100 YEARS OF THE COMPUTER ART SCENE (transcript)
Presented by Jason Scott and RaD Man (ACiD)
Notacon Conference - Cleveland, Ohio, USA
April 23-25th, 2004
Since the first time that machines could calculate, people have twisted,
modified, hacked and played with them to create art. In a fast-paced hour,
we're going to do our best to capture 100 years of computer art, the magic
of the art scene, the demo scene, and a dozen other "scenes" that have been
with us as long as computers have. Prepare yourself for a roller coaster
of visual and audio history as your two over-the top scene pilots take you
on "the story so far" to the artscene.
(Speech begins with soundtrack from the Farb-Rausch 64kb demo "Poem to a
Horse" playing in the background.)
...[This was created with] The Product, which is basically a way to create
these kind of graphic demos block wise. The entire program you're looking
at here is 64k. It makes DirectX calls basically and creates this
beautiful piece of work. It actually goes on for about 3 minutes,
constantly changing graphics. That weird bar you saw at the beginning was
a metric ton of uncompression.
What you're seeing right here is somewhere near the cutting edge of what we
have now in what's known in the demo scene. But, in actual point of fact,
what we're going to cover here is not just what's going on right now, but
where this all came from and why it exists.
That slows down a 1 gigahertz machine... But, anyway...
(The demo is stopped, cutting the music.)
So anyway, my name is Jason Scott. I run a site called TEXTFILES.COM.
With me is RaD Man. RaD Man runs an art group called ACiD. How many of
you here know of the art group called ACiD?
(Crowd cheers and hollers.)
Alright, so, basically, the name of the talk is "100 Years of the Computer
Art Scene". That was a marketing trick, but what are you going to do.
Technology, as far as man has always approached it, incrementally over
time, it gets better and better, but the biggest problem you have is
adaptation. How do you convince people that they were doing things this
way, and now they want to do it this way? And because your big metal
honking clanking thing is much better than however they were doing it by
hand. Interestingly, if you really look at the history of communication
technologies, and later computer technologies, its kind of surprising how
much art actually plays a point into it.
In terms of this narrative, we're going to start somewhere around
telegraphs, which is a little ways in, but what're you going to do.
Telegraph technology basically involved using wires to send dashes and dots
indicating some sort of code that could be decoded over long distances,
therefore allowing you to send messages basically instantaneously, an
amazing difference for that time. Where as before, when Abraham Lincoln
was elected, there were parts of the country that didn't know what their
new president looked like for 3 or 4 months. And didn't know he had won
for weeks or months, simply because the communication wasn't there. So the
addition of this instantaneous traffic changes the world, markedly.
In doing my documentary on BBSes, I had someone propose to me that in fact
telegraphs are the first BBSes. And the reason why is because when you
traditionally think of telegraph, you think of some little guy with a
little hat going "da-dit dit da-dit dit dit!" Within a very short time
this is amazingly inefficient. A guy is not going to sit there with a code
paragraph and just be reading it and doing this. What they do instead is,
when people come in to purchase their messages, they type in a message onto
a little machine that produces a strip that has the dots and dashes. And
this is what gets pulled through a machine that does the dots and dashes.
In doing that, they end up creating a store and forward system. Basically
you have a situation where you can have people buy codes in the middle of
the day, and then over night they just do it. Well, one of the side
effects of that is that the young people who are running these stations
send messages to each other during down time. During the 2:00 AM and
3:00 AM period. Since there is no star network in the way we usually think
of it that makes it easy to go say directly from this part of California to
Illinois, they end up having to pass it through other people. So people
are agreeing to do this, and they are passing along this messaging system.
Along with the telegraph comes the typewriter. The typewriter is a really
big deal because the typewriter takes away a portion of the printing
experience away from professionals and puts it in the hands first of
businesses and then of individuals. There is a semi-famous author whose
name I unfortunately forget, but I do know the quote, that upon gazing upon
the first typewriter said "Oh, all the poor novels that shouldn't have been
written that will be written now."
(Laughter from the audience.)
And the reason why is because it took away this little boundary. You had
to write something good enough that you could afford to go to a guy to turn
it into a type set book that could then be made -- well now you could just
write out your damn thing. And it's going to look the same. It doesn't
matter -- well, it matters a little bit if you're typing at 2:00 in the
morning versus you know, 4:00 in the afternoon, but it's a misplaced letter
as opposed to an illegible bird scrawl that you'll never be able to read
So, it's kind of interesting that in doing research, we found a piece of
typewriter art. And there is a woman who this is attributed to, a Mrs.
(Correction: The earliest preserved example of typewriter art was made
in 1898 by a woman named Flora Stacey.)
There are most likely earlier examples, but in the late 1800's -- the
1880's, 1890's, she creates a butterfly out of a typewriter set! So
basically what you end up with is you end up with this set of letters. Now
see what she has done is instead of looking at it as a device for creating
letters, she is looking at it as a device that you force the letters to
instead become a piece of art. And this is a theme that continues on
through the modern times of taking this piece of equipment and saying
"Well, it's cute that you make it do this. So what can I do with it? I
think I'm going to make it do something it's not supposed to do, because
that's much more amusing to me."
I'm going to play you a piece of music. I'm not going to tell you what's
making the music. It's a piece of music...
(Music begins playing...)
So what this is -- This is "Raindrops Are Falling on My Head" being played
by an IBM 1401 printer in the late 60's. If you look at the screen, this
is an unbelievably expensive printer to be doing this with.
Obviously this is something you don't really want to be doing during work
hours. It's costing them thousands of dollars, who knows how long, how
hard they had to work to figure out which keys created which noise.
(Member of audience inquires if the IBM 1401 is a dot matrix printer.)
I'm pretty sure it's daisy wheel.
(The next printer song begins to play...)
This one is a little tougher to hear, because they're trying to do chords.
It's theoretically the "Blue Danube". But I don't buy in. If you listen
for a while, you'll go "My God, it IS the `Blue Danube'! It's this piece
of work." Basically, in this cacophonous piece of crap, you suddenly
discover that these guys -- this thing, this particular version of it --
the printer came out in 1961. They did this in 1970. Which tells me that
maybe it was a little older, maybe it was a little bit, you know, it wasn't
something that every department was trying to get their hands on. So, of
course you have to assume this is some of the ugliest looking printing you
There is everyone's favorite, the classic computer picture. And isn't this
great? It's a laptop. One of the things that this really portrays to me,
is not just the size, but the importance that's applied to this technology,
because it represents a major part of their budget. So the people who are
creating this artwork -- there you go, now it's kicking in -- and, when
people after hours decide, "I want to do something different with it",
sometimes the projects they do become one of the only ways to justify these
pieces of machinery. Unfortunately I can't get it to --
(The Blue Danube song concludes.)
Thank you. One of the most famous situations of this is the Daisy song,
which is played on an IBM computer in the 1940's, and it sings!
(Correction: "Daisy Bell" was reproduced on the IBM 7094 in 1961.)
I mean it literally sings. Now, unfortunately I couldn't -- it was only in
Real media so... Fuck 'em.
But it was, it basically -- what really struck me at the time was it plays
music for the first minute. It does not play -- it doesn't come right out
(snap) singing. It's gotta play its chords, it's gotta play going, "Look!
Look! I can do the chords!" And then, IN WITH THE TOPPER. Start singing
on top of it. And then people who are looking at this are going, "Oh, this
is why we bought this machine! Because it's a million dollar machine that
And that's really the thinking behind it.
Now, we have our other beautiful piece. You know it's kind of sad in some
ways, this is an Apollo -- It's kind of sad in some ways because these kind
of faked up, commercialized images of these old computers are often all
that we have because they were the only ones that were allowed to come in
with cameras and screw around. You couldn't just bring in your little
crappy Polaroid Instamatic. So what you end up with is this very sterile,
very clean, very strong sense that they're these precious little diamonds
to be handled with kid gloves. But you know, people don't do that when
they're faced with a piece of technology! They go, "Well what happens if I
jam this into here?" So people will stick microphones where they
I have a musician who I am working with for my documentary, his name is
Tree Wave. His music is pretty good, I might play the trailer at the end.
But the music that he is making is being made using a -- he's got a
Commodore 64, an Atari 2600, a dot matrix printer and another different
kind of an Atari. Which he has in some ways, especially with the printer,
he has soldered recording heads on to it, so that the sound of the printer
is what is being picked up. This ends up producing a rather interesting
kind of fun sound, but probably not under Epson's original design.
I'm going to move forward to the GRAND SCHEME of all things, art-wise.
When microcomputers start to come on the scene, this changes everything.
Microcomputers made it so that the barrier to entry -- you no longer, you
know -- in the early 70's there was semi-serious talk of creating a license
to use computers because at the time they were expensive, people's lives
depended on them. So maybe you should go through an accreditation, maybe
you should not be able to get on your first computer, you get your training
computer and then you move -- you know, that's where things were kind of
But then, the Altair comes along... Now anyone can buy one for hundreds of
dollars, and everyone gets to buy one. Now the big thing with the Altair,
besides being one of the most successful examples; they needed to sell, I
think it was 200 to be profitable. They didn't have any, they didn't
exist. But they knew if they got 200 orders, they could afford it. They
got 200 orders the first day. And just went on from there.
At the Homebrew Computer Club, where Steven Jobs and Steven Wozniak met,
besides showing -- they showed the Apple I. But one of the other
demonstrations that was given there, which I do not have a recording of,
was somebody figured out that his computer, which I believe was an Altair,
gave off an unbelievable amount of RF frequency modulation. He figured out
what bits to flip to make noise, enough that it could play songs if you
stuck an AM radio next to it.
And so, now keep in mind, there's no way for him to save this. So he's got
to be in the back, flipping away as fast as he possibly can during the
meeting so it's ready for people to look at. Because he had no way to save
off all that program information. And that's one of the other themes you
see with a lot of artists. They do an awful lot of work to achieve a
I'm going to step away from "IT'S A BOY" and its classic sense, just to
move back. One of my original hopes had been -- there seems to be a
relatively interested crowd, but we always try to intersperse pornography
as often as possible because it plays such an important part in the world.
You gotta do what you gotta do.
During the ham radio period -- Hello there. Hello Roxanne. It's been a
Roxanne here probably dates back to the late 60's, early 70's. She's done
using something called a remote teletype. Which is basically a way to send
text messages over ham radio -- and basically any radio -- but ham radio.
And ham radio enthusiasts loved this, because they're on ham radio and
that's kind of fun, but within a short time it's like, "Well, what else can
we do? Well, we can kind of send data to each other." And they create
RTTY art. And so you end up with Roxanne.
Roxanne is not wearing much, I just want to point out. But Roxanne just
wants to be friends.
I talked to a gentleman named John Sheetz (K2AGI), who ran the RTTY art
contest, whose compatriot has died but he has not. He told me a little
about the story of this. Because after a while they started to have
contests in the early 70's. Who can make the best one of these? And who
can make these particular graphics look the best? And then they would have
a vote and see who would win.
For some strange reason, this one also seems to be a nude! And, so you can
see we start to get some very interesting -- obviously, I'm being pedantic,
but yes, these are not characters that were designed for art! This is
`H', `A'. A person has to look, I mean, at some point an artist looks at
it and says "Well this `M', that represents this kind of shading in my
mind, so I'm going to allocate it this way." And digitization is not -- as
people later make machines that do art, people go "Well, they must have
always been that way" without realizing that at one point it wasn't that
John Sheetz told me that the way they would do it, is that -- one guy he
knew of would actually take his Playboy centerfolds and put them into the
printer of his RTTY and then he would just look at it by eye, what was
under the little square, and he would go "Period!"
And he would type it! And then he would do the next one. And this guy is
hand-eye digitizing this piece of artwork. This is an enormous amount of
work! And in the end he has a nude, so it actually works out okay.
One of the things that they later moved to is multi-sheets. So basically,
you have a sheet, and another sheet, and they've "digitized", or typed in,
this piece of artwork that you have to print out line feed paper and then
cut off the margins and then attach them; and they end up with these
beautiful massive murals. This is again, an enormous amount of work.
But you know, someone looks at that and goes, "Where do I buy one of those?
Where can I get one of these pieces of work?"
So, with the addition of the microcomputer, we move to the consumer micro-
computers. And with that I'm talking of course of the Apple, the Atari,
the Commodore 64. Now here is an interesting situation, because now these
computers are not just going into the hands of people, they are now being
happily forced into the hands of children. And nobody has more endless
capacity to waste energy than children. So -- Especially ON PORN.
When you look at a piece of art as a kid, you start out simple. You go
with letters, you try to make things like you remember them too. In the
Apple world, this is where we seem to trace it back -- In the Apple world,
when people cracked a game, and by cracked a game I mean of course removed
the protection, they would -- the idea with cracking it was to be able to
make it small enough to transfer across a modem, because if it was the full
disk it would take forever, but if you knocked it down a small bit, that
could mean the difference between a 5 minute transfer and a 15 minute
transfer. That's quite a bit when you're looking to get your warez.
So the programmers who did this, the crackers who were able to go into the
code, were pretty good at it. And they wanted to be proud of it. So not
only were they bad ass enough to go ahead and put up their own programs,
but they were actually able to add their own introductory screens to their
programs. What we see here then is the Apple crack screen, which starts
out. It tells you who it came from, special thanks to -- you know, like
it's a Hollywood production (laughter) -- in this game. And of course you
know, call our bulletin board system. Here's an easily traceable phone
number of the guy who cracked your game.
It's not very long before they start moving into graphics. It's not just
going to be, "Here's our text, here's our stuff" -- it's going to be
"Here's the WALL, the FIRE" for Fahrenheit 451. Incremental moves. But
it's coming, right. So then, when you start getting these kind of involved
-- these are all circa 1982, 1983, these Apple screens are coming in. I
don't have a lot of them here, but you know, this is happening on the
Commodore world as well. The Commodore had a lot more graphics and sound
than the Apple, it could do a lot more in that fashion, so groups who were
cracking there are creating these things.
Along these different ones -- aren't those colors great? Aren't they the
greatest thing in the world? The Arcade Boot Camp is a good example. Look
at the palette of purple, green and white that you have to choose from, and
how he tries to fake out the brown at the bottom. Again, it's cracked by
the Penguin, and the Intern, and call the South Pole at our number in
Illinois. The reason what you're seeing here is that on the Apple you had
monochrome and color monitors. The color monitor was kind of a hack, so it
kind of didn't do things right. A good artist who was doing work, had to
know what it was going to look like on both these screens. And in this
case you can see they do their best, it looks a lot better in monochrome,
that tells you which one that guy was working on.
Now, around here again, bunch of things -- obviously in some of these cases
this is totally stolen ripped art that they've taken from the game and just
put on a few pieces of text. Somewhere around here -- Oh, the Bit Biter...
This is the one, I don't have an animation for it, you'll notice that this
particular text here is squelched along the side. The reason why is
because it scrolls in. This is important because apparently still frames
weren't enough. They've got to put in a thing saying, "WE CRACKED IT", our
message is so important; "WE CRACKED IT".
This is the roots of what later becomes the demo scene which RaD Man is
going to talk to you about.
Again, this is the genesis. What you have here is you have people who are
justifying what they are doing by creating artwork. After a while, the
guys who know how to shift bits are probably not the ones who know how to
get all the nice fonts in. It doesn't usually transfer over, and sometimes
it does, you know, Renaissance man. But not often. So they end up having
to give it to somebody. You end up with a division in your cracking group
who does art! And that's why eventually these art groups who go, "Why are
we hanging around a bunch of pirates? We could go solo!" And they start
creating artwork on their own and creating their own groups of nothing but
art. This especially happens first on the Commodore 64, but later moves on
the Amiga, is a really big one that causes this. Where it's just, you boot
up the disk, and all it is, is them going, "Look at the graphic we did!
Look at the thing it's doing! Look at the music we're playing!" Music
groups are split off as well, doing their music for art groups, and so on.
The part that RaD Man comes into is something -- a good example of where a
piece of technology starts out as one idea, and becomes something
completely otherwise once you put it in the hands of people. And basically
there is something that we call the ANSI standard, but that's kind of a
lie. There was a standard for VT-100 terminals and early terminals for
cursor control -- there was a series of standards for what code could you
send, mostly involving the escape key, escape and you would create -- you
would say "this this this" actually means make the cursor go back so that
way you could send it along the regular way.
This became a standard under the American National Standards Institute,
ANSI. And it's ANSI standard number, huge number. Do you know the
standard off hand?
OK, ANSI 3.64. So this tells you this code does this, this code does
this, this code does this. Around the time that IBM comes out, IBM PC
comes out -- and, of course, everyone was waiting for the PC to come out
because they knew as soon as IBM came in they would crush everything in
their wake and that would be the end of it. So it's kind of fun with
these little candy colored plastic boxes but, "Oh here comes IBM, screwed,
So they're all kind of watching this right, and so it comes out. And
whatever IBM implements wins. So IBM tapped a young strapping, beautiful
Microsoft to do a lot of their work in terms of the operating system.
Along that way, as an extra bonus feature. Do you want to tell the story
better than I?
Around 1984 is when the Commodore 64 scene starts to appear. People
were creating these introductions that were elaborate displays of graphic
artwork that were similar to what you saw on the Apple II. And in some
cases the graphic art that introduced the -- that was basically the credit
screen of the cracked game -- the graphic quality of that was better than
the game itself. And that carried on into the Amiga scene as well. Where
you'd start up the game and load it up and go "Wow! This game
looks very exciting." And then you actually start playing the game and
you're like "Wait. The crack screen looks better than the game I'm playing."
And this trend continued over to the PC as well. I can recall a game,
Operation Wolf, cracked by The FiRM. You would look at the intro screen, and
it's in a higher resolution than the game can actually play in.
Around the mid 80's, people started to fool around with the ANSI medium,
which was the standard method that people used to transmit colored characters
and text on a BBS. Has pretty much everyone here pretty much used a BBS?
The one thing that is important to note though that I should have mentioned was
the addition of this ability to handle the control characters on the IBM was
a complete strap on.
Completely. They implement a poor subset of this standards set, call it
ANSI, and just yeah -- they extend it a little bit, they don't implement it
correctly, and it's not default. You gotta go out of your way to make it
come on. So it's kind of buried underneath there. It's like when you find
out there's a command in Windows that's kind of like a UNIX command but
they don't mention it anywhere and how it works, kinda, except it doesn't.
And with ANSI.SYS, you had to say, when you boot up the machine,
"DEVICE=ANSI.SYS" or it wouldn't even know how to deal with these
characters its self! But once it did it, it becomes this -- it does these
cute graphic characters, of which are a subset, and which contain
characters that don't exist in any other way so you're not compatible with
anybody. And they called it "ANSI". They just call it ANSI.
This is kind of like when people call CD-ROMs "ISOs", because it's short
for ISO-9660. They just... call it... "standards body".
Standards. It's like picking up something you do out of a rule book and
calling it "rule". It's just "rule book". "I'm doing rule book today."
That kind of tarnished, not quite great, completely optional, "Who cares
about it, we implemented it because somebody probably wanted it for some
business customer, just put this in and it will work, we don't guarantee
anything" is the foundation of what RaD Man is going to mention to you --
is founded on.
ANSI, as a standard -- the standard that we're referring to is X3.64, it
was finally, I guess you could say, ratified in 1979. So, it didn't take
too long until people started to play with this medium and go "Well I can
use this for more than just a standard for terminal control." And so
people started to manually go in and take these codes and try to create
artwork with it. The first program that there is any like, that you can go
back and find is actually called ANSI Draw. And that is what inspired
Ian Davis to create his own software program that he thought -- he saw ANSI
Draw and he said, "This program is lacking. I need to create something
that is better, this sucks." In 1986 he created the very first version of
The Draw. And that's when different SysOps started creating these
beautiful works of art that you can see here. Such as this fine piece
And that's a template. That's the best part. It's actually blank so you
can put in your own announcement. For "IT'S A BOY" for you to spread to
Dog House BBS... So people started to -- these were basically the
introductory screens that you would see when you would first call a
bulletin board. It would say "Welcome to Geno's Place". This was,
obviously, this was a collaborative piece of work here by Keith and Les.
So, as time went on, people started to send these pieces of artwork through
message networks. Such as FIDO net, WWIV net, and later WWIV link and
different other, Metrolink, different other networks. So then, that is
when, that was probably the very first start of the, I guess you could say
the ANSI art community. People started seeing these other pieces of work,
and they would reply back, "Well here's my latest piece of work." And they
would communicate that way. And eventually the SysOps of these boards
created forums that were dedicated to nothing but ANSI art. And so then
people stopped creating ANSI art that was just for a BBS, but then started
doing stuff that was just for the sake of drawing itself.
Then, in 1989, a group was formed called Aces of ANSI Art. They were the
first group, the first association of people to go, "You know what?" -- By
the way, this was on the underground side of things. Everything I've
displayed so far, is what you'd see on a standard bulletin board anybody
could have access to. I'm sure you guys all know back in the 1990's it was
really cool to be in a group. That was the cool thing to do. If you
couldn't get into a group, if you had no skills, then... create your own
(Laughter and applause.)
And so, that's what these people did. They said "I can't crack games, and I
can't code this. I can draw ANSI though! So I'll create Aces of ANSI Art."
We started seeing that come along in 1989. That in turn, led to the formation
of ACiD. Members of Aces of ANSI Art disbanded and formed a group called ACiD
in 1990. And let's see a couple of early pieces... Mr. Bill's Casino, that's
There we go, OK.
This is actually -- this is later, this is created by an artist, Killa Hertz.
This is a actually a combination -- now this is kind of tricky, because it is
-- it is an ANSI, because it's using ANSI codes, but it's not what people would
refer to as a traditional ANSI piece because it's using text characters and
not the blocks. That's an internal scene thing, but it is an ANSI. And if
you zoom in here you can see that these are all dollar signs. This fine master
piece here was created by Killa Hertz who was actually a combination ASCII
artist. He was primarily an ASCII artist, but he liked to color the ASCII
art. So... Really, the difference is just a matter of semantics, they're
pretty much the same thing.
Now, at the same time that all of this was happening on the PC world, again,
there were the people in the Commodore 64 scene -- this predates all the
ANSI thing, we're going back a little bit -- in 1984, these people that
were creating all these cracked games and such on the Commodore 64 in
Europe, they wanted to have a place to get together and trade all their
games so they didn't have to mail them. A lot of them weren't into
phreaking, or doing that, so they would send out their disks, through the
mail, and they were called "traders". Those were -- that was what
eventually became "swappers" or "couriers", it's all the same thing. So
they would all gather together at this party. It was basically a copy
party. They would just trade warez all day. That's all they did.
They were good times.
And eventually, the people that were creating these elaborate pieces of
work that were breaking off, not needing to create this artwork for the
cracked games any more, decided, "Well, why don't we start demonstrating
some of the beautiful works of art and music and animation that we've done
and show that off as well?" And so, the copy parties evolved into what is
now known as the demo scene, the demo parties. People would come together
and compete in all these different categories that they were proficient in.
The Farb-Rausch demo that you saw earlier, that was a result of that.
I'm jumping back and forth here a little bit. Let's see... Let's see...
This is a good piece right here.
It's good to point out here that this is in fact text. What's going on
here is -- it's being -- here in today, in 9 milliseconds we took a piece
of text like this, loaded it in, shrunk it, and looked at it immediately!
Now, this text, which again, like we just said is composed entirely of
these ANSI characters --
And this would take a few minutes to load. If you called a bulletin board,
and this was your welcome screen, you would just be like in awe, sitting
there. It would take a good two minutes, it would go line by line.
And there's no -- and again, these artists don't really have an easy
functional way to look at this thing from a distance. This is basically
what this kid is looking at right here. Slowly creating these things. So
later, when they started thumb nailing them and offering them up for
download, sometimes these artists -- this was the first time they were
seeing them in that format. You know, "Oh! I guess it looked good!" And
then some times you could see where their proportions were a tad off, and
you ended up with some extremely rounded people.
In this -- Now, again, in this case, this is being done by people who are
relatively young. This is a piece of art, but it also tends to have
information along the bottom in the same kind of text. This particular one
doesn't have a lot of it because it's an opening screen. GLAD TO SEE YOU.
You'll see also that it's got credits for the ANSI itself and who made the
For whatever reason in this artscene, it becomes important over who creates
which font, and how interesting their font is. With some basis in
graffiti -- there seems to be some cross over between graffiti artists and
letterers, and people want -- when RaD Man speaks of things like, what did
he call it, he has a stupid name for it like ANSCII.
Oh ANSCII, the combination of ANSI... Colored ASCII.
Within a very short time, you've got to delineate yourself within this art
scene. In other words, you have to come up with something and you have
have two choices: either (1) Draw better than everyone else or (2) Draw
pretty well as everyone else with an unbelievable limitation on yourself.
Then, you go well "Yeah, I know it doesn't look as good... BUT I DID IT IN
They're like "Well, that's pretty good! That's an excellent little piece
of work!" So you end up with -- I've seen that one, that's boring...
Where is our...?
RAD MAN: Oh. That's that one probably, 495.
Here's a case where he's doing it in black and white. Doesn't give himself
any color information, and concentrates -- the only thing he has now to
delineate himself is shading. And I believe he has only has 4 or 5
He's making use of 2 grays and black.
(Audience conveys astonishment.)
So that's what he's got to work with. So you look at it -- once you
realize this, it's a case in art; sometimes you need the information that
goes with it.
Like "Oh, that sounds pretty good",
"Oh yes, but he did it with a calculator",
"OH, then it's REALLY good."
The actual use of the technology changes the quality of the art in your
mind once you become aware of it. One of the problems that they have, you
look at old movies and you're like "Well, I guess it looks pretty good" and
then you realize that they did it with absolutely no electronic control,
there was 3 days before they even knew it even looked good, they had to
shoot it on film that was of this quality, and then you say, "Well, now
it's -- that's really something!"
In fact you get to the point that the technology becomes so easy that they
spend a lot of their time trying to emulate the flaws and mistakes of
previous times. For instance in a lot of music, a lot of rap music or
dance music you'll hear vinyl crackling. Which is a complete fabrication
simply to say well because in the old days we used a bunch of -- we didn't
have the XJ 5 5000 to sit here and do this kind of emulation, we had to
have records. So you make it sound like records.
Also, if you look at some of the earlier screens that were being drawn in
the mid to late 80's. You'll notice that they're all -- all these images
are much longer, these are hundreds of lines long.
OK. These are shaded blocks right here. They're making use of 2 grays.
They're doing a hack on anti-aliasing with 3 shaded blocks that you have in
ANSI. This is like a combination of dark gray and light gray. When you
step back from it, it appears that it is another shade of gray that they
really don't have.
But the thing is, they're hacking using -- it's a different form of
hacking. One of the side effects of this being a digital based art is it
is very simple to transfer. As opposed to -- once this person has created
this, this is out there. They put it in front of something, they put it in
front of a pack. And then it's got descriptions of what they were trying
to do with it. Now it is out there, it's becoming transferred around, it
becomes something people want. It puts down a gauntlet.
You end up with these other groups who say, "Well, we can do that even
better, but our name is THIS." And you get things like iCE, Fuel, Alive,
Mistigris. You end up having these groups all with different interesting
acronyms. ACiD stands for ANSI Creators in Demand which later has a rival
in iCE, Insane Creators Enterprises. It's not until you have iCE and ACiD
facing off in this endless battle --
-- You end up with this kind of -- this situation where they're going to
make each other better. They're going to try to get members from each
other. They're going to try to just do things -- that's the kind of thing.
Yes, it does have a gang land aspect to it from a very safe comfortable
distance behind the screen.
Right, and case in point on that. There are examples where people would
guard their phone lists, and they would only give out certain artists'
phone numbers to a set, exclusive, trusted group of people that they -- a
really elite group of people that they would trust with these phone
numbers. They were afraid that another competing group would call them up
and try to recruit them into their group. There were these wars, and you
can see -- there is plenty of ANSIs where different artists are making fun
of other artists in opposing groups.
It is, it's basically like any sort of competitive environment that you're
in. That is what I think really inspired a lot of this artwork to come
from what you saw with "IT'S A BOY" to what you see here.
What I was saying earlier was that a lot of the earlier ANSIs that you see
are much shorter in length. The reason for that is they're 25 lines long
versus the hundreds of lines long that you see here. The original ANSI
editors, they didn't think that anybody would want to scroll text
endlessly. They weren't thinking in that way. The reason they were 25
lines long was because that was how long your IBM PC could handle, an 80
columns by 25 lines long screen. It wasn't until the mid 90's people
started to create ANSI editors to make these scrolling length ANSIs such
as ACiDDraw and then later PabloDraw.
It's worth noting that in fact -- it's good to know because sometimes it's
not known outside -- a lot of people know of iCE or know of ACiD because
their stuff filtered up into the internet or filtered out into some
bulletin board systems. But certainly by the mid 90s, there are literally
dozens upon dozens upon dozens of groups! Who are aware of each other, who
are creating things that make fun of each other, and there are other groups
who are creating nothing but house organs, news letters, and e-magazines
that talk about what's going on in these other groups. You end up with
this situation where there is an entire, literally a subculture, based
somewhat on conflict, on one-upmanship, and very important to the people
that are in there. A level of myopia that seems almost incredulous if
you're standing 5 feet back. You're all part of the same group, right?
There were ANSI and demo scene tabloids almost that would detail all the
little conflicts that were ongoing between all the people involved.
These scenes were actually quite huge. There are thousands of different
ANSI groups that have popped on to the scene in the past 14 years.
It's also noteworthy to mention, when these first ANSIs first started
coming out, they didn't have any sort of organized method of distribution.
They were first distributed over the message networks, and they were
eventually, you know -- SysOps would say, "I'll store 300 messages, and
that's the cap. Anything -- when I get 301 I'll delete the first message."
So these things weren't being archived. These great works of art were
just created, posted up on a bulletin board, and then when they'd cycle
through that was the end of their life. They weren't stored anywhere so
you could retrieve them later --
(Audience member comments that they were stored on the artist's hard disk.)
Well, then you'd have a hard drive crash and you're screwed.
So what happened was, somebody suggested, "Instead of uploading these to
message networks and uploading these to bulletin boards, why don't you save
these in a package so people could download these later and view all of
these ANSIs in their leisure?" In 1992 the very first artpacks were
released, and that also heightened the level of competition that there was
between all of these different competing artists. These things would get
uploaded to all of these bulletin boards world wide and were showing up in
places where people wouldn't maybe ordinarily see them. They would see
this art for the very first time that way.
Right, and they would release them once a month with a header saying, "This
is the November '92 artpack" which would then become the December '92,
which means you've got one month to come out with your next piece. And if
you MISS YOUR DEADLINE, this self imposed deadline where you are literally
calling up your artists, your band of people, to say, "I need the art in by
the 15th because I have to make the pack ready for the end of the month."
You've crossed into this other level of art. You're now working!
You're on the dark side now.
Yeah. You're working really hard to create this pack, which again, from a
distance seems rather easily dismissive.
I think you find here a lot of parallels to things like hacker subculture.
Where you might have a piece of code that needs updates. If it doesn't
have updates you start to look bad. Somebody else says "Well I can do it a
little better than you. We've changed the standard and we can implement
this better than you." And if you don't keep up with it then you have
people who are on your team -- now it's not -- because it tends to appeal
to a slightly older group, you don't tend to have as -- you have
territorialism but you don't have just the pure, you know, this program
version does not in its info file immediately say, "This other program
BITES COCK, TOTALLY BLOWS. If you use it, you will get an unbelievable
amount of cancer from this thing." -- In the source code you have it.
One of the most interesting -- again, this is a side thing -- but one of
the most interesting things that I found out about ANSI art that I didn't
know before was that sometimes these guys would put comments in black text
on a black background, into these. Only if you stepped through them would
you see "the message" where they were making fun of the other groups.
Otherwise it would scroll by and no one would be the wiser. And so you
kind of had to now go through these 100 line pieces of art and look for
what they tucked away for you. That's the kind of -- that's the level
of depth you find in this, you know.
Interesting, deep kind of thing.
Alright so -- I'm going to -- was there any other aspect of this you wanted
Nope. OK, excellent. Alright. In that case, once again, keeping to the
theme I promised... Where are we switching to?
Porn. Excellent. I'm going to play you -- we're going to play you
Candytron, which was one of the top demos of 2003 by the same group
Farb-Rausch. Farb-Rausch has been kind of dominating things lately.
Again, this is a 64k program. Has music, has sound, has synthesized
voices, uses DirectX to do a lot of its trickery. But, you know, it's an
impressive piece of work.
Anyway, I hope you've gotten a different idea on all of this subject.
Again, this is an ongoing project for myself with ARTSCENE.TEXTFILES.COM.
RaD Man has actually gone out of his way the last couple of years --
worked on collecting a few gigabytes of ANSI art which he has for sale
here. If you wish to have an ACiD beanie, this is the time to get one
please. You can easily get it.
Again, we just encourage you -- take another look at these kinds of old
scenes because they're the ones you want to be a part of. Thank you
very much, please.
Everyone is just in silent awe waiting for the porn. Where's the girl?
(Audience begins to chant "PORN" mixed with laughter.)
(Candytron demo and music begins playing.)
64k, that's including the sound, the music and the voice that's singing
I had the opportunity to watch a small documentary on Farb-Rausch. They
got a little bit of news. They actually wrote -- the program The Product
doesn't look too much unlike 3D Studio. And says "Do this here. Make this
happen here." And they're constantly adding to it to make new effects.
Demo parties are now extremely popular. You have demo parties like Assembly
located in Finland which has an average of 5,000 attendees. They actually
rent out a stadium for it. The Gathering is also very similar, many
thousands, 4,000 attendees. It's a really huge thing, it's got a whole --
I don't know what you'd call it -- it's almost a sporting event.
Every year they have competitions, they have demo competition, 64k demo
competitions, 4k demo competitions, you have free style music, you have
a music writing competition. Basically, these are all things where they
are putting artificial limits on people's art, to try to force them to have
to re-think it! If they're let loose, and they do have the freestyle --
the full demo competition, you end up with 16 megabyte demos, which have
a lot of pre-recorded stuff. There is something still very interesting,
magical about the fact that something did this in 64k!
(Audience member comments that this demo is using DirectX.)
That's one thing that should be pointed out. This is a 64k demo with a 20
megabyte library; DirectX. A purist would say you can't use DirectX. In
the early days of demos they didn't have floating point. They had to do
floating point on the fly to do these things. So when a curve went by that
was a big deal.
(Candytron demo concludes.)
Anyway, hope you've enjoyed it. Thank you very much.
(Applause from the audience.)
BIO FOR JASON SCOTT:
Jason Scott is the creator of the textfiles.com family of websites,
covering a wide range of computer history with a focus on dial-up bulletin
board systems and early internet. Over the six years of running the sites,
his mission has expanded to include audio, PDF, the artscene (demos and
other graphic works) and basically anything technological and old. For the
last three years, Jason has been traveling the country interviewing
subjects for an epic 3-DVD documentary/mini-series on dial-up bulletin
board systems. (www.bbsdocumentary.com) He has interviewed over 200
people, including his co-speaker, RaD Man. Jason's last con appearance was
as keynote and regular speaker at Rubi-con 5.
BIO FOR RAD MAN:
RaD Man is founder and president of ANSI Creators in Demand, now simply
known as ACiD (www.acid.org). This art group has run for over 14 years
with regular releases of artpacks, BBS mods and software products,
including ACiDdraw (1994) and The Product, an electronic magazine. Now in
"retirement", he has aimed his energy at documenting the artscene and
history that has led up to it. He is both a subject in Jason Scott's
documentary and a researcher working behind the scenes to ensure its
accuracy. Recently, he finished work on a DVD-ROM of 14 years of artpacks
by ACiD and many others called Dark Domain (2004), available at
Speech transcribed to ASCII by Ghost Rider (a!p) on May 1st, 2004