(work in progress!)
The big breakthroughs in modern media occurred in the decades 1970-1990 – the invention of the microprocessor (Intel 4004, 1970)- fuelling the technologies for the emergence of the micro-computer in the 1970s, and the personal computer in the 1980s, and for sundry other personal devices after that (laptops, calculators, personal organizers, ipods, netbooks, pads, smart-phones etc). The ARPANET became the Internet and got its own transmission and communication (TCP/IP) protocols in the early 1970s; email was invented (1971); Software became an important creative resource, celebrated in Jack Burnham‘s Software: Information Technology: its new meaning for Art exhibition (1970). The new media art critic Gene Youngblood surveyed the new motion-picture media in his Expanded Cinema (1970); Alan Kay conceived the Dynabook personal computer and the object-oriented programming language to accompany it (Smalltalk, 1970) then Kay goes on to help create the Alto experimental personal computer with a graphical user interface (1973), Edward Ihnatowicz exhibits Senster – a robotic installation at Philips of Eindhoven Evoluon (1970-1974); John Horton Conway invents a ‘game’ with cellular automata – the Game of Life (1970) an early example of artificial self-organising systems; Stafford Beer constructs CyberSyn a nationwide cybernetic network for economic management and market-feedback in socialist Chile (1970); Victor Papanek writes Design for the Real World – his critique of consumerist product design (1970); Valie Export, Joan Jonas, Nam June Paik, Rauschenberg and Kluver create performances integrating art and technology; Joseph Novak invents Concept Mapping (1972); the US Geological Survey launches LandSat, a remote-sensing satellite feeding information about the state of the Earth back to us in graphic reconstructions (1972); computer-graphics pioneer Ed Catmull digitises a human hand and constructs a working wireframe computer model (1972); Nolan Bushnell and Allan Alcorn invent Pong – the first successful coin-op arcade videogame; Steve Colley, working at NASA Ames, creates MazeWar the first-person shooter computer game (1973); Michael Crichton directs WestWorld – about a futuristic theme park manned by robot cowboys – but something goes wrong (1973); Guy Debord writes The Society of Spectacle (1973), Bob Metcalfe at Xerox PARC invents Ethernet (1974); Ted Nelson publishes Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974) his vision of hypertext, hypermedia and user-friendly computing; also in 1974, the English artist Harold Cohen unveils Aaron – his AI-directed robotic painting machine; engineer Stephen Beck invents the Beck Video Weaver, a digital video pattern generator, and makes psychedelic videos; Heinz von Foerster, Margaret Mead and others invent Second Order Cybernetics (1974); Robert Pirsig writes the influential Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974); the Liverpool poet-artist Adrian Henri publishes Environments and Happenings, documenting aspects of installation, event and performance art (1974); John Brunner, the pre-cyberpunk British sci-fi genius, publishes The Shockwave Rider – the shockwave that Brunner’s protagonist rides is Future Shock.
And that’s just the first half of the decade!
From 1975 the preparation for the future of media continues with Gordon Pask’s Conversation Theory – his brilliant insight into man-machine/inter-personal communications;the speleologist Will Crowther (who worked on aspects of ARPANET with Bolt, Baranek and Newman) writes the Colossal Cave Adventure – a networked text-based interactive fantasy fiction – a precursor of role-playing games; Sony invent Betamax – a professional video-tape format; Kraftwerk publish Autobahn – their cult LP of electronic techno-pop; MITs manufacture a micro-computer construction kit – the Altair 8800 – for home-computer fans; Kodak prototypes a Digital camera (1975); Compuserve – a large-scale computer-network that rides on top of the Internet – is launched in 1975. Seymour Cray completes the Cray-1 Supercomputer, and in 1976 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak build the prototype Apple 1 Computer – out of wood. The American philosopher Julian Jaynes publishes The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind – dating the origin of consciousness to within historical time. The Sex Pistols record God Save The Queen – an anarchic satire, and launch the Punk Music revolution; Bernardo Bertolucci makes 1900 his stupendous 14-hour epic of Italy in the 20th century (cut to 4 hours for general release); Douglas Adams makes a television-serial version of Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1976); Gordon Pask creates his Thoughtsticker – ‘a spreadsheet for ideas’; Garett Brown invents the Steadicam (1976); Charles and Ray Eames make their brilliant Powers of Ten – a film about the scale of things in our universe; James Martin writes his predictive The Wired Society (1977) about the impact of global computer networking; Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn continue to expand the ARPANET/Internet, linking-in SATNET – a packet-radio network; MIT’s ArchMac (Architecture Machine Group) demonstrate gesture recognition interfaces (the Spatial Data Management System, 1977); Donna Summer has a global hit with I Feel Love – the first all-synthesizer recording in 1977, and George Lucas makes Star Wars. Andy Lippman of the Architecture Machine Group at MIT makes the Aspen Movie-Map – a drive-through simulation of Aspen, Colorado on computer-controlled laserdisc (Philips Laservision launched the same year). Taito launch Space Invaders – a world-wide successful videogame; Apple demo their Liza graphical user interface on an Apple II computer; Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle write the Essex MUD – the first networked multi-user domain (1979); IBM mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot creates his Mandelbrot Set and introduces computer-generated Fractal Geometry; and Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston invent Visicalc – the first spreadsheet software.
You see what I mean…
Hans Magnus Enzensburger: Constituents of a Theory of Media in New Left Review No64 1970
And: “George Orwell’s bogey of a monolithic consciousness industry derives from a view of the media which is undialectical and obsolete. The possibility of total control of such a system at a central point belongs not to the future but to the past. With the aid of systems theory, a discipline which is part of bourgeois science—using, that is to say, categories which are immanent in the system—it can be demonstrated that a linked series of communications or, to use the technical term, switchable network, to the degree that it exceeds a certain critical size, can no longer be centrally controlled but only dealt with statistically. This basic “leakiness” of stochastic systems admittedly allows the calculation of probabilities based on sampling and extrapolations; but blanket supervision would demand a monitor that was bigger than the system itself. The monitoring of all telephone conversations, for instance, postulates an apparatus which would need to be n times more extensive and more complicated than that of the present telephone system. A censor’s office, which carried out its work extensively, would of necessity become the largest branch of industry in its society.” (Enzensburger: Constituents of a Theory of Media, 1971)
OK, so Enzensburger doesn’t get it all right – the 21st century massive surveillance and near universal monitoring of phone, email and messaging metadata – probably horrifies him now, but his insights on the future of media, some 20 years before the WWW, make fascinating reading.
Stan Vanderbeek: Artist in Residence MIT Center for Advanced Studies 1967 + Violence Sonata 1970
(From a contemporary review of Vanderbeek’s Violence Sonata Television/mixed media performance by Gerald O’Grady at http://www.projectstanvanderbeek.com/)
The history of underground or counterculture engagement with the mass media of broadcast television around this time is a short one, comprising just a few programmes that stand out for their insouciance and ‘ahead of their time’ qualities. I’d include John Cage Water Walk a solo performance- composition written and performed in Milan on Lascia o Raddoppia (Double or Nothing), a television programme broadcast in 1959, and subsequently performed in front of live studio audience on I’ve Got a Secret, on CBS Television in 1960.
from La Stampa, Friday, January 30 1959, n°26, page 4: “Second player: Mr John Cage, from New York, strange and futuristic music composer and performer. Mr Cage sat by a special piano tweaked with nails, screws, and elastic bands, drawing unusual chords from it. The piece was entitled “Amores” and it sounded like a funeral march. He participated as an expert of poisonous and edible mushrooms. He had no hesitation, hence he easily succeeded.”
…..”John Cage, an American very fond of mushrooms, left a very good impression. The lanky player revealed that he had begun getting into mushrooms while walking in the Stony Point woods near his house. He is now in Italy to perform experimental music concerts and play an extremely weird composition of his made of shrilling squeaks and dreary rumbles via an expressly modified piano.” Thus the avant garde artist/composer gets into television popular entertainment.
from La Stampa, Friday, February 6 1959, n°32, page 4: “John Cage, futuristic music composer and mycologist, has won the 640.000 Lire prize. Before entering the answering booth he performed a concert entitled “daily noises”. Instruments: piano (scarcely used), two radios, a blender, a watering can, a washtub, a whistle, a little firecracker, and other strange tools. Result: a carnival bustle. The audience enjoyed the joke and applauded.”
Second, it’s the famous first world-around television hookup Our World in 1967, for which the British contribution via the BBC was the Beatles performing All You Need is Love live from an Abbey Road studio crammed with an orchestra, and many of the counter-culture celebrities of the day (including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful, Donovan et al) it was a musical happening we sent around the world…
The third instance is Nigel Kneale and Michael Elliot’s prescient The Year of the Sex Olympics, screened on British TV in 1968. A vision of the television of the future strikingly reminiscent of much of the television of 2017.
Alvin Toffler: Future Shock (1970) + The Third Wave (1980)
The idea of technology forecasting – popularised after WW2 by organizations like Royal Dutch Shell (where scenario-forecasting was invented), the Rand Corporation (described satellite communications in 1946), and Herman Kahn’s Hudson Institute, and refreshed in the 1960s by Herbert Marshall McLuhan (The Medium is the Massage (1967) and John McHale (The Future of the Future 1969), and revisited in the 1970s by James Martin (The Wired Society (1978), Christopher Evans The Mighty Micro (1979) – seem to come to the fore in the 1970s as we began to realise the potential impact of computers and networks. Gordon Pask’s remarkable Microman – Living and Growing with Computers was published in 1982. Jacques Vallee’s The Network Revolution was to follow in 1984. Of course, by the end of the 1970s the ARPANET/Internet had been running for a decade, and we had the first working multi-user domain (Essex MUD – networked shared cyberspace 1978), and in the early 1980s authors like Vernor Vinge and William Gibson were already creating the parallel fiction that went with the invention of cyberspace (Vinge: True Names 1981, Gibson Neuromancer 1984).
I summarise the main strategies for technology forecasting in my Futurecasting Digital Media (Pearson/FT.com 2002), which outlines a method for using technology forecasting as an integral part of the design/innovation process.
Nicholas Negroponte: Architecture Machines (1970) + Soft Architecture Machines (1975)
It was an exciting time in art, design and architecture in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Not only did we have Negroponte’s terrific books on the likely future of architecture, but the hip-end of the architectural press (AD – nee Architectural Design) magazine featured Adrian George’s copulating robots on its cover in 1970. And Negroponte exhibited his Seek (aka Blocksworld) robotic installation at Jack Burnham’s Software exhibition in New York – an early exploration of AI applied to a robotic arm constantly engaged in re-arranging solid blocks in a miniaturised world under the interactive control of users/viewers. And in 1969 the architect Richard Buckminster Fuller had published his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. And Victor Papanek wrote Design for the Real World (1971). From ideas and experiments to macro environmental philosophies, architecture was beginning to change…
Richard Buckminster Fuller: I Seem to be a Verb 1970 (graphic design by Quintin Fiore and Jerome Agel)
What McLuhan had called the immersive, mosaic effect of the layout of newspapers, impacted on art and design during this period and is never more evident than in the designer-books of Agel and Fiore, (as well as in the sketchbooks and prints of Eduardo Paolozzi; in the FLUXUS publications; in comics, and in the art-commentary on comics like Tricky Cad (Jess Collins 1960); in The Situationist Times; the highly popular and influential MAD magazine, and of course, from 1968 in the Whole Earth Catalog – a fabulous montage of fact, opinion, adverts, product catagues, fiction, images in a large newspaper-style format)- and in the other counter-culture publications, perhaps especially the Anglo-Australian hippie journal OZ, art-directed by Martin Sharp. McLuhan had noted this non-linear, pan-optic style of presenting information, opinion, graphics, photos, cartoons, in his book Understanding Media (1963 – see quote below) and based much of his ‘the medium is the message’ dictum on the Gestalt notions of figure and ground (attention and context), and how attention moves between figure (immediate object of attention) and ground (context and background)- other potential calls upon our attention. Newspapers and similar mosiacs of images, text, cartoons, photographics, headlines. captions and so forth invite participation – they are interactive in the sense of engaging the reader to participate – to read – to invest attention in – numerous aspects of content.
“The massive theme of the press can be managed only by direct contact with the formal patterns of the medium in question. It is thus necessary to state at once that ‘human interest’ is a technical term meaning that which happens when multiple book pages or multiple information items are arranged in a mosaic on one sheet. The book is a private confessional medium that provides a ‘point of view’. The Press is a group confessional form that provides communal participation. It can ‘colour’ events by using them or by not using them at all. But it is the daily communal exposure of multiple items in juxtaposition that gives the Press its complex dimension of human interest.”
McLuhan: Understanding Media p218
And this is what Agel and Fiore did so well in their key books…
BTW this book is a great introduction to Bucky Fuller.
Edward Ihnatowicz: The Senster 1970
Some years ago, I came across a brilliant picture book by Jasia Reichardt: Robots: Fact, Fiction+Prediction (Thames & Hudson 1978) – which looks like a children’s book, but turns out to be an illustrated overview of the whole subject of robotics, with a detailed 15 page illustrated timeline stretching back to classical times (for mechanical automata etc), the book replete with illustrations – some loaned by Ihnatowicz, some from Eduardo Paolozzi’s vast collection, some from Kohai Sugiura – a very useful reference resource for visual artists, and a good summary of robotics history and developments up to the late 1970s. For the early 1970s, Ihnatowicz’ Senster was a tour de force – a fusion of kinetic-sculpture and experimental robotics – that heightened the impression that it was artists as much as engineers who were leading innovations in robotics. Two years earlier it was the artist-cyberneticist Gordon Speedie Pask who had exhibited his Colloquy of Mobiles at the ICA’s Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition (1968) – an installation featuring response ‘robots’.
There’s a video inspired by Colloquy of Mobiles at
Jasia Reichardt: Robots: Fact, Fiction+Prediction (Thames & Hudson 1978)
Stafford Beer + Fernando Flores: Cybersyn – a distributed decision-support system for Chile 1970
BTW, Eden Medina’s scholarly account of the genesis and long-lasting impact of Cybersyn (above right) is the most complete overview we have, and is throughly recommended. I was first alerted to Cybersyn by Richard Oliver and Mimi, his Chilean-born wife, in the early 1990s when we were collaborating on Understanding Hypermedia (1993) our first book together.
see Eden Medina: Cybernetic Revolutionaries 2011
Tom Phillips: A Humument 1970
To me this is the best of the many artist’s books that characterize this period – Phillips brings a rare inventive genius for colour, for treatments and techniques, for skill with pen and brush, and for his cunning manipulation of the appropriated text, rendering new narratives from Mallock’s original.
John Horton Conway: Game of Life 1970
Masahiro Mori: The Uncanny Valley 1970
Oyvind Fahlstrom: World Politics Monopoly 1970
Gene Youngblood: Expanded Cinema 1970
In the light of 21st century media developments (you know what they are), Youngblood’s 1970 book reveals its lasting importance. It was a blast for us multimedia geeks at the time – the first proper art-critical-historical work that I had come across that recognised this most interesting fusion of art-technology-cinematic – digital media that I was just glimpsing through student work at Portsmouth and Hornsey. In 1967, I’d collaborated on a fringe degree show entitled Krystal Klear in Warp Drive, with Gary Crossley, John Czaky and Bob Blagdon – it was a multi-screen installation with 4-track stereo, timed carousel slide projections, 8mm film – a very loud sound-track mixed from the Ronette’s Walking in the Rain with sound effects of NASA Saturn 5 Rocket launches and other stuff – we aimed for a sensory bombardment that matched our enthusiasm for this new mix of media. I went on for a post-graduate year at the Light/Sound Workshop at Hornsey College of Art (1968-69) where we were experimenting with just the fusion of audio-visual media that Youngblood was investigating in Expanded Cinema.
One of the most important aspects of new media for me at this time, was the realisation that interesting pictorial narrative might emerge from the spatial display of slides projected in multi-screen configurations – Around this time I found out a little about what Christopher Chapman had produced at Expo67 – his idea of ‘multi-dynamic film’ illustrated in his A Place to Stand for the Canadian pavilion was that by varying the size of a film frame dynamically through time, and positioning that frame alongside others in a multi-screen projection, you could direct the viewers attention in a non-linear narrative that collapsed the ideas and strands of story into an iconic spatial-temporal experience – this seemed a useful area to explore, and tape-controlled multiple Kodak Carousel projectors seemed to be the tool to use – you could combine stereo sound and multiscreen images to great effect here. It was the opposite of the extremely randomised and sensual psychedelic light-shows of Joan Hills and Marc Boyle at London’s UFO club. Tony Rickaby, Malcolm Lewis, and John Bowstead (and Richard Neville) – also at this time separately involved in this sector, added the refinement of sandwiching slides with filmic black masks and coloured gels to further divide and fragment the projected images, and to introduce text fragments. I was chiefly engaged at this time in trying to give an overall impression of an event – a typical morning at Hyde Park’s Speakers Corner – on a multiscreen comprised of four 8mm looped films held in Technicolor loop cassettes. These were among the kind of emerging art-forms that Youngblood was focussing upon in Expanded Cinema, and the Light/Sound Workshop show at MOMA Oxford in 1968 illustrated some of these audio-visual explorations.
Youngblood surveyed developments that created this territory, and impacted upon the range of motion-image arts and tools that were just newly appearing (or being freshly examined) – computer graphics and animation, multi-screen projections, analog and digital computing, performance art, computer-generated sound and poetry, music-art synaesthesia. This was a new language that talked the talk of the zeitgeist. We were hooked.
For years during the 1970s, this book was the ONLY book critically appraising new media and the various strands of cine-related media or audio-visual media (as it was called then). If you were a practitioner of this kind of media – multi-image slide-based light-shows – fascinated by the narrative potential of relating non-linear, spatialised stories, using still images, projected graphics and clips or loops of film materials. (At a Light-Sound Workshop exhibition at MOMA Oxford in 1968 I had used the Technicolor Loop cassette to store and project in multi-screen – in 4 minute loops of 8mm film, and around the mid-1970s Peter Burnell and I created a 20 minute presentation using 18 carousel projectors – with slides triggered by bleeps on reel-to-reel 4-track tape – this was for Burnell’s Project Hex – then conceived as a ‘concept album’ with music and songs by Burnell and Mike Hugg – the co-founder of Manfred Mann – the presentation-pitch was to Polygram – we got £12k for more development – so we had aesthetic aspirations in the ‘audio-visual’ art sector. (In 1968, the MOMA, Oxford,Light/Sound Workshop exhibition, orchestrated by Dennis Crompton and Peter Cook of Archigram, and Clive Latymer of Hornsey College of Art, and including work by Gary Crossley, John Bowstead, Tony Rickaby, myself and others, was a feast of audio-visual arts experimentation, with multi-screen, multi-image, multi-dimensional audio visuals, that mapped-out the fascinating territory we were exploring). John Bowstead’s experimental work building 3-dimensional arrays of theatrical gauze, and projecting images in-focus at certain projection-throw distances, was also intriguing. Of course, Youngblood’s inspirational collection of essays also covered the emerging video arts (video synthesisers were just emerging around this time), early digital art, performance, animation and multimedia dramatic practice – and much more. But for the time, Expanded Cinema was the bible for us…
Roger Payne: Song of the Humpback Whale LP 1970 + Science: Whalesong analysis 1971
It’s hard to describe the contemporary impact of this recording. At this time, whaling fleets from all over the world were slaughtering over 12,000 whales a year – and now these fellow mammals – the largest creatures on the planet – appeared to have an aesthetic sensibility and therefor a possible intelligence. Overnight the Humpback Whale became a symbol of what mankind was doing to the world – Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were founded at this time – and by 1975 Greenpeace had launched its anti-Whaling campaign, sending its ships to interfere with Russian whaling operations. The Song of the Humpback Whale sold over 100,000 copies – an amount hitherto unseen from an ‘environmental’ record. But the psychic impact on our sensibilities was much, much greater – the way we treated the whale came to symbolise our depredation of natural resources all over the world, and our protests against whaling brought these wider environmental concerns into the public eye.
Cedric Price + Mick Farren: Phun City Festival 1970
George Harrison and Friends: The Concert for Bangladesh 1971
The poet Allen Ginsberg had used the phrase ‘When the mode of the Music changes, the Walls of the City shake’ in the early 1960s. Joe Boyd and John Hoppy Hopkins had used this in a cartoon promoting the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream concert at Alexandra Palace in 1967. But in 1971, only four years later, the Concert for Bangladesh was heard around the World. The walls of the city were shaking!
And Concert for Bangladesh was the first of these world-changers – but not the last. In 1985, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure staged the first of the LiveAid charity concerts, harnessing global TV coverage of two parallel London-New York concerts to raise over $150 million for charity.
Allan Alcorn + Nolan Bushnell: Computer Space(Bushnell) + Pong (Alcorn) 1971-1972
Between 1972 and 1978, Pong dominated the arcade-game marketplace. In my memory, it was ubiquitous in the the bars and clubs and ‘amusement’ arcades of the UK and America and it wasn’t until the multi-coloured complex interaction and animation of Space Invaders (1978), that things changed. Pong had the virtue of being easy to play, demanding enough to require attention, and being immensely pleasurable. It kickstarted the ‘videogame’ (later computer Game or just Games) market, at around the same time that the Intel 4004 micro-processor was introduced – a chip that promised an infinity of games and entertainment apps for the future…
Eduardo Paolozzi: serigraph prints 1965-1971
1996 rug-design by Paolozzi – in these later works, Paolozzi plays with the subject iconography he explored more formally in the 1960s-1970s.
Eduardo Paolozzi: Automobile Head 1954 – as early as the 1950s, Paolozzi was integrating photo-copies and prints of engine parts into his collage-drawings. He was making bronze sculptures at this time – impressing machine parts into clay and plaster to create his work in a consistent 2d-3d framework.
Paolozzi’s work from the 1940s on, begins to integrate machine parts, technical diagrams and drawings with imagery from the vast self-generating pictorial resource of the US magazines, pulp fiction and comics supplements that had begun to appear over here in the UK as part of the large US military presence prior to the D-Day Invasion of Europe, and later as the Cold War emerged from the victory in Europe. The fusion of this iconography that Paolozzi contrived in his sculptures, and in his fabulously detailed serigraph prints (of which I illustrate just three here) created an inspirational resource for techno-optimists like me. Paolozzi’s work was celebrated in a large retrospective in Edinburgh – now housed at the Scottish National Gallery.
see Judith Collins: Eduardo Paolozzi (2014)
Daniel Hermann: Eduardo Paolozzi (2017)
Victor Papanek: Design for the Real World 1971
Ivan Illich: Deschooling Society 1971
The early 1970s – just when we were beginning to absorb the ‘lessons’ and lifestyle changes of the previous decade, but while we were still tormented by dystopian visions of the Cold War, and the ghastliness and televisual actuality of the Vietnam War – was in particular a time for re-envisioning our future, and trying to work out where we had gone wrong. The beacons of hope in the previous few years had come from the counter-culture (Stewart Brand’s wonderful Whole Earth Catalog contained the medicine of hope); Carlos Castaneda was intriguing us with the spiritual potential of The Teachings of Don Juan (1968) and A Separate Reality (1971), Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass) was showing us how to find ourselves (Be Here Now 1971); Victor Papanek (Design for the Real World 1971) was telling us what we ought to design for; Hoff and Faggin had designed the world’s first computer-on-a-chip – the Intel 4004 Microprocessor – promising a whole new world ahead; the first Internet connections were in process as the ARPANET linked to UK and French networks; Crosby Stills and Nash – and Joni Mitchell and others – were expressing the feelings and longings of the counter-culture. These were the signs that we wanted and needed change. And Ivan Illich gets straight to the main issue – should we be thinking of schools and education as a production-line? Didn’t formal schooling and subject specialisms reinforce existing problems and mitigate against the creative, the new, the adventurous? Illich’s idea of self-directed education, aided by voluntary mentoring (through a Skills Exchange), peer-learning (through peer-matching – a computer-mediated database of people sharing the same learning objectives), a reference service containing links to books, courseware, information etc), and a directory of professional (teachers, lecturers, researchers, professors etc) who voluntarily offered their help and guidance – is very much a model for the kind of ‘continuing life-long education’ that is being espoused currently. Anyway now, in the 21st century – we have the tools to DeSchool Society, but we still have the 19th century industrial attitudes to education, and the failing subject-based school system holding us back.
Perhaps we developed mechanical brains, and their modern digital-electronic equivalents (computers) just to help us to learn and to think more clearly. This realisation was dawning upon us in the 1930s – especially with Paul Otlet’s Mundunaeum, H.G. Welles’ World Brain, and with Turing’s paper on his Universal Machine (Turing Machine) – the concept of the modern digital computer. The development of telephone networks over the next decade, followed by the rationalisation of Claude Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication, then the burgeoning phone and computer networks of the 1960s and 1970s, the early networks like PLATO and ARPANET, the gradual establishment of the Internet – and the role that computerised routers played in this, all laid the infrastructure for the kind of Peer-Learning webs that Illich envisaged. Then by the 1990s we have Berners Lee inventing the software to glue it all together – the World Wide Web – designed initially to share documents and papers among a high-level group of peer learners – the physicists working at CERN.
Brian Wilson + The Beach Boys: Surfs Up 1971
Richard Farina: Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me 1971
Farina’s life and his magnum opus Been Down So Long – are a fascinating document of the development of an art-form – the American folk-revival of the late 1950s and early Sixties (that subsequently triggered folk-rock and encouraged the wealth of singer-songwriters whose work emerged later in the 1960s – Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Carole King etc), that to some extent had an impact on par with that of Rock’n’Roll a decade earlier. The lifestyles, fashions and activities emerging in Dylan, Baez and Farina’s Greenwich Village circles (which included the political activist and writer Suze Rotolo, several of the leading singer-songwriters of the day (Dave van Ronk, Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson etc), the multi-talented Rick von Schmidt (his artwork on the cover of Farina’s book above), and wheeling and dealing his own version of the folk revival – by the astute manager Albert Grossman) – their choice of clothes, haircuts, heroes, and activities, impacted on the Sixties generation already alerted to the alternative, soon to be called counter-culture, life-styles of the Beats, early hipsters and anti-capitalist philosophies of 1940s folk-singer protesters like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and helped form the counter-culture of the Sixties and beyond…
Pete Seeger gazes tolerantly at Farina playing the Dulcimer, while Mimi looks on (the Dulcimer was considered ‘easy to play’ according to Richard Haydu.
see Richard Haydu: Positively 4th Street – The Life and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina (2001)
Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass): Be Here Now 1971
There was an ‘artist’s book’/handmade quality about Be Here Now, and it exactly married with the tone of Alpert’s central message – his guide to self-revelation – such that it sold 2 million copies. Printed on brown Kraft paper – coarsely textured, the hand-craft printing integrated body and display wooden typefaces and freeform typography and hand-lettering in a manner designed specifically to appeal to the targeted audience – the hippie and post-hippie Western youth.By combining Hindu symbolism and reiterating the device of the mandalla and other spiritually mnemonic graphics, and linking these together in a what can be seen as a continuous scroll (the central book pages are printed sideways-on, so the the book can be read almost like a continuous scroll – or extended prayer-mat). In its form and content, then, the book reinforced the idea of the title – you were made consciously aware of the act of reading/looking/absorbing the message of the book. I loved it.
Federico Faggin + Marcian (Ted) Hoff: Intel 4004 Microprocessor 1971
If Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Douglas Engelbart and Alan Kay were the great fount of ideas about new, interconnected media (aka hypermedia), then Federico Faggin and Ted Hoff were the guys that kick-started one of the seminal catalysing sectors that underpin all of digital media – the micro-processor. It is this tiny silicon-wafer, graved with intricate circuitry, miniature transistors, solid state memories, and links for external devices, that powers new media – that drives smart phones, pads, televisions, games consoles, pods, digital watches, personal computers, laptops, servers, routers and all the technological paraphernalia that embody new media. The microprocessor was a direct descendant of the integrated circuit – the bringing together of all sorts of electronic functions into one printed circuit. With the miniaturisation of electronics in the 1960s and 1970s, Buckminster Fuller’s dictum of ‘doing ever more with ever less’ began to materialise. And in 1965, Gordon Moore (the founder of Intel) had proposed his Moore’s Law, which predicted that the number of transistors squeezed onto a chip would double every 18 months (for the same dollar price!). His prediction has been found to be true, and is likely to remain true at least for the next decade or so. The Intel 4004 was just the beginning…
David Bowie: Hunky Dory 1971
My generation (baby boomers) were lucky to have so many multiply-talented singer/songwriters/genius in our time. Bowie, alongside Dylan, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, Beatles, John Lennon, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, etc etc – what a lifelong legacy they’ve established! Bowie’s work, like many of the other great artists of the 1960s, has developed and evolved to synch with the zeitgeist as it mutates from 20th to 21st centuries. As the lovely Ian Dury put it: “There ain’t half been some clever bastards”.
Myron Krueger: Psychic Space (1971) + Videoplace (1974)
Packer and Jordan (eds) in Multimedia – from Wagner to Virtual Reality (2002): “Myron Krueger was among the first artists to explore the computer as a central component in interactive art. Krueger, under the influence of John Cage’s experiments in indeterminacy and audience participation, pioneered human-computer interaction in the context of physical environments.” You could usefully add that these experiments in using movement – and later gesture – to interact with a computer, were a very early example of a gestural interface design, pre-empting or foreshadowing the HCI study of gesture at MIT Media Lab – the Put That There! Spatial Data Management System (1977). I met Krueger in 1993, on the publication my Richard Oliver and my Understanding Hypermedia, and he was refreshingly modest about his significant contribution to the interactive immersive arts. See his Artificial Reality (1983) for the personal account of his explorations in this sector, which presaged augmented reality by over two decades.
Everett Reimer: School is Dead – An Essay on Alternatives in Education 1971
From chapter 8 Educating for Freedom: “Alternatives to schools must be more economical than schools. They must also be more effective so that lower costs do not imply less education. Monopoly must be avoided. The school system must not be replaced by another dominant system: alternatives must be plural. There should be competition between alternatives, but some of them at least, should not involve competition between students, especially for lifetime prizes. One student should not learn at the expense of another, nor should success for one student imply failure for another. Alternatives to schools should not manipulate individuals, but on the contrary, should prepare individuals to direct and recreate institutions, including their governments. Education should not be separated from work and the rest of life, but integrated with them. Educational environments should be protective only to an avoidable degree. Education should not, primarily, prepare for something else nor be a by-product of something else. It should be a self-justified activity designed to help man gain and maintain control of himself, his society and his environment.” (Everett Reimer: School is Dead 1971 pp89)
This is Reimer’s contribution to the debate we should be having now, in the 21st century, where these issues of much more pressing significance. Our world is beleaguered by rampant capitalism, an education system designed in and for the 19th century, diminishing resources, increasing population, dictatorial governments – threats of all kinds. We need to rethink how we want our world to be, what we want to teach our kids, and how we want them to learn.
Armand Mattelart + Ariel Dorfman: How to Read Donald Duck 1972
Doug Trumbull: Silent Running 1972
Alan Kay: Dynabook concept + SmallTalk object-oriented programming language 1968-73
Alan Kay’s : The Early History of Smalltalk (1993) is a breath-takingly inspirational article chronicling his development of Smalltalk and the Dynabook personal computing concept. It is one of just a few fundamentally core documents in modern computing, and in the development of the globally networked, computer-mediated environment we now inhabit and enjoy. It follows a string of core breakthroughs, including Vannevar Bush: As We May Think (1945); Joseph Licklider: Man-Computer Symbiosis (1960); Licklider: Online Man-Computer Communication (1962); Ivan Sutherland: The Sketchpad (1963); Douglas Engelbart: oNLineSytem (NLS, 1968); Ted Nelson: Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974), and Tim Berners Lee: World Wide Web Proposal (1989). Here’s the abstract:
“Most ideas come from previous ideas. The sixties, particularly in the ARPA community, gave rise to a host of notions about “human-computer symbiosis” through interactive time-shared computers, graphics screens and pointing devices. Advanced computer languages were invented to simulate complex systems such as oil refineries and semi-intelligent behavior. The soon-to-follow paradigm shift of modern personal computing, overlapping window interfaces, and object-oriented design came from seeing the work of the sixties as something more than a “better old thing.” This is, more than a better way: to do mainframe computing; for end-users to invoke functionality; to make data structures more abstract. Instead the promise of exponential growth in computing/$/volume demanded that the sixties be regarded as “almost a new thing” and to find out what the actual “new things” might be. For example, one would compute with a handheld “Dynabook” in a way that would not be possible on a shared mainframe; millions of potential users meant that the user interface would have to become a learning environment along the lines of Montessori and Bruner; and needs for large scope, reduction in complexity, and end-user literacy would require that data and control structures be done away with in favor of a more biological scheme of protected universal cells interacting only through messages that could mimic any desired behavior.
Early Smalltalk was the first complete realization of these new points of view as parented by its many predecessors in hardware, language and user interface design. It became the exemplar of the new computing, in part, because we were actually trying for a qualitative shift in belief structures—a new Kuhnian paradigm in the same spirit as the invention of the printing press—and thus took highly extreme positions which almost forced these new styles to be invented.”
Alan Kay : Abstract from The Early History of Smalltalk (1993) downloaded from http://worrydream.com/EarlyHistoryOfSmalltalk/#p17
Gregory Bateson: Steps to an Ecology of Mind 1972.
I love these epic and inspirational attempts to synthesise and systemise the multiplicity of factors and conditions (‘contexts’) of man’s experience and learning into a coherent order. I include in this genre of thinking a range of books and art-works, for me including Maturana’s The Tree of Life, many works by Buckminster Fuller, Carl Jung, Norbert Weiner – and other cyberneticists of Bateson’s vintage (like Stafford Beer, Gordon Pask, Heinz von Foerster, Margaret Mead). The issues addressed here in Steps Towards an Ecology of Mind map Bateson’s engagement in biology, anthropology, psychiatry, communications and cybernetics. Bateson was at the original Macy cybernetic conference in 1946 (led by Frank Fremont Smith and Warren McCulloch, these were a series of interdisciplinary conferences (1941-1960) covering a wide range of subjects, including cybernetics). “He (Bateson) saw the world as a series of systems containing those of individuals, societies and ecosystems. Within each system is found competition and dependency. Each of these systems has adaptive changes which depend upon feedback loops to control balance by changing multiple variables. Bateson believed that these self-correcting systems were conservative by controlling exponential slippage. He saw the natural ecological system as innately good as long as it was allowed to maintain homeostasis.” (wikipedia). Thus Bateson’s interests coincided, guided and influenced the emergence of the disciplines of cybernetics, general semantics and systems theory from the early 1940s to the 1980s. And Bateson was lucky to have a loving, intellectual relationship with his wife Margaret Mead – who later also played a key role in the development of second-order cybernetics and systems theory.
(Thanks to Alan Sekers for introducing me to this important book.)
John Berger: Ways of Seeing (television series & book) 1972
Berger was wonderful – he was cool, he was deep, and he exuded the kind of wisdom that was a reflection of the changing spirit of the age. This was, to many of us just graduated art students, a revelation of how a different kind of art history worked. Emerging from a tradition of socialist aesthetic theory by William Morris, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Antonio Gramsci, and of his own contemporaries including Raymond Williams, Fredric Jameson, Roland Barthes, Berger had exactly the most appropriate televisual and lecturing skills to present a series of popular programmes (4 x 30 minutes) on art history – to a generation catalysed by the new media (rock music, underground press, light-shows, happenings, pop festivals etc) and by the environmental pressures mentioned above. And it was the form of the TV series AND of the book that drew an extra interest – Berger’s pictorial essays – some without text except for the identification of the images used – were to me like McLuhan-esque ‘probes’ into various aspects of cultural historiography:
Berger: Ways of Seeing sample spread (p8-9).
And as I mentioned above, Berger’s approach was a breath of rational, materialist, fresh air compared to Kenneth Clark’s portentiousness. Berger’s televisual style you can see for yourselves:
John Berger: Television series: Ways of Seeing 1972. Take a look at this – it still gives me the same electric vibes as it did in 1972. (The same vibes I got going to the ICA for the first time – and I got when Tate Modern opened in 1994). You felt at home with him. He was our voice.
Joan Jonas aka Organic Honey: Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy (1972)
“For one of my earliest solo performance works in 1968, I made a costume that had mirrors of various sizes attached to the material. For the text, I took evrey reference to mirrors from Borges Labyrinths and assembled the excerpts into a script, which I memorised and recited aloud….”
“Mirrors and poetry, as well as myth and fairytales, refract reality in unexpected ways. Mirrors can collapse or confuse the distance between performer and audience, and can disrupt visual frameworks. When I use a myth or a story or a literary text in my work, I often extract particular passages from a larger narrative that resonates with me. In performance the audience hears the text, recorded in advance or recited in real time, in fragments, and sees components – such as movements, props, drawings and video – that may relate only indirectly to the text. I don’t change the language, but rather I change the context, which opens up the text to different possibilities of meaning. I don’t illustrate, I juxtapose.” Joan Jonas: Mirror, Mirror in The Guardian Review Issue 10 2018.
Ursula Meyer: Conceptual Art (1972) + Donald Burgy: Space Completion Ideas (1969)
I was really impressed with this book – it was a great introduction to Conceptual Art, and the enormous variety of work and ideas that it encompasses. It was full of non-conventional ideas and speculations – and practical examples of what art might be. And some of the works cited – perhaps for me Donald Burgy’s Space Completion Ideas (above) provided the impetus to other works. Peter (Bunny) Burnell, my colleague at the the time seized on Burgy’s idea, renamed them ‘Evolution-Completion-Diagrams’ – and took off on a riff of ideas to use in his own fiction (alas unpublished). These included an ‘evolution-completion’ series including SAILING SHIP > STEAMSHIP > AIRSHIP > SPACESHIP > …………? and others in the same ilk. The idea that the reader had to ‘complete’ the series suggested by the author was an excursion into interactive writing. Other ideas illustrated in Meyer’s book, included Burgy’s Name Idea #1 (1969):
Observe something as it changes in time. Record its names….
Observe something which never changes. Record its names.
This latter of course, follows the instructional or algorithmic music-composition and Happening ‘recipes’ invented by Dick Higgins and other Fluxus-related poets and composers through the late 1950s and early 1960s (see Dick Higgins: Jefferson’s Birthday + Postface Something Else Press 1964). I’ve pointed out elsewhere in this chronofile that these instructional pieces seem to be influenced or inspired by the algorithmic processes of computer programming – the core technology (digital mainframe computers) developing in this period. (A detailed list of actions is often the algorithm, or ‘pseudocode’ used to build a computer program). John Cage, the minimalist composers (La Monte Young, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Philip Glass) and others were also exploring this algorithmic mode.
David Woolley + Doug Brown: PLATO Notes + Talkomatic 1973
Online chat systems like Talkomatic follow Ray Tomlinson’s ‘invention’ of e-mail (1971), and suddenly the world can converse digitally through networks of computers. Of course the digitally networked ‘world’ of the early 1970s meant a few dozen main-frame computers on university campuses and research centres linked together on what was still called the ARPANET in the USA, the NORSAR network in Norway, the UCL network in London, and the Cyclades network in France – becoming the Internet (1972-74).
Gordon Welchman + MITRE (Massachussetts Institute of Technology Research Establishment): Cyclic Information Concept (‘Horseshoe’) c1973
The breathtaking rate of innovation in cryptanalysis, early-warning integrated systems, military electronic surveillance (the prototype AWACs airborne surveillance and electronic signals hub was launched in 1973) found Gordon Welchman in a key position in MITRE. He pre-empted the network ‘cloud computing’ cyberspace of the 21st century (first mentioned in 1996) by at least 20 years, envisioning a realtime, highly secure, surveillance and signals-coordination system as summarised in the plaque (above). The further integration of the Cyclic Information Concept with AWACs airborne intelligence, and then further into interceptor aircraft, missile defence systems, and all aspects of strategic and tactical command and control, developed the global military surveillance and Command and Control systems of the 21st century. A spin-off of this systems integration was the development of integrated Air-Traffic Control systems during this period.
Towards the end of his life, Welchman published his account of WW2 code-breaking activities at Bletchley Park: The Hut Six Story – Breaking the Enigma Codes (1982). Because of this disclosure, his NSA security-clearance was removed, effectively ending his stellar career in creating the wholly new sector of Traffic Analysis in WW2, which morphed into the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) sector of the Cold War and our present. The Hut Six Story is a very detailed mathematical account of Welchman’s efforts in breaking the Enigma Codes and in devising his Traffic Analysis approach. Despite the laconic style it brims with his breathless excitement in his life-or-death quest.
Alan Kay: Graphical User Interface for Xerox Alto personal computer 1973
As an indication of how far in the future Xerox’ Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was thinking, watch this 1979 commercial:
Now: this is 5 years BEFORE Apple Computer launched their own vision of the future, and materialised and productivised the Apple Mac (after a trial run with their own GUI on the Apple Liza, 1983). Microsoft followed with their GUI interface Windows 1.0 in 1985, and our desktop computers got friendly for the first time. Xerox PARC set the pace. Contrast this video with John Sculley’s The Knowledge Navigator (1987). It should be pointed out (see Bill Atkinson, later in this chronofile) that the Mac UI team, lead by Atkinson, had independently developed the Mac GUI in the period 1981-1984 – Atkinson claims he spent no more that an hour and a half at PARC, that that he only saw an earlier GUI designed for the Zerox Alto.
Guy Peellaert: Rock Dreams 1974
This book of Peelaert’s paintings/illustrations deeply inspired me at the time, and although I wasn’t able to articulate this then, it was because it seemed to indicate a rich potential direction for illustration – the idea of embellishing, extending, re-mediating photographic media and compositing it with other imagery (through the medium of painting) , had been indicated by Paolozzi and especially Richard Hamilton 20 years before (in their ‘Pop-Art’ paintings, collages and prints) – and by Martin Sharpe’s seminal work on OZ magazine. When you look at these Rock Dreams images with hindsight of course it was their pre-digital exploration of compositing, image-processing and appropriation that was important. In fact you might say that it was images like this, and films like Zbigniew Rybcynzski’s Tango, and the ‘cut-and-paste-up’ of contemporary offset-litho print production that digital software designers were trying to replicate in the digital domain a decade later… But in 1974 Oil-painting (and to some extent air-brush art and comic-strip) was the preferred compositing medium.
Theodor Holm (Ted) Nelson: Computer Lib/Dream Machines 1974
Ralf Hütter + Florian Schneider + Kraftwerk: Autobahn 1974 + The Man Machine 1978
Heinz von Foerster + Margaret Mead: Second Order Cybernetics aka New Cybernetics aka Systems Cybernetics 1974.
BTW, At this time Gordon Pask (who preferred ‘New Cybernetics’ to ‘Second order Cybernetics’) was working on his ‘Conversation Theory’ – how two intelligent entities could construct knowledge and learn from a conversational dialogue.
Paul Feyerabend: Against Method 1975
Forest M. Mims III + Ed Roberts et al: MITS Altair 8800 Micro-Computer Kit 1974-75
The confluence of the availability of an 8-bit microprocessor chip, and other micro-electronics parts and components, sympathetic magazine and press coverage, the marketing support of Radio Shack and parts-suppliers, and the packaging of Gates and Allen’s version of the BASIC programming language made it possible for Roberts and Mims to make their Altair 8800 the first commercially successful micro-kit. They packaged their kit with a professional-looking case (see above), an easy-to-learn programming language (BASIC – created in 1964 by Kemeny and Kurtz, and versioned for the Altair by Bill Gates, Paul Allen et al – the first Microsoft product), and they gained the support of the main parts suppliers (Radio Shack) and the principle specialist media (Popular Electronics) with Mim’s easy to understand assembly instructions – and Roberts and MITS had a hit product. Note that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the Apple 1 – a ready-assembled micro, and like the Altair paired with a TV set and keyboard to make a complete home computer system – about a year after the Altair 8800. These were exciting times!
Jacques Attali: Noise – The Political Economy of Music 1976
Gordon Pask: Conversation Theory 1975-76 + Paul Pangaro: diagram of conversation theory interactions (below)
“The Cycle of Conversational Coproduction of Learning”
“The essential activities of constructing knowledge through grounded conversation are pursued through cycles similar to A. N. Whitehead’s (1949) description of learning through cycles of: Romance > Definition > Generalization > and so on again…. After the first touch of romance, a CT learning venture begins with the negotiation of an agreement between participants to learn about a given domain, and some particular topics and skills in that domain (see Fig. 8.1). One participant (A) who has some inkling of a topic starts by using the available resources to make a modeling move, to name it, and to explain why it is being made. Another participant (B) either agrees to try to do the same thing and compare it with what A did or disagrees with that foray and tries to make another start by acting on the model, naming the new act, and explaining why it is better. If there are other participants, they join in. If the modeling efforts are judged, on close investigation, to be different, they will be labeled differently and some relation will be constructed between them and will be appropriately labeled. If the two (or n) efforts are judged to be the same, they will be coalesced into one chunk of the domain model with one name.” Gary McIntyre Boyd: Conversation Theory 2001.
Genesis P. Orridge + Cosey Fanni Tutti + COUM Transmissions: Prostitution ICA Gallery 1976
George Lucas: Star Wars 1977(later titled Episode IV A New Hope)
I was at the Empire Leicester Square in 1977 ready for this much-heralded and hyped movie, with a mate of mine and his 10-year-old son. At the opening sequence – the massive, screen-filling fly-by of a huge space-ship – the little boy’s mouth fell open – and stayed open for several minutes – so astonishing was his suspension of disbelief and subsequent immersion into the filmic story. The Death Star attack sequence I have illustrated above was a fascinating example of the kind of analog/digital hybrid special effects that characterised these times when CGI was in its infancy, but film-directors desperately wanted the ‘computer look’. Larry Cuba – the computer graphics and sfx unit director – has made a short video describing the hybrid techniques he used to make the Death Star attack sequence – one of the most exciting episodes in the film. Take a look at:
Tim Anderson + Marc Blank + Bruce Daniels + Dave Libling: Zork 1977
Giorgio Moroder + Donna Summer: I Feel Love 1977
Brian Eno: Articles and Books on Experimental Music and Art 1976-78
Wolfgang Weingart: KunstKredit posters 1977-1981
As we approach our entry into the digital world (the first micro-computer kits are available in this period), the progression and development of graphic design seems to prefigure future digital graphics possibilities. As avant garde designers like Weingart seem to intuit and explore the new possibilities – the compositing of display type with imagery, the use of photo-typesetting – the layering and density of imagery – all this seems to indicate that graphic design was tooling up for the technical and aesthetic challenges of the digital domain – that graphic designers were preparing our sensibilities for the new age….Weingart was undoubtedly the pioneer here. See also: April Greiman: Hybrid Imagery (1990).
Devo: Devo Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! 1978
Cy Endfield: Microwriter 1978
Nicholas Negroponte: Convergence or Negroponte Diagram 1978
Look at the right-hand side of Negroponte’s diagram – its where we are now. His prescient vision of the future of media, encapsulated in this iconic Venn diagram, accurately forecast the media convergence which is now our reality. As I spent a lot of the 1990s explaining new media to students, to clients, to agencies, to publishers, to the Record Biz, Negroponte’s diagram was used again and again in presentations – to the highest in the land (In the 1990s I did presentations for Robin Cook, Margaret Thatcher, The Technology Foresight Group, Orange Telecom, several ad agencies, Monotype Corporation, British Telecom, BP Exploration, and many more… It was impossible to pitch ideas to clients without evangelising the likely futures that new media technologies created….
Look again at the right-hand side of Negroponte’s diagram – his prediction that by roughly 2000 the previously separate industrial sectors of Television and Film, Print and Publishing, and the Computer Industry would be converged in the digital space, creating all kinds of new media – videogames, simulations, virtual realities, geographical information systems, virtual worlds, (all kinds of new stuff, let alone the World Wide Web, global satellite television and the convergence also of all the telecommunications media. You can see that this was a great sales pitch – Negroponte pitching the idea of an MIT Media Lab. Of course, this is the ‘space’ that we inhabit right now – in 2017. The idea behind the mediainspiratorium is precisely to reveal the various strands of innovation and invention that built up to the vibrant NOW. And to provide a guide for young artists and designers as to the main contributors – across all spectrums of art, design, invention, engineering, computing, media-making (etc) – to our remarkable intermediated world.
see also Henry Jenkins: Convergence Culture (2007); Nicholas Negroponte: Being Digital (1995), Stewart Brand: The Media Lab – Inventing the Future at MIT (1987) and Janet Straiger and Sabine Hake: Convergence Media History (2009)
Andy Lippman + MIT Archmac Group: Aspen Movie Map 1978
One of my first jobs as a hypermedia/interaction designer was working with Peter (Bunny) Burnell on some educational interactive video programmes, released on Laservision discs (12-inch analogue video-discs), for BP GPA (Group Public Affairs). This was in the early 1980s, and there were very few models for designing content for laserdisc: the Disney animator Don Bluth had produced his Dragon’s Lair game for laserdisc in 1983, and I’ve related elsewhere in this archive the joy of playing this game in a videogame parlour in Leicester Square – and it going wrong – so I could watch how the interactive sequences were sequentially written and nested on the disc; the other example was Lippman’s Aspen Movie Map, but before the WWW and brilliant Youtube, it was really difficult to find information on this brilliant exploration of surrogate travel, so we had to work from first (technical) principles, which for us involved building a map of the programme (a non-linear storyboard), numbering all the frames (up to 54,000 on a disc), and writing a C++ program to link it all together through a PC interface and a video-board analogue video ‘window’ on the monitor. A real learning curve…And, with Lippman’s example, we were driven by the visceral and intellectual thrill of controlling a video that effectively presented the illusion of driving through Aspen Colorado – turning right or left or staying straight ahead as we wished. This was definitely a new and very exciting fusion of the computer and the video-player – a herald of even more exciting stuff to come!
Roy Trubshaw + Richard Bartle: Essex MUD aka MUD1 1978
I met the very modest Richard Bartle when we were both doing an external examination on a computer animation MA course at Portsmouth University. He is very revealing about the genesis of MUD1 and the limitations of working on an early mini-mainframe at mud.co.uk:
"At this time, there was an experimental packet-switching system (EPSS) linking Essex University to ArpaNet in the USA. In Spring 1980, we got our first few external players logging in and trying the game out ( one of whom I met recently by complete chance in a hotel in Annapolis, MD). There's a reference to MUD in an article on Zork in the December 1980 issue of Byte. Interestingly, it also mentions an earlier multi-player version of Zork, but neither I nor Roy were aware of it at the time. I've never found any other references to it, so I don't know how MUD-like it was. MUD only had one database for the first couple of years, then I took out all the "generic" bits (eg. get/drop/quit commands, spells, common objects like doors & keys) and put them into a set of include files. I then wrote another game called Valley, using the MUD interpreter and the include files, but with another set of rooms and puzzles. Although I'm only a year younger than Roy, I was able to stay on at Essex and work on the system because I became a postgraduate (and, later still, a lecturer) there. Some undergraduate friends took the interpreter and include files (with my permission), and used them as a basis for their own games. The first of these was Rock (based on Fraggle Rock, the TV show), but others that spring to mind were BLUD (very deadly), UNI (a simulation of the University, with spoof monsters for the members of staff), and MIST (about which you know). After I left Essex, I let them run MUD for two or three years for old time's sake, but after a while its code was adulterated by a new bunch of well-meaning undergrads, so I took it away; people were getting a false idea of what the game was meant to be like (and besides, they'd removed my name from the arch-wizard list!). The original MUD is back now, I understand, and will remain there until the DEC-10 is switched off (if it hasn't gone already)." (Richard Bertle at http://mud.co.uk/richard/mudhist.htm)
drawing by Bartle of the ‘maze of tombstones’ from Essex MUD 1978
Tomohiro Nishikado + Taito: Space Invaders 1978
It was the vibrant colour of the CRT monitors, glowing in RGB combinations as bright as neon. It was the texture of pixels and triads of pixels on the screen – that had the fascination of a woven tapestry or knitted image. It was the effrontery of the console graphics, the electronic non-linear music of the sounds of the game – shades of the ominous sound-track of Speilberg’s Jaws (1975)….it was all these things, the pixellated ‘invaders’, the pulsing ‘laserbeams’ it was the fun, the immersion, the sensory engagement. All these things were inspiring and engaging to the artist.
For an insight into the coding issues for Space Invaders, see the intriguing example at:
Jean Baudrillard: The Ecstasy of Communication 1978 + Chris Horrocks + Zoran Jevtic: Introducing Baudrillard p128 1999
Brion Gysin + William Burroughs: The Third Mind 1978
What is it with the Indeterminacy thing at this time? Arthur Koestler’s examination of the paranormal, extrasensory perception and what Carl Jung called ‘synchronicity’ (meaningful coincidences) – The Roots of Coincidence came out in 1972. Between the 1950s (John Cage: Music for Piano 1956), and the 1980s – when Frank Tipler and John Barrow produced their exciting book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986), and beyond, the world of art, culture and science is suffused with this magic of the random – from Quantum Indeterminacy to Conway’s The Game of Life from cryptology in computer science to combinatorial exercises like those of the OULIPO group (Raymond Queneau: One hundred million million poems 1961) and Brian Eno (77 Million Paintings (2006) – as art became number (in digital form), so number became art…
Michael Aldritch: Online Shopping 1979
Judy Chicago: The Dinner Party 1975-1979
A recent discovery for me – and most of us – was the hand-decorated dinner service commissioned by Kenneth (later Lord) Clark from Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in 1932. The service celebrated famous women through the ages from the Queen of Sheba to Pocahontas to Virginia Woolf (Bell’s sister). The service consisted of 150 pieces, but has since been split and is now (I believe) in private hands.
Vanessa Bell + Duncan Grant: Famous Women dinner service (painted onto commercially produced white Wedgewood plates 1932.
Benoit Mandelbrot: Fractal Geometry + The Mandelbrot Set 1980
Zbigniew Rybczyński: Tango 1980
This was one of the dozen or so short films* that makes you sit up and pay attention, so revolutionary, and so fascinating is it. Like much of the inventive media-making of this period, the artist is stretching the available media technology to envisage something that may come to characterise the new possibilities. In this case, digital media tools were being discussed (the Thompson-CSF 9100 Digital Video Processor – a time-base corrector was introduced in 1980 and the Ampex ADO digital video effects unit, and early Quantel DPE-5000 dates from 1978). What Zbig is doing here is to imagine that he has a means of layering 36 layers (one for each character), and compositing these layers into his short (10 mins) movie. Except that he is doing this with 35mm film technology, hand painting the travelling mattes (cel-mattes) to ‘contain’ each live-action sequence, then printing these on an Optical Printer to create his film. As he admits the heavy multi-processing of all those passes leaves signature tell-tales. This is still analog media, and repeated copies are subject to degrading quality. By 1990 desktop video software like Adobe Premiere could run on fairly standard personal computers (OK, perhaps with a video processing board), instead of the $250,000 video paint-boxes of the early 1980s. Zbig was operating on the cusp of the digital future.
(* I would include: Charles and Ray Eames: A Communications Primer 1953, Powers of Ten 1977; Fernand Leger + Dudley Murphy: Ballet Mecanique 1924; Norman McLaren: Pas de Deux 1968; Michael Snow: Wavelength 1967; Maya Deren: Meshes of the Afternoon 1943; Kenneth Anger: Scorpio Rising 1964; George Melies: Voyage dans la Lune 1902; Sibley Watson + Melville Webber: Lot in Sodom 1933; Robert Florey: The Love of Zero 1927; Zbigniew Rybczynski: The Orchestra 1990; Curtis Harrington: Fall of the House of Usher 1942; Christopher Chapman: A Place to Stand 1967…)
Françoise Mouly + Art Spiegelman: RAW comics magazine 1980
Robert Hughes: The Shock of the New – Art and the Century of Change 1980
Cindy Sherman: Untitled Film Stills #15 + #14 + #2 1977-1980
“The still must tease with the promise of a story the viewer of it itches to be told.” – Cindy Sherman
“I’ll see a photograph of a character and try to copy them on to my face. I think I’m really observant, and thinking how a person is put together, seeing them on the street and noticing subtle things about them that make them who they are.” – Cindy Sherman
“Everyone thinks these are self-portraits but they aren’t meant to be. I just use myself as a model because I know I can push myself to extremes, make each shot as ugly or goofy or silly as possible.” – Cindy Sherman
“We’re all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there – I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world.” – Cindy Sherman
Alejandro Jodorowsky + Jean Giraud (Moebius): The InCal 1981
The quality and formal range of Jean Giraud’s graphic work combines pleasures for the aesthetic eye as well as the inner-eye and brain. There are Blakeian ideas here, architectural visions, cinematic lensing, staccato action frames, as well as breathtaking scale, detail and drama!
Vernor Vinge: True Names 1981 + Marooned in Realtime 1986
Mashing the genres if detective-fiction and science-fiction, Vinge does some remarkably prescient thinking in Marooned in Realtime, a sequel to the stories collected in Across Realtime (also 1986). These stories are set in the time-space diaspora following the first technological singularity – a phenomenon Vinge was one of the earliest to predict. Around this time, Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec, Vinge and others were following John von Neumann who in 1958 had suggested this as a possibility. Vinge – a computer scientist in ‘real life’ – sets this series of stories in the post singularity era. Humans have invented time-proof ‘bobbles’ – areas frozen in time (and thus protected from the post Singularity wave of super AIs – Bobbled humans can travel forward through time looking for more hospitable time-space eras…. You’ll love Marooned in Realtime!
Bruce Artwick: Microsoft Flight Simulator 1980 – present
Artwick’s work on flight-simulation (the panel above centre) through the last 40 years or so is an important record of the progress of realtime computer-simulation and visualisation systems from simple monochrome wireframes to immaculate high-resolution colour animation – Artwick’s work is there to remind us in the most impressive way of Moore’s Law, and the doubling of processing power in the computers we use every 18 months or so, and the way that programmers have coded applications to optimise their work to take continuous advantage of this inexorable and exponential increase.
Laurie Anderson: O Superman (1980) + Big Science 1982
Tim Macmillan: Timeslice Video 1980
In about 1993/4 I received an Apple Developer CDROM, and it contained a file with a .qtvr suffix. I double-clicked, and I gasped. It was the first of a type of file we are quite familiar with now – a 360-degree panorama – you pointed your mouse one way, the view swivelled around. You could go up and down, left and right. Occasionally the mouse-pointer would charge – you’d click and lo and behold, you were in another linked panorama. The cleverness – the ingenuity – of making a series of digital images and then slicing them up into file-sequences that could be stitched together in realtime in a special player boggled my mind, and gave me that heavenly sensation of marvelling at a great new imaging innovation. It was as powerful as the first time-slice video I’d seen.
Free online Donkey Kong emulator:
Peter Michael: Quantel Paintbox 1981
The computer-graphics pioneer Alvy Ray Smith (famous for his quote ‘reality-is 80 million polygons‘) has written a fairly definitive, though slightly Americanophile, history of digital paint systems: Digital Paint Systems: An Anecdotal and Historical Overview (Smith 2000) which helps amplify the early pioneering work on the kind of systems and software that Quantel were purveying in the mid-1980s. Quantel were fabulously successful at integrating developmental work in digital video frame-stores and effects into a range of high-end suites costing c£100,000, that sold to broadcast TV and post-houses all around the world, and are still in use… It’s hard to say now, from the perspective that we have smart phones and laptops more powerful than the computing engines that powered the Quantel, just how revolutionary these machines were. But Lisberger’s Tron and Rebecca Allen’s work on Catherine Wheel (see below) give some idea of the state of the art.
Twyla Tharp + David Byrne + Rebecca Allen: Catherine Wheel 1981-1983
Here, Rebecca Allen’s state-of-the-art computer graphics take second place to the vision of what it might (would) become. All the early visionaries of CGI – Alvy Ray Smith, Charles Csuri, Ivan Sutherland, Bruce Artwick, Rebecca Allen (et al) knew that it was only a question of time, Moore’s Law and the cumulative algorithmic progress of thousands of coding innovators, that would transform these early, clumsy (to our eyes) wireframes into the superbly modelled and motion-capture animated inverse kinematics of our present day. So watching this clip on television in the early 1980s was a revelatory experience. Bring it on! We said.
Vernor Vinge: True Names 1981 + Marooned in Realtime 1986
What happens when you merge great science-fiction with informed speculation on the potential impact of a technological singularity? You get Marooned in Realtime. What happens when you project the likely impact of a networked identity – the impact of universal communications networks on an individual – and great science fiction? – you get True Names. 3 years before William Gibson produced his seminal Neuromancer (1984) – and named ‘cyberspace’ in the process – you have Vernor Vinge in the USA, and over in 1970s Great Britain, you have John Brunner with his The Shockwave Rider (1975) – the shockwave he’s riding is Toffler’s Futureshock. Science fiction is becoming (pace Michael Moorcock) Speculative Fiction on the way to becoming Cyberpunk, but its still great speculation.
Philip Glass: Floe from Glassworks 1982
You can trace many of the minimalist ideas enthusing Philip Glass, back to the pioneer of minimalism – La Monte Young, and to Young’s contemporary composers who also explored this brand new approach to music-making and to the idea of composition itself, as ‘composition’ transitioned from a top-down operation to a democratic, interactive, bottom-up, emergent approach. The main formative composers in the minimalist movement, both alongside, and preceding Glass, were La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich – and these compositional ideas were informed by computer-programming or algorithmic methods – set the musicians a task (light a fire on the stage), when the task is finished (the fire goes out), the performance is finished – of Happenings and performance poets like Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles – all underpinned by the greatest minimalist revolutionary composer, John Cage.
Jacques Vallee: The Network Revolution 1982
During the 1980s and early 1990s, we were like sponges – absorbing all we could from the digital pioneers who put pen to paper – and during this period they were few and far-between. So the ‘vision’ of possible digital, networked futures emerged in shimmering, shifting images from across the spectrum of those engaged most crucially – from artists, from computer scientists, from game-designers, graphic designers, audio-visual designers, film-makers, sci-fi writers, media experts, specialist journalists (Jack Schofield’s work in The Guardian stands out), the computer-magazines – like Byte and Personal Computer, the science magazines like Science, Scientific American and New Scientist – from all these sources we scrabbled together our pictures of possible futures. In the 1990s, with a spate of magazines dedicated to, or at least covering, the digital revolution (like Wired, Edge and Mondo 2000) it got easier – fact was catching up with fiction, dreams and hyperbole were materialising in actual products. Reading Jacques Vallee was part of this jigsaw picture we were trying to assemble.
Steven Lisberger: Tron 1982
Theodor Holm (Ted) Nelson: Literary Machines 1982
Ted Nelson dedicated his whole life to realizing an idea he had in the 1960s, inspired by a 1945 Vannevar Bush paper entitled: As We May Think – which imagined a device called the memex (memory-extension) to help individuals and communities of scholars keep track of the burgeoning information resources in the post-war world. Bush imagined a system that used links between stored documents to create what he called associative trails – series of links that one user could create (defining an argument, creating an hypothesis etc) for others to follow. In the 1960s Nelson began to redefine this idea into a system that he called hypertext (and thus hypermedia etc) – not just linking documents, but linking actual phrases and words to parts of other documents – then expanded the idea into a concept of hypertext interlinking ALL the world’s literature – thus a Literary Machine, that he called Xanadu (after Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan).
(Its interesting that Nelson’s contemporary Nicholas Negroponte had published The Architecture Machine (1970) and Soft Architecture Machines in 1975 – the idea of design processes increasingly becoming software-design processes was au courant).
Richard Buckminster Fuller: Critical Path 1982
With a title derived from computer-aided planning tools:
the sequence of stages determining the minimum time needed for an operation, especially when analysed on a computer for a large organization.“software exists to effectively undertake critical-path analyses”
Richard Buckminster Fuller outlines a strategy for mankind’s survival in the minimum possible time. Disputing the gloomy prognostications of Thomas Malthus (that mankind was doomed to fighting for ever-diminishing resources), Fuller points out that as our resources diminish, our intellectual accomplishments only increase, and that we can, using a design-science approach, continually expect to ‘do more with less’ (Fuller is fond of the example of the 60lb communications satellite outperforming the million-ton trans-Atlantic cable). Fuller also notes that NASA’s Apollo Project (putting a man on the moon) had a critical path of 2 million tasks, one million of which required new technological solutions. Fuller’s book includes his list of the critical path tasks necessary to ensure mankind’s success as the crew and caretakers of planet Earth. (Fuller: Critical Path p248).
Ridley Scott: Blade Runner 1982
Blade Runner is one of the very best science-fiction films ever made, ranking alongside Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Besson’s Fifth Element (1997) and the Wachowski’s The Matrix 1999. It shines out even more because of the sophistication and ‘detailed understatement’ of its production design and special effects – for 1982, these were exceptional – ecstatic extrapolations from Dick’s 1968 novel. Compared with Lisberger’s Tron of the same year, Blade Runner‘s technical and aesthetic approach are obviously adult, and the film deals with what Tracy Kidder called ‘the soul of a new machine’ in great human depth, culminating in Rutger Hauer’s ‘tears in rain’ monologue and the release of a symbolic dove (a la Channing Pollock’s magical dove in George Franju: Judex 1963). Blade Runner brilliantly brought the work of Philip K. Dick to the attention of Hollywood, and his extraordinary canon has been remediated in many features since, but none as successfully as Blade Runner.
Godfrey Reggio: Koyaanisqatsi 1983
Koyaanisqatsi appeals to the mind through the eye and the ear in a most powerful way – treat yourself to a viewing as soon as you can. There aren’t many films that jog your brain, your consciousness and your conscience as successfully as Reggio and Glass’ masterpieces!
Howard Chaykin: Amerikan Flagg! from 1983
Although written and drawn in the (President) Clinton era, Chaykin’s venom seems even more appropriate to George W and to Donald J Trump – I guess Amerikan Flagg! is a reaction to the Reagan/Thatcherite neo-liberal deregulation (rampant free-market capitalist) policies… Whatever the setting or the trigger, Chaykin’s graphic ingenuity, with its innovation in both form and content, is evolutionary, incorporating fragmentary, multiple ‘windows’ and parallel narratives, and his satirical perspective about as biting and as relevant now as it was then. Chaykin is hip too – representative of a new generation of graphic artists with an increasingly global awareness of social mores, fashions, lifestyles etc – this is no longer an environment informed by Manhattan urbanity or Mid-West conformity – its a post-punk, global, post-modern pasteup, and as Bukatman points out, it draws from the same source as Burroughs and Gysin cut-ups – ie techniques inspired by Duchamp and DADA photomontage…
In the graphic novel collection Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! (2008), the Pullitzer winning writer Michael Chabon writes a 2700 word Introduction critically assessing Chaykin’s work:
“If American Flagg! successfully predicted certain aspects of the hundred-ply world we live in now – and I think of it every time I see a lurid news headline about a paedophilic pop star crawling under breaking footage of carnage or disaster, while a network meat puppet intones the latest official spin – then that very success would condemn it to seem, in time, eternally passé….It is not, ultimately, the brilliance of its technique, or the aptness of the future it imagined that makes American Flagg! an enduring, necessary, and neglected pleasure, but the impeccable pop artisanship that produced it. So many of the purest pop masterpieces, from Michael Ritchie’s Smile (1975) to Emmitt Rhodes self-titled first solo album (1970), are neglected ones; even an acknowledged pop masterpiece like Pet Sounds (1966) has never quite shed its initial air of puzzlement-inducing letdown. American Flagg! has all the modern virtues that would seem to guarantee its place in the pantheon of seminal pop artefacts: irony, attitude, knowingness, cynicism, a familiarity with corruption and existential bad faith, a rapturous, at times hyperbolic, sense of style, and that insatiable compulsion, mentioned earlier, to undercut. Its hero Reuben Flagg, is not just a preening, self-regarding piece of beefcake – he’s a redundant one, having been replaced, in his starring role on Mark Thrust, Sexus Ranger, by a hologram, and a self-conscious one. Nobody is more aware of the irony and implicit satire of his situation than Flagg. On the surface, he ought to be an ideal hero, and American Flagg! an ideal narrative for our time.”
(Michael Chabon Introduction: Chaykin and Flagg! in Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! 2008)
Sophie Wilson: ARM Instruction-Set 1983
It is a reflection on the sad state of the discipline of art history and media history, and the negligible attention paid to this subject at all levels of education, that the wonderful contributions of the designers and engineers who built some of the fundamental devices that power our contemporary global media environment. are still hardly known, let alone celebrated. The fundamental contributors (for example: Paul Otlet, Vannevar Bush, Joseph Licklider, Norbert Weiner, Jay Forrester, Gordon Pask, Ivan Sutherland, Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, Steve Jobs, Wendy Hall, Tim Berners Lee, Sophie Wilson, Jonathan Ives (et cetera) are still hardly mentioned at school. Yet these inventors, and the innovations they severally made, power every aspect of our education, our entertainment, our economy and our social intercourse. Teaching art history (as taught now) is no longer enough – someone once said that if Michelangelo lived now, he’d be designing microprocessors (was it Thierry Chaput in Thackara’s Design After Modernism?). We need a real art history that covers these innovations in form and content – in the media arts as well as the ‘new media’ arts that characterise much of our current creative output.
David Byrne + Talking Heads: And She Was (1983) + More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
The Hockney-joiner-style album sleeve was designed by punk-art photographer Jimmy de Sana from an idea by David Byrne. The fine-art influences stretch also to the promo videos for And She Was (and other Talking Heads singles of this period)- funky short-form animated montage integrating state of the art video-compositing/insets. If you don’t know the Talking Heads, the British film-maker Jonathan Demme documented a 1984 concert in the film Stop Making Sense. It gives you a very good idea of their style and the levels of innovation we associate with them:
Don Bluth: Dragon’s Lair 1983
Shigeru Miyamoto: Mario Bros 1983
Steve Jobs + Steve Wozniak: Apple Macintosh 1984
I’d already spent a couple of years (it seemed much longer!) learning MS-DOS and struggling with a distinctly designer-unfriendly PC (the fonts! the aliasing! the clunkyness!) when I experienced my first Mac. Suddenly the future was rosey, seamless software-hardware integration, the feeling you were driving a Mini-Cooper S (rather than a Vauxhall Viva for example) – the interface had been designed for heaven’s sake – by someone who knew something about graphics. And to have this machine launched by a master film-maker (Ridley Scott: Blade Runner– 1982), making explicit references to Big Brother (read IBM) and 1984 – it was clever, the computer was brilliant (inspired by Alan Kay’s Alto graphical user interface – 1973). OK it was only one-bit, only had a floppy-disk memory, you had to eject the floppy by putting it into the trash-can – but it was very very cool and promised to be the designer’s workstation that within a few years, it had become. I was coming from an unusual background – fine-art-degree, commercial illustration, self-taught in typography, tyro graphic designer – and my first ‘desktop-publishing’ machine was a Linotype CRTronic photo-typesetter (powered by CP/M I think, with a familiar command-line interface – green prompts on a black mini CRT screen) – and the output was four times the resolution of the Apple Laserprinter (1986).
The Apple Mac changed everything. Suddenly computers were easy to use – learn one interface to learn how to manage many applications, all in a unified and intuitively easy to understand graphical user interface (GUI). It was the first computer to be packaged as a consumer product, and the first commercially successful computer to bring us a GUI. It was a revelation and instantly began to build a faithful cohort of Mac fans, many of whom have stayed with Apple though its various incarnations. Atkinson played a lead role in the GUI design for Apple, and his MacPaint – a bitmap editor bundled free on the early Macs with Randy Wigginton’s MacWrite – was a masterclass in user-friendly design, with clear palettes of tools, brush-strokes and patterns for drawing. OK the Mac only had a 7”x5” one-bit (black and white) screen, a floppy disk drive, and 64 kilobits of RAM (with 64K ROM to store the interface and bundled apps)..And it was expensive, but so, so much easier to use than the IBM-compatible PCs that dominated the market.
Bill Atkinson: Mac User Interface + MacPaint 1984
The interview with Atkinson (above) continues:
“I actually got to go to Xerox PARC for one and a half hours; that’s the whole time I have ever been at XeroxPARC . There was a whole lot of original research done at Apple on the user interface design, and I was in the centre of that. I wasn’t the only person doing the design, but I was sort of lead, and I kept throwing up ideas and seeing which ones worked and which didn’t. What we saw when we went there for that hour and a half was the Xerox Alto, their older system, and it was running Smalltalk. We didn’t get to see their Star, which I think was later.”
(Bill Atkinson quoted in Bill Moggridge: Designing Interactions (p91 2006)
Richard Saul Wurman: TED talks/conferences (1984) + Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? (2006)
TED Talks are as important an addition to contemporary intellectual life as Wikipedia, and the Google search engine, and predates them both. When Saul Wurman originated this idea in 1984, there was no Web, no multimedia Internet, but in the 21st century his idea of networking great commentaries and serious scholarly talks has blossomed. It’s as if Wurman had read Richard Buckminster Fuller’s idea in Education Automation (1962) of each university and school video-recording their best lecturers and making them widely available to other schools and colleges – thus optimising valuable educational resources. As an example of such a lecture: Ken Robinson gives a lucid and dramatic critique of where our 19th century education system is failing us. Andrew Parks and his team at Cognitive Media (based in Kent, UK), working with RSA Animate (Royal Society of Arts) have created a methodology for vibrant explanatory animation, a mix of live-action drawing and animation that harks back to the exploratory animation lectures of Winsor McCay (Gertie the Dinosaur live lectures 1914). There are two videos of Sir Ken’s TED talk: a live-action recording and an animated illustrated video. Take a look at both:
Donald Michie: The Creative Computer – Machine Intelligence and Human Knowledge 1984 + Annabel Jankel & Rocky Morton: Creative Computer Graphics 1984
While researching how these two books in their own way summarise aspects of computer-generated imaging in 1984, I came across my copy of John Halas’ Computer Animation (1974). Halas provides a survey of the state of the art in computer animation progress – he covers experimental computer-animation software in both 2d and 3d, some basic research in these sectors, including the experiments at Halas & Batchelor and J. Walter Thompson; lots of diagrams of potential computer-animation studio rigs; film from CRT rigs; computer-controlled rostrum cameras, and some great essays by artists Malcolm Le Grice (Computer Film as Film Art) and Lillian Schwartz (The Artist and Computer Animation). The wonder of this is the phenomenal advances we have made collectively in computer graphics over the last 60 years or so! These advances are the cumulative result of hundreds of thousands of ‘man-hours’ from tens of thousands of individual artists, programmers and engineers all over the world, in a period when the computing power available to individuals scaled up from virtually zero to supercomputing and beyond.
John Halas: Computer Animation (1974)
Douglas Lenat: CYC Project (1984) & Knowledge-based Systems in Artificial Intelligence (1982)
Gordon Pask + Peter Pangaro: Thoughtsticker 1985
During this period, the zeitgeist was calling us to develop a hypermedia system – Bill Atkinson’s Hypercard was in development, as was Ted Nelson’s long-running Xanadu, Wendy Hall’s Microcosm, and Tim Berners Lee was experimenting with what would become the World Wide Web, so Pask’s insightful conversation theory, and its (partial) embodiment in ThoughtSticker was very a propos.
“Named after Pask’s first implementation (in 1976), this THOUGHTSTICKER system was built in 1985, some 10 years before the Web’s acceptance. At the same time, techniques for modelling the user’s unique experiences and conceptual learning style gave embodiment to the concept of ‘personal computer.’ THOUGHTSTICKER’s rich and humanistic interpretation of that common term is still unattained in commercial software products. Over a 15-year period, many software prototypes were constructed and gave proof to the applicability of Pask’s theory. It remains to be seen if these and other aspects of his theory will rise to the consciousness of researchers and, ultimately, the marketplace—where his innovations would inevitably become popular and, afterwards, irremovable and “obvious.” This paper explains how, already, they are practical.”
Peter Pangaro at http://www.pangaro.com
The future need not stop with the WWW, nor indeed the Semantic Web. We are in the primordial days of human-information systems interaction, and Pask’s idea of software that talked back to you – and worked with you to evolve your thinking – had a conversation with you – is still very important – and may indicate the next step in human-computer interaction. We need to push beyond software that simply extracts any viable commercially relevant data from us – and develop proactive, responsive systems that help us learn and help us think.
Bill Gates + Paul Allen + Microsoft: Windows 1.01 1985
For all the reasons listed above, Microsoft Windows was a major breakthrough. I remember how clunky and user-unfriendly the MS-DOS command-line interface was (essentially you had to remember seemingly endless acronyms and three-or four-letter codes that you typed into the command line > when prompted), and how we visual and graphic designers so welcomed the Macintosh launched almost two years previously. Windows 1.01 made MSDOS bearable, though as software it was simply an interface program that ran on top of the MSDOS operating system (so you still had the task-management hiccups of MSDOS to deal with). But here it was – a very fair attempt to give a friendly user-interface to the best-selling personal computer platform in the world – it was bound to be a success! Within a decade Gates and Allen of Microsoft had re-written Windows and absorbed DOS to make a standalone OS and interface they called Windows95.
Richard Stallman: Free Software Foundation 1985
Rocky Morton + Annabelle Jankel: Max Headroom 1984-85
Bob Geldof + Midge Ure: LiveAid concerts and global TV broadcast 1985
Nick Roeg: Insignificance 1985
Nolan Campbell (director) + Troy Kennedy Martin (writer)+ BBC: Edge of Darkness TV Series 1985
Jean Baudrillard + Nam June Paik + Hans Magnus Enzensberger: essays in John Hanhardt: Video Culture A Critical Investigation 1986
William Gibson: Neuromancer + The Sprawl Trilogy 1984 – 1988
The convergence of technologies, fiction, art and science in the mid-1980s was exciting to live through – the constant development of the cyber-zeit-geist through real-world developments (in personal computing, graphical user-interfaces, hypermedia, cell-phones, Postscript etc), through technology forecasting (see Richard Saul Wurman: TED conferences; Stewart Brand: The Media Lab – Inventing the Future at MIT 1987) through the fictional exploration of cyber-themes (Ridley Scott: Blade Runner 1982); Stephen Lisberger’s Tron 1982; James Cameron: The Terminator 1984; Jankel and Morton’s Max Headroom 1985; Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi film (1983), to real technologies like Acorn’s RISC chip (1983); Krueger’s Artificial Reality (1983); Fractals (Mandelbrot 1980); Thomas Zimmerman’s Dataglove (1985); the Apple Macintosh (1984); Richard Stallman’s Open-Source movement 1985; the launch of the CDROM; the Amiga computer 1985, ) and real events like Geldof’s global multi-cast Live-Aid (1985), the launch of Stewart Brand’s WELL (Whole Earth Lectronic Link – city-wide large area network social media 1985); ; the launch of Lucasfilm’s Habitat – graphical MUD 1986; VIVID’S MANDALLA augmented VR system, Richard Dawkins’ Biomorphs algorithm; the creation of Pixar, and release of Luxo Jnr (1986), Macromedia launch Director – a sophisticated interactive multimedia authoring program (1987), Nintendo’s Gameboy (1987), Apple’s Hypercard (1987) and even the venerable Startrek gets the Holodeck (1987) – you get the idea. To have this explosion of technologies as it were documented by great fiction – by Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, for example (and by Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker and other cyberpunk authors) capped it all – the zeitgeist was immersing us!
Hayao Miyazaki + Yoshinada Iko Kanada: Laputa Castle in the Sky 1986
Richard Dawkins: Biomorphs 1986
Myron Krueger: Videoplace Artificial Reality + Vincent John Vincent: Mandala 1986
Alan Sekers (Imagine): Konico LED imaging balloon 1986
I was fortunate enough to work closely with Alan Sekers at London College of Communication (University of the Arts, London) on the masters in Interactive Media. We had met external examining in Ulster the previous year, and he supported and seconded by application for a research fellowship at LCC. We ran several conferences and projects together, as well as extending the wonderful (one-year) masters course, introducing elements of technology forecasting into the curriculum. Sekers is a deep-thinking genius of pedagogy/androgogy, an inspirational course-leader and creative director, and a wonderful friend with deep central-European roots and a breathtakingly broad range of vision. Sekers had already attracted a brilliant team – including Sandra Gaudenzi, Rob White, and at other times, Russell Merryman, Cliff Wootton, Liam Birtles…
John D. Barrow + Frank J. Tipler: The Anthropic Cosmological Principle 1986
This is one of those books where you boggle at the brilliance of physicists, and gasp at the cogency – and the logic and mathematical reasoning – of the argument. The idea of the Goldilocks Principle is the question – why is the Earth just right for life to evolve? The Anthropic Principle asks – why is the universe just right for life? This isn’t an easy book even if you are an accomplished logician or mathematician. But it is very exciting – the range of issues discussed – the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, the weak and strong anthropic principles, the cosmic coincidences of human existence in the universe of multiverses, the questions of origin and endings, of singularities, of quarks and anti-quarks, of dark matter and dark energy, of grand unified theories, and other cosmological issues- all these, plus the liberal use of Penrose space-time diagrams, is thrilling. We don’t have serious discussions of these issues except at the frontiers of physics, and this book is a wonderful example of this kind of intellectual debate.
A non-mathematical version of this debate can be found in Paul Davies excellent The Goldilocks Enigma (2006), and the core physics of these issues are discussed in depth in Roger Penrose: The Road to Reality – A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (2004).
Victor Burgin: Office at Night (1986) + The End of Art Theory 1986
Stewart Brand: The Media Lab – Inventing the Future at MIT (1987) and Coevolution Quarterly (from 1974)
Stanford professor of Communications Fred Turner explored and analysed Stewart Brand’s contribution to cultural history in his From Counterculture to Cyberculture – Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (2006). Brand’s The Media Lab had a profound effect on me in the mid-1980s – this was the stuff I wanted to know about – Negroponte’s laboratory evolved out of his Architecture Machine Group (ArchMac), and these guys were following Alan Kay’s famous dictum: “The best way to predict the Future is to Invent it” – thus the subtitle – Inventing the Future at MIT. So Brand turns out to be not only a great publishing entrepreneur (The Whole Earth Catalog (1968) – was a counter-culture Sears Roebuck catalogue, and encouraged reader contributions, suggestions, critiques etc) – he was a great journalist too, examining all the art-media-science-technology ventures at MIT’s famous lab, and providing us all with an umbrella overview of the invention of much of modern media.
Bill Atkinson: Hypercard 1987 + Dan Winkler Hypertalk 1987.
I was introduced to Hypercard at an Apple developers conference at the Islington Business Centre in 1987. Apple had succeeded in getting Douglas Adams (the writer of Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy and keen Apple developer) to introduce this software – a daunting task then, as concepts like hyper-links and scripting were pretty esoteric. I had mastered the desktop-publishing software that Apple had launched with Aldus Pagemaker a couple of years previously (alongside their Apple Laserprinter), but Hypercard was a huge leap forward. This was application-software-building, not book design. Douglas Adams was hugely entertaining at this conference, showing how he used Hypercard to make a database of his favourite records. He illustrated how he could catalogue all his records, then talked us through his favourite track – the Beatles A Day in the Life (from Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 1967)) – he played the track – digital audio from Hypercard – and explained how he was fascinated by the verse:
I read the news today oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall
I’d love to turn you on
He showed us a map of Blackburn, Lancashire, dotted with 4000 holes in the roads, used Hypercard to calculate their combined volume, then a 3d cutaway of the Albert Hall – using Hypercard to calculate by volume how many holes you would need to fill the Hall – a reductio-ad-absurdam such that Adams (the genius!) excelled in. It was hilarious and illuminating and educational all at the same time. It was the most exciting demo/launch of software that I had ever personally experienced. And like thousands of others, I was sold. We started work on High Bandwidth Panning almost immediately we got the software, which for several years was bundled free with every Mac purchased, joining Atkinson’s MacPaint, and Randy Wigginton’s MacWrite (both from 1984) as a core software tool.
Hypercard was the first popular and widely available hypermedia authoring and distribution system, preceding Tim Berners Lee’s WWW proposals by a couple of years (1987) – it introduced many of us to the potential of interactive media, hyperlinks, and the use of multiple media, as well as scripting in the elegant Hypertalk – a high-level coding language. It had reasonable tools for graphics, drawing, text and typography, and animation. But then of course it was one-bit – black and white, geared to the screen-size of the early Macs – 7×5 inches (roughly 500×360 pixels). The hypermagazine we designed was called High Bandwidth Panning, and linked several ‘stacks’ of electronic cards together, covering subjects like key books on the emerging ideas of hypermedia, interactive diagrams, animated virtual rooms browsers, scripted generative computer graphics, and ideas about what kind of impact the digital media would eventually have.
Ian M. Banks: Consider Phlebas – and the Culture Series 1987
From a 2014 article in The Guardian: Ian M. Banks: “the Culture stories are me at my most didactic, though it’s largely hidden under all the funny names, action, and general bluster. The Culture represents the place we might hope to get to after we’ve dealt with all our stupidities. Maybe. I have said before, and will doubtless say again, that maybe we – that is, homo sapiens – are just too determinedly stupid and aggressive to have any hope of becoming like the Culture, unless we somehow find and isolate/destroy the genes that code for xenophobia, should they exist.” Add the destruction of the ‘selfishness‘ gene, replace competition with cooperation, and you’re heading for the Culture. It’s a socialist-anarchist vision of utopia.
And just as the Cyberpunk genre paralleled the development of the Net and the Hacker, so the fictional Culture series also maps to the real-world emergence of Artificial Intelligence over the last few decades – as indicated by Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker (1986), Marvin Minsky’s Society of Mind (1987), Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990), Stephen Levy’s Artificial Life (1992), etc.
Also, I must add that the Orbit publications of the Culture novels had brilliant art direction too – using a variety of artists and astronomical photography, artists like Mark Salwowski and others – Orbit discovered the perfect visual metaphors for Banks’ talent – far removed from the 1950s styles dominated by artists like Chris Foss, whose excellent work was often applied with no relevance at all to the content of the book it adorned.
April Greiman: Autobiographical poster for Design Quarterly 1987
Greiman studied with Wolfgang Weingart and developed her own vision of where graphic design was headed in her book Hybrid Imagery: The Fusion of Technology and Graphic Design (1990) – a catalogue raisonne of her work.
Barbara Kruger: I shop therefore I am 1987
Humberto Maturana + Francisco Varela: The Tree of Knowledge – the Biological Roots of Human Understanding (1987) + The Ontological Diagram from Maturana: REALITY: The Search for Objectivity or the Quest for a Compelling Argument 1988
Of course, Maturana was associated with Bateson, Mead, Pask, von Foerster and others of the Second-Order Cybernetics generation in the 1960s-1980s. This was the cybernetics of cybernetic systems – a fusion of systems theory and cybernetics, and in Varela and Maturana’s case, the fusion of ecology, cybernetics and the psycho-biology of self. I love the distinction between the Universum and the Multiversa!
John Thackara: Design After Modernism – Beyond the Object 1988
Bob Cotton + Richard Oliver + Asif Choudhary: High Bandwith Panning 1988
How do you encapsulate all the excitement and enthusiasm about all these cutting-edge developments in media? At the time the answer was simple – you make a hyper-magazine about it. So we used Apple’s Hypercard (1987) and Hypertalk – the high-level scripting language that came with it – and created a multi-part magazine survey of the ideas, technologies and art we found interesting, and that seemed to map our progress towards a hypermediated future. We were impressed with the idea that Hypercard could remediate graphics and text, as well as create new algorithmic content – simulations, animations, realtime graphics, sound-fx etc. Richard and I collaborated on Understanding Hypermedia – an introductory book on the new media (designed by Malcolm Garrett) 5 years later.
Mark Weiser: The Computer in the 21st Century (Ubiquitous Computing/Pervasive Computing) 1988
Paul Verilio: War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception 1989.
R.U. Sirius (Ken Goffman) + Queen Mu (Alison Bailey Kennedy): Mondo2000 1989
Jeffrey Shaw: The Legible City 1989
Tim Berners Lee: World-Wide-Web WWW proposal 1989
It’s impossible to over-estimate the importance of Tim Berners Lee, and this catalytic, break-through proposal made in 1989. Seeking to solve a local problem – the mutual and cooperative sharing of papers and responses to papers by scientists working at or with CERN (the massive hadron collider and research facilities in Geneva, Switzerland), Berners Lee hit on a scaleable solution – one that not only applied locally, but that could be used by everyone. He says modestly: “I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and — ta-da!— the World Wide Web. ” (http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/Kids.html). (TCP= Transmission-Control Protocol (the code that transmits messages through the Internet); DNS = Domain Name System – a network of computers storing all the IP addresses and URLs). But watch this video of a talk by Berners Lee:
Will Wright: Sim City 1989
Ray Kurzweil: The Age of Intelligent Machines 1990 + Marvin Minsky: The Society of Mind 1988