October 11 2019
The CBM 8032 AV project is an exploration of the beauty of simple graphics and sound, using computers from the early 1980’s. This work is about the ambivalence between a contemporary aesthetic and the usage of obsolete and limited technology from 40 years ago. Everything presented within the project could have been done already in the 1980, but it needed the cultural backdrop of today to come up with the artistic ideas driving it.
When artists began to explore computers as medium in the 1950’s, technology was limited and the resulting minimalism in expression was a necessity. Half a century later, teams of thousands of programmers work on high-end games and movies, utilising clusters of the fastest computers available. The sight of a green cathode ray tube display once was the promise of an exciting future, now it is nostalgic.
The act of performing
A large projection at the back of the stage is mirroring the output from the video computer.
These machines were never meant to be used for the creation of audiovisual art, and the results are slow, harsh, geometric, with low resolution and exclusively monochromatic green.
The Commodore CBM 8032 itself was released in 1980, at a point in computer history, when a lot of groundbreaking work was done that shaped the world we live in. The invention of the microprocessor a decade earlier ultimately lead to such diverse results as game consoles, digital synthesisers and smarter washing machines.
Hardware : Graphical Possibilities, Sound
Equipped with a 6502 and 32kBytes of RAM, the CBM 8032 is several ten thousand times less powerful than any machine today.
Each screen position can display one of 256 possible letters and graphical symbols as defined by Commodore’s PETSCII character set [see screenshot above]. The CBM 8032 AV project is exploring this unique quality.
The CBM 8032 also has extremely limited possibilities to create sound via a single 1bit sound output channel, that is more a hack to allow simple audio feedback for user actions.
We added a self developed circuit board featuring two 8 bit digital analog converters ('DACs') and an additional 8 bit parallel output bus. This extends the computer's capabilities into way more sonically interesting domains, using parts already available in 1980.[detailed technical breakdown]
It also required collaboration, the task of writing all the software and building the hardware additions became too much for one person. In 2019 we were a team, working together on making an idea become reality.
The CBM 8032 AV project is as much a technological exercise as an artistic research project. It is impossible to separate one from another and this is partially what makes it special and rewarding.
And science needs intuition to work, relies on the ability to think the previously unthinkable. Building computers and programming them is no exception. Whilst working on the CBM 8032 AV project we had to involve ourselves deeply with the architecture of the hardware we are using, we had to gain an understanding about signal flows, states, connections and timing sequences.
Artistic decisions had to be derived from the palette of possible options, in a dialogue with the available technology from 1980, and by doing so also in a dialog with the people who invented these systems.
The Sky is the Limit
Our sound routines are feeding directly two eight bit DA converters, and we have no concept of a fixed sample rate. If the process is simple enough, we can produce a stream of samples with 100kHz sample rate or more. We are able to produce very specific textures with that. And the longer we were working with the green cathode ray tube ('CRT') displays, the more we became aware of the beautiful smooth and soft decay of brightness when a character or pixel is turned off, and the extreme difference between illuminated parts and darkness.
This project has many details and properties which makes it unique, simply because its inherent structure only allows for doing things in a certain way, or produces a specific aesthetics from within.The role of the artist is to embrace this and to interact with it.
The creation of this project involved many people, either because they were working with the artist in the atelier on it, or by remote collaboration, or by providing helpful insight into details on their websites, in the books they wrote about programming in assembler or the mailing lists they do maintain. Too many to mention all of them. Still: thank you !!!!Robert Henke: concept, musical and visual composition, performance, hardware development, systems architecture, sound routines
Anna Tskhovrebov: graphics routines, sequencer routinesRalf Suckow: video mirroring system development
..and: Alma Steinfeld, Gizem Oruc, Mitchell Nordine, Joshua Paris Batty, Colin Fraser, Tristan Perich, Herr Freyer, Mike Wolf, Susanne Kirchmayr.
Photo on top of page and above 'Art.Science.Technology' taken at the premiere by Mihály Podobni / fenytkepezo.tumblr.com