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Second draft Version:
Before modern networking technologies such as WI-FI and Bluetooth were present, people developed methods and techniques to modulate data into sound in order to interchange digital information. By encoding binary data and high-frequency signals into sound waves within the audible spectrum of the human hearing range, it became possible to store all kinds of digital information on the same consumer media formats that were used for music recording at the time such as audio cassette tapes, vinyl records, and Flexi-discs. Since these media offered the opportunity for audio playback, people started experimenting with broadcasting data in the form of software and images over the radio. 1&2
Because these methods and standards were created under limited technological conditions – the internet was not yet commercially available and simple programs took a long time to load – they were quite inventive and also required some physical operation: the act of capturing, archiving, processing (loading) software and images created a close relationship to the materiality of data, its source, and carrier. These methods quickly became obsolete when floppy disks were introduced which could hold a lot more data. Later in the early '90s when the internet started to enter people's homes via dial-up modems and phone lines, the modulation process started to become more concealed and techniques were further developed. With the introduction of ADSL lines and wifi, the audible traces of data modulation got lost.
In my project, I will research obsolete methods and processes of data modulation by reappropriating them and implementing them into modern frameworks and contexts. In today's wide range of networking and data transmitting options, I believe the affordances and value of these obsolete methods such as KCS (Kansas City Standard) and SSTV (Slow Scan Television) are still relevant and therefore important enough to keep them alive.
Output: framework, tools & material
I will be mainly working with methods that focus on possibilities to transfer various forms of data over sound. The practical work I will produce can be divided into the following parts:
In the central part of my work, I will develop a technological transmitting/broadcasting workflow that uses both old and new methods of modulating data in the audible spectrum. This will make it possible to encode and decode all kinds of data (text, images, code) into audible data signals back and forth and while revealing the processes that are running in real-time. This framework can be accessed and used through a text-oriented (command-line) style interface and an IRC (Internet Relay Chat). A bot will be giving instructions, tell stories, generate messages, receive input, and sending output, etc. Here, the visitor can f.i. use their phone to physically capture and encode data that is being sent over sound to create a different relationship with the interface. The output that is generated will be 'invading' an existing media platform such as Spotify and Instagram.
Implement framework in performing tool
This framework will be the foundation of the tool I will develop. This tool can be used as an 'instrument' for interactive audio-visual performances. In the performance, the interaction between operator and tool will demonstrate the modulation of data based on input. The tool can be used in various ways, based on interaction produced by script and choices. I am currently investigating ways to embed these forms of audible data into music. For the KCS method, I want to explore the possibilities of materializing the generating output by recording it on magnetic tape.
As a musician, I am involved in the global chipmusic community for more than 10 years. This scene mainly focuses on making music with obsolete sound chips from vintage game consoles and early home computers. Since there seem to be a lot of people with creative backgrounds involved in the scene, making graphics with ASCII is often used since it's closely related to the artistic output of early home computers. In the chipmusic community, new tools to create sound and images by using obsolete methods are invented often. Knowledge sharing can be considered a common basic community value, from which I both benefited and contributed in the past.
Next to that, I have a background in graphic design with an interest in typography. Since I started to work as a teacher 5 years ago, I grew interested in playful ways to share knowledge, working with limitations, and experimented with ways to 'misuse' technology in my practice. In this graduation project, I will combine these current practices in a form that will be new for me.
Since my work will be an audio-visual instrument/tool that can be used for performances and demonstrations, my audience will be my peers: artists and musicians (in the chipmusic we use the word programmer-composer) that share a love for low-tech and 'zombie media'. The also creates the possibility to present/perform my work in the cultural sector such as festivals related to media and technology, media-related research platforms, and institutions for art and media technology. Eventually, my project will lead to workshops where the tools are shared and appropriated due to sharing resources. This can be Bachelor/Master students or general workshop participants that are interested in both playful and meaningful ways of building their own tools, critical engagement to our everyday technology, and regain a sense of autonomy over it.
Why (assumption alert!!!!)
Due to rapid technological developments, the technologies we use every day are becoming more and more hidden in slick 'black boxes'. To not bother the everyday consumer with the complex processes that happen within the device, computational and networking processes become less visible and audible. While there is a need for faster network connections, this project will provide insight by offering a 'slow' alternative an alternative media experience.<5>
In contrary to the planned obsolescence we face today <6>, old technological consumer devices such as the first home computers in the '80s and '90s were built to last, designed to open up, and modify (upgrade) to certain needs of the user. When it was broken, it could be fixed. This created a sense of agency and autonomy and a close relationship to the materiality of the computational processes. Next to sound, working with textual material such as command-line interfaces also contributed to this since these are signs of mediation between the user and material.
I believe it's important to reconnect with the material side of these processes that surround us. By combining, changing carriers, and media a new meaning and insight can arise. This 'misusing' or revisiting the obsolete can be used as a method. <7> I am particularly interested in researching what meaning emerges when digital data is transferred to an analog process or medium with an eye on the future <3>. The deconstruction, the analog translation process of recording, broadcasting by amplification can distort the encoding/decoding process.
Being a teacher and working with a 'younger' generation (this sounds incredibly lame), I have noticed a lack of understanding of the technological devices and methods they use all the time. A lot of them don't have a clue what processes are running all the time and have the notion of how dependent they are on it. Until recently, I realized I slowly became one of those people again. When starting XPUB, working with UNIX, Arduino and FLOSS made me more critical of the software, tools, and workflows I used and how they shaped my thinking. This reactivated a sense of autonomy and critical awareness of the technologies we use today. It made me wonder if we (and the next generation of artists and designers) want to be a passive consumer, rely on the choices and politics of the "big tech" industry. My project might help to create this awareness.
First, I will have a deeper look into the standards that were used to store and data as sound to get a better understanding of their historical context, technological method, and under what circumstances and needs they were used. For this, I selected a couple of some 'obsolete' methods that are still being used today in various ways. The following standards caught my interest since they covered a broad range of my research interests:
SSTV or Slow scan Television – originally invented as an analog method in the late '60s but accessible to the public in the early 90s when the custom radio equipment was replaced by PC software – is a protocol for sending images over audio frequencies. The sound holds the information of what color where to place, line by line. This way, the image is slowly generated when decoding the audio in real-time. This method is still used today by the HAM amateur radio community for sending and collecting images. Next to that, the International Space station (ISS) still sends images to planet earth this way. The way SSTV generates images is closely related to the material process of digital printing on paper.
KCS or Kansas City Standard was developed to convert code (in the form of ASCII text) into sound so it could be stored on media such as magnetic tape but became also suitable to broadcast over radio. This way, its data became more easily interchangeable. KSC is still being used today to restore large quantities of archival material that was stored on magnetic tape. There are other standards that are closely related to this standard. KCS was an attempt to standardize (For instance, the Commodore 64 had its own method however this was very much prone to errors.)
(almost) GUI-less: the command-line interface For creating the interface, I am taking inspiration from early 'text-oriented' operating systems. This way the interface speaks to the user will be inspired by text-based adventure games. This way, I hope to activate other senses than the common visual that became ubiquitous. Experience digital processes by using the various way of ASCII: balancing between text and visual information. Here, the tone of voice how the interface speaks to the user creates a different relation of interaction.
Because screen-based interaction is premised on temporal immediacy, we are, as users forced into a state of hyper-attention where we must constantly fight against the, largely commercial, attempts to make us look at something else. When we remove the screen (and by necessity, simplify the interface) we introduce a new form of temporality, where the speed of interaction might more accurately reflect our ability to perceive and understand information. (quote taken from The Screenless Office: http://screenl.es/slow.html)
The materials I will work with are SSTV and KCS tools and scripts, a sound-card, speakers, microphone, computer (most likely a Raspberry Pi because of the portable property). I will be looking into available tools for encoding and decoding that follow the standards I proposed and test them in new workflows. In these prototypes, I will pay close attention to new parallel combinations between methods that arise. I will also look into the ways to broadcast and receive signals in real-time and explore ways to implement existing Python scripts in the background and make this process visibly using tools like Terminado. An important aspect I need to research what the role of accessing it online will be. Maybe physical interaction is always required.
Since a lot of tools are cross platforms, I will need to decide what tools I will be using since it can be a limitation since I don't yet have the knowledge to write full custom programs myself (YET). While DIY projects and resources can be found online, they are not so much used in artistic research to be critical of our everyday processes. In December, I will decide which prototypes match my criteria the most and produce the most interesting meaning when mixing up contexts and media carriers.
People who can help me
- Dennis de Bel and Roel Roskam Abbing created some very interesting DIY networking tools by using methods of deconstructing, hacking and rebuilding. This way, questions concerning critical engagement with our everyday technological tools arise.
- Joseph Oliver Anton Knierzinger (goes by the artist name of 'joak') works with obsolete technology and methods on a very high conceptual level. I think it would be very interesting to speak to him about the meaning of using these methods today.
- Gijs Gieskes is a well-known low-tech instrument creator who also works with audio and visuals. I think he is the perfect person to think outside boundaries and ensures meaning through a playful approach.
- Tutors Marloes de Valk, Aymeric Mansoux, Michael Murtaugh, and Manetta Berends for conceptual feedback and programming skills.
Related to larger context
The main topics I am addressing are digital materialism <9>, the affordances of networking over sound, media archaeology as a method to critically reflect the technologies we use today <10>, regaining autonomy <11>.
In the Five Principles of Zombie Media by Garnet Hertz & Jussi Parikka, the fourth point really spoke to me: We propose media archaeology as an artistic methodology that follows in the traditions of appropriation, collage and remixing of materials and archives. Media archaeology has been successful in excavating histories of dead media, forgotten ideas, sidekicks and minor narratives, but now it's time to develop it from a textual method into a material methodology that takes into account the political economy of contemporary media culture.
In the article Computer Eats Art by Erkki Kurenniemi, he speaks about the meaning of going between formats, the computer as an artistic tool, and 'technology won't take control as long as man can misuse it.' To learn more about the use and meaning of digital text (code, ASCII, etc) as material, I will dive into Writing Machines by N Katherine Hayles again.
- Kaushik, P. (2020). People Once Downloaded Games From The Radio. [online] Amusingplanet.com. Available at: https://www.amusingplanet.com/2019/04/people-once-downloaded-games-from-radio.html [Accessed 12 November 2020].
- 8-Bit Show And Tell. (2017) 35-Year-Old Commodore 64 Easter Egg Hidden On Vinyl. 19 October. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_CZpFqvDQo (Accessed: 12 November 2020).
- Nesfield, J. (2020). Sending Data Over Sound: How And Why?. [online] Electronic Design. Available at: https://www.electronicdesign.com/industrial-automation/article/21808186/sending-data-over-sound-how-and-why [Accessed 12 November 2020].
- Wikipedia. (2020). Aspen (magazine). [online] Available at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspen_(magazine) [Accessed 12 Nov. 2020].
- Schneider, N., 2020. Slow Computing. [online] America Magazine. Available at: https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/slow-computing [Accessed 12 November 2020].
- Parikka, J. (2015): A Geology of Media, Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press.
- Hertz, Garnet & Parikka, Jussi. (2012). Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method. Leonardo. 45. 10.1162/LEON_a_00438.
- Lantz, M., 2020. Why The Future Of Data Storage Is (Still) Magnetic Tape. [online] IEEE Spectrum: Technology, Engineering, and Science News. Available at: https://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/why-the-future-of-data-storage-is-still-magnetic-tape [Accessed 12 November 2020].
- Casemajor, N., 2015. Digital Materialisms: Frameworks for Digital Media Studies. Westminster Papers in Culture and Communication, 10(1), pp.4-17.
- Parikka, Jussi. “New Materialism as Media Theory: Medianatures and Dirty Matter.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 9.1 (March 2012): 95-100. Print and Web.
- http://digicults.org/. 2020. Technological Materiality and Assumptions About ‘Active’ Human Agency. [ONLINE] Available at: http://digicults.org/files/2016/11/III.1-Bollmer_2015_Technological-materiality.pdf. [Accessed 11 November 2020].