display hacks from the 50s, and phreaking (experiment, hack or explore possibilities in the telephone system) in the 60s, the roots of the demoscene lie within the cracking scene of the very late 70s. In the cracking scene kids illegally copied and spread videogames via BBS’s (the first webpages with a modem that you can call into), often adding their own tags at the intro of the game.
Over the years these start screens became more important then the spreading of the game itself, as kids would spend more and more time into developing special intro screens. These intros finally evolved into standalone realtime generated videos programmed in Assembler and often explored non documented possibilities such as illegal opcodes. This scene revolved around measuring and comparing skills and being “cool”, or as Anders put it, the demoscene is a system that is based on meritocracy.

The demoscene grew up outside the market and laws that everybody had to follow. It is a very obscure, internal and bound subculture. Because most products are open source [[ 11/07/09 as reply to Viznut: yes you are right not everything is open source ]] remixing is very easy. Moreover, all the works are easy to reverse engineer since the code is always accessible through ‘disassembly’. (but it is harder to read that code, since ‘labels’ are removed. so there is no ‘free text’ anymore labeling a piece of the code as ‘jumping chains of death’, ‘shitfuck’, or ‘dogman’, or lolcat). It is striking then, that even in this day and age, remixing doesn’t play a big role within the demoscene; in fact, the whole scene is based on an originality dogma. The people that are not doing cool stuff (like copying someone else’s code) are sanctioned by the collective by losing their ‘status’.
As history plays a paradoxical role, lately the chip music scene has had a lot of problems with copyright, since artists (like Crystal Castles and Nelly Furtado/Timbaland) from outside the scene have been ‘remixing’ music for commercial purposes, without permission from the makers. read more.

Define:chip music [in Amiga scene]
The [[ edit 11/07/09: Most ]] music in the Amiga demoscene is made within the MOD format. When you load a MOD file, you have the same possibilities as the maker, which naturally means that all the music in the Amiga demoscene is open source. Although chip music (or chiptune, etc) as a technology existed long before the demoscene did, the name chip music was first used (very end of the 1980s) within the demoscene. Since then, its definition has become very fuzzy, not in the least place because the chip music scene is only partially affiliated with the demoscene. Around 2003 the former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren described chip music as an anti movement, protesting against the internal politics of popular technologies, mainly consisting of hacking the gameboy and anti-karaoke music. He stirred up a lot of protest within the chiptune scene.
Obviously, Anders doesn’t agree with McLarens description of Chip music. At Haip he shared his personal definition of chip music, which I think was the most interesting part of his talk.
Mr Carlsson diverses between chip music as a form and as a medium. Chip music as a form refers to a popularized, socially constructed music genre which sounds like 8bit computer chip bleeps, but isn’t necessarily created with the help of these technologies (music created with emulators for instance, also falls in this category, for now). It (often) sounds like poppy dance music and is (often) not open source but instead distributed within the mp3 format. This is also what most people talk about when they refer to chip music.
When we define chip music as a medium, this music genre becomes technologically defined and is thus made within an old machine. This kind of chip music also has a more technological-experimental side. Mr Anders admits that this definition is often useless in a social context, because it is very difficult to hear what techology is actually used, even for the nerds (emulators are becoming better and better).

I would like to close with two other interesting points about Anders presentation. The first point was the brief comparison between the Demoscene as the first digital global subculture and mail art as its non-digital counterpart.
Another special point of interest was the fact that very few demos got exhibited till now. I think that with recent festivals and exhibitions like Realtime Generation and Lassi Tasajärvi (hehe origami digital) this is about to change.

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