Konrad Zuse: Z1 Computer 1938 + Z2 Computer 1940
Zuse’s claim to be the first to build a functioning digital computer is well established., but is often buried under the avalanche of priority claims from the USA and Britain that followed WW2. The Z1 was, in Zuse’s own words:
“Z1 was a machine of about 1000 kg weight, which consisted from some 20000 parts. It was a programmable computer, based on binary floating point numbers and a binary switching system. It consisted completely of thin metal sheets, which Kuno and his friends produced using a jigsaw.” “The [data] input device was a keyboard…The Z1’s programs (Zuse called them Rechenplans) were stored on punch tapes by means of a 8-bit code”
Konrad Zuse: The First Relay Computer at http://history-computer.com/ModernComputer/Relays/Zuse.html
George Stibitz: Complex Number Calculator/Computer (CNC) 1939-1940
Stibbitz solved the initial practical issues of getting a computer plumbed into the telephone system, but in terms of wider networks (of multiple computers) it took the ingenuity of the packet-switching – first patented as Distributed, Adaptive Message Block Switching by Paul Baran in the late 1950s for the RAND Corporation, then formalised and titled packet-switching by the English Donald Davies working at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK. Packet-switching encapsulated a message in a series of smaller blocks or packets of data, each containing an address header and labelling. Packets could be dispatched independently through a network, some taking different routes according to network traffic, then reassembled at the recipient computer. The advantage of packet-switching was that the whole network was more efficient, and levels of redundancy were built-in. If a packet went amiss, the recipient computer would request a copy.
Hugh Dowding (Air Officer Commanding RAF Fighter Command): The Operations (Ops) Table and the Dowding Air-Defence System 1939-1940
Dowding’s triumph – to use age-old strategic mapping (war-gaming) techniques to visualise a battle and to add to it sources of realtime intelligence and feedback – helped win the Battle of Britain. With the latest RDF (RADAR) intelligence, reports from the Royal Observer Corps, feedback from airborne squadrons, from airfields, from anti-aircraft gun emplacements – all these injected realtime data into the dynamic Ops Table. The Ops Table thus became a dynamic data visualization tool – really one of the last pre-computer tools of this sort (though see Lewis Fry : numerical weather forecasting (1950)…
John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath (1939) + John Ford: The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Joan Miro: Metamorfosi (1936) + The Poetess (1940)
Walt Disney: Fantasia 1940
Bob Kane: Batman 1940
The ’30s and 40’s were an exceedingly rich period for artists working in both the comic strip and the cel-animation – both these media were going through a golden age of commercial success, with comics (sometimes produced by a single artist, but at most by a small team (pencillers, inkers, lettering, colourists etc) often syndicated across America and even around the world. Cartoon animations had a ready market in the pre-Television world, with the average American visiting the cinema at least twice a week, and with day-time screenings, morning matinees – all soaking up the mixture of features, cartoons, commercials, documentaries, news programmes that was the expected programme of any decent cinema. In Comic-art, artists could command huge salaries, but had to fight hard for copyright ownership of their work. As Scott McCloud has pointed out in his very useful ‘Understanding Comics‘ (1993), the comic-strip medium embraced a wide range of aesthetic styles, from the near book illustration expressionist realism of Hal Foster (Prince Valiant from 1937) and Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon 1934), to the playful surrealistic genius and graphic-self-parody of Will Eisner (The Spirit from 1940), through to the sparse elegance, surrealism and gentle graphic wit of George Herriman (Krazy Kat 1913-1944), and so forth. Bob Kane and Chester Gould are particular favourites of mine mainly because they weren’t superb draftsmen (like Eisner, Raymond etc) but developed a flat 2-d graphic style that enabled them to weave their stories into a very rich, non-pictorial or rather, non-realistic graphic space.
I first had a taste of American comics when I was about 6 – in 1951 – when my uncle George brought me a bundle of American comic supplements he had acquired when he was in the army in Korea. The entrancement effected by these comics was a total treat – not just in the visual, colourful sense, or in the great narratives – but in the raw visceral sense of the smell, the look and the feel of the coated newsprint. On newsprint (as opposed to an art-paper), the coloured inks of the comics were absorbed, giving a softer, diffused, more water-colour edge to the print. Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates became my favourite for a while back then – strip that was also an inspiration for Speilberg and Lucas…
Will Eisner: The Spirit 1940
Chuck Jones + Tex Avery + Ben Hardaway: Bugs Bunny 1940
Woodie Guthrie: This Land is Your Land including Dustbowl Ballads 1940
Alan Turing: Decryption Bombe 1940
Gordon Welchman: Traffic Analysis 1940
The WW2 deployment of what is now called Psy-Ops is fascinating. Delmer’s own ingenuity and skill lay in helping develop the illusion that there might be a internal German civil resistance to the Nazis. The two principal forms of propaganda available to the PWE were radio broadcasts and air-dropped leaflets, postcards, and other faked documents. The PWE had several radio stations, including Kurzwellesender Atlantik and Gustav Siegfried Eins, as well as Selmer’s Soldatensender Calais – they broadcast real and verifiable news from Germany, culled from interrogations of captured Germans, from press and broadcasting agencies, and from aerial photo-analysis – and they interspersed this ‘real’ information with their fabricated political and morale propaganda. Thus the millennia-old story of psychological warfare enters the latest media age to sow doubt and mistrust in Axis countries…
Sergei Eisenstein: Eisenstein on Disney (1941, published 1986)
Eisenstein envied the extended palette of tools open to the animator – the freedom that Disney and his team enjoyed to extend reality to compass the fantastic and impossible. The film critic Jay Leyda and the cultural critic Scott Bukatman have both written extensively about animation, the latter pointing out that animated characters often assumed a life of their own, becoming endowed with free will, (to be continued)…
Preston Sturges: Sullivan’s Travels 1941
Orson Welles: Citizen Kane 1941
Warren McCulloch + Walter Pitts: Threshold Logic Units 1943
It is fascinating how during this period (1940s), the important theories of computational networks (McCulloch and Pitts) and digital communication (Von Neumann, Weiner and Shannon, etc) developed alongside (almost as it were hand-in-hand with) the still experimental development of digital computers. This decade also saw the digital development of cryptanalysis (Turing from 1940), signals intelligence (Welchman: Traffic Analysis, 1940), large scale (national) information networks in command and control (Dowding: Air-defence system 1940), John von Neumann’s computer-architecture (1945), Arthur Clarke’s ‘Extra-Terrestrial Relays’ (satellite ideas) 1945, the development of experimental transistors (Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley, 1947), Norbert Weiner’s work on Cybernetics (1948), Tom Kilburn’s first stored program code (1948), and Claude Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949) – as well as Grey Walter’s early robots (1949) – so much of the infrastructure that defines the second half of the 20th century, and the growth of global networking and modern computation was established in the 1940s. And how exciting this is! From artificial neurones to neural networks to machine-learning to artificial intelligence – a massively important growth area from Turing’s first papers on machine intelligence in the late 1940s to the AI spin-offs of pattern recognition, encryption, digital money, optical-character recognition, speech-recognition, machine translation, chatterbots, gameplay, software agents, personal digital assistants, automatic language translation, voice-synthesis, image-descriptors, facial-recognition systems, knowledge-mining, knowledge representation, knowledge engineering, (etc, etc) – let alone Robotics, driverless cars, object manipulation, affective computing/robotics, the Aaron fine-art machine, expert systems, artificial life, genetic algorithms, fuzzy logic, inference engines, recommendation engines, – and much,much more! AI now underpins our lives, our social media, our e-commerce, our banking, our news, our opinion-sharing and it began in the late 1940s.
Busby Berkeley: The Gang’s all Here 1943
The Gang’s All Here is quite remarkable – made the same year as Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, it has several adventurous neo-abstract sequences. Take for example the tour de force – the Polka Dot Polka – the final sequence of the film where the love triangle is resolved and the heroine (Alice Fay) gets her man. This is an epiphanic montage of various styles, some verging on the abstract (the kaliedoscopic sequence), some trademark Berkeley cine-choreography, some screwball romance, some avant garde moderne optical effects, all infused with Berkeley’s roving craned camera. The entire movie is available on Youtube…
These ‘storyboards’ pf the Polka Dot sequence give you some idea of Busby Berkeley’s inventive ‘cine-choreography’, where cinematography, sets, choreography and optical special effects are orchestrated to create a masterly finale to The Gang’s All Here’. Berkeley is playing with optical effects here as if it was 1967 (see Christopher Chapman: A Place to Stand, 1967 and Stanley Kubrick: 2001 A Space Odyssey 1968). This is the kind of optical montage that foreshadowed the digital compositing of the 21st century.
Maya Deren: Meshes of the Afternoon 1943
There is a great beauty, and the mystery of beauty, in Deren’s groundbreaking film. Simultaneously, she captures on film the inner reveries of a young woman, she makes a mystery of symbolic objects – the key, the nun, the knife, the mirror, the stairs – she captures the laconic elegance and mystery of the California coastal climate, the meshes and mysteries of dreams, day-dreams, sleep-walking – of consciousness itself. She evokes the success of Luiz Bunuel’s and Salvador Dali’s Le Chien Andalou.. She is a choreographer of the soul of the archetypal woman… And, alongside all this, she invents a new counter cultural genre – the trance film – a genre to be revisited by Kenneth Anger, Curtis Harrington, Jack Smith…
Sergei Eisenstein: A Sequence from Alexander Nevsky 1943
It was with great joy that I discovered this art-paper printed gatefold in Eisenstein’s The Film Sense – a 1943 edition, that looked too wartime to have such an insert. Eisenstein was trained as an engineer, and I admired the way he had dissected this sequence from his famous film Alexander Nevsky (1938), which I first saw at art college in Portsmouth in about 1964 – the deep mysteries and scheming of the Russian Orthodox priesthood, the brutality of the Teutonic invaders, the panoramic battle on the ice, the victory of Nevsky – all these fragments seared themselves on my brain. Nevsky is also a call to arms – protecting the homeland against German invaders. Discovering this diagram in the 1980s – I was able to use it in my book Understanding Hypermedia (1993) – brought Eisenstein’s film back to me with a jolt. I’ve used his meticulous analysis in lectures on story-boarding, pre-visualization and hypermedia authoring.
Richard Buckminster Fuller: Dymaxion Air-Ocean Map 1943
I found this as inspirational as seeing a cubist painting for the first time. It is an intellectual, rational, 20th century, design-led re-formulation of the familiar world map; just as cubism was a repositioning of ‘point of view’ and perspective; just as Relativity abolished the relevance of a single point of reference, this was Fuller’s re-conceptualization of the world-map in the light of the aeronautics revolution of the early 20th century. Fuller had worked as a strategic analyst with the US Navy in WW1, building a world-view that helped him become the radical designer and architect responsible for his great contributions – the Dymaxion House and Car, the Geodesic Dome, The World Resources Inventory, the Geosphere. And this Air-Ocean map was part of this re-conceptualisation:
“Also known as the “Dymaxion Map,” the Fuller Projection Map is the only flat map of the entire surface of the Earth which reveals our planet as one island in one ocean, without any visually obvious distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the land areas, and without splitting any continents. It was developed by R. Buckminster Fuller who ‘By 1954, after working on the map for several decades, ‘finally realized a “satisfactory deck plan of the six and one half sextillion tons Spaceship Earth.'”
(Buckminster Fuller Institute, bfi.org)
Humphrey Jennings: Fires Were Started 1943
Gyorgy Kepes: The Language of Vision 1944 + Juliet’s Shadow Caged 1938
Francis Bacon: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion 1944
Laurence Olivier: Henry V 1944
I thought that this was a brilliantly conceived and executed cinematic treat. Olivier contrives to begin Henry V on the stage of the Globe Theatre – having aerially tracked over Elizabethan London – we are in the theatre-in-the-round, with the play being announced. Then by a series of evolving scenes, we are gradually transported from the stagey artifice of the Globe play into an increasingly cinematic mise-en-scene, gradually – by production design transitions in most cases (no ‘special effects’) – into a fully cinematic, pictorial space. Watching the theatrical artefacts melt away into hard-core scenic and dramatic reality brings us to the centre-point battle of Agincourt – the thunder of armoured cavalry, the brutality of infantry-fighting, the deadly rush of massed arrows. It is Olivier’s genius to marry these disparate elements together into a recognisably true-to-Shakespeare staged play. It is also his genius to begin the film with an aerial tracking shot over Renaissance London, gradually framing in medium-close-up the stage of the Globe, then to end the film by pulling out of the Globe, back into an aerial overview. A cycle of theatrical-cinematic-theatrical iterations that blends the two arts of the theatre and the cinema together in a memorable film – in my opinion as successful an example of art-propaganda as Eisenstein’s 1938 Alexander Nevsky.
Robert Capa: Beach Landings, Omaha Beach Normandy 6th June 1944
Ben Shahn: Register-Vote 1944
There is something about the ‘socialist realism’ of Shahn’s painting of this period that chimes with the spirit of America during WW2, and the socialist patriotism of Woody Guthrie (Big Grand Coulee Dam, This Land is Your Land), movies like Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942) and the illustrations of Norman Rockwell. I first saw his work memorably in the Penguin Modern Painters series (it was number 11 in this brilliant series, published from the late 1940s). These landscape-format booklets introduced my generation to modern art..
Chesley Bonestell: Saturn as seen from Mimas 1944
Paul Delvaux: Sleeping Venus 1944
John von Neumann + Oskar Morgenstern: Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour 1944
Arthur Fellig (WeeGee): Naked City 1945
Arthur C. Clarke: Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage? 1945
Vannevar Bush: The Memex from As We May Think 1945
Its always good going back to the prime source – Bush’s article is widely available on the web – and Bush’s idea of associative trails is an important insight still to be properly productivised for the post WWW generation. In the 1980s I was working with colleagues at the Computer Graphics Workshop at Newham College. We were building a multimedia learning program for the UK Government Training Agency. We built an inference engine into this program to check how much/how long students had been exposed to items of information/nodes of learning, then to provide automatic suggestions as to how to reinforce the latest learned information – by accessing other nodes, repeating a sequence, testing their accumulated knowledge (etc). This got close to the ‘associative trails’ idea – but lots more could be done here…
John von Neumann: von Neumann Architecture 1945
Norman Rockwell: Homecoming Marine 1945
Paul Rand: Thoughts on Design 1946
“An erroneous conception of the graphic designer’s function is to imagine that in order to produce a ‘good layout’ all he need do is to make a pleasing arrangement of miscellaneous elements. What is impled is that this may be accomplished simply by pushing these elements around, until something happens. At best this procedure involves the time-consuming uncertainties of trial and error, and at worst, an indifference to plan, order and discipline.”
“The designer does not, as a rule, begin with some preconceived idea. Rather, the idea is (or should be) the result of careful study and observation, and the design a product of that idea. In order therefore, to achieve an effective solution to his problem, the designer must necessarily go through some sort of mental process. Consciously or not, he analyses, interprets, formulates. He is aware of the scientific and technological developments in his own and kindred fields. He improvises, invents, or discovers new techniques and combinations. He coordinates and integrates his matertial by association and analogy. He intensifies and reinforces his symbol with appropriate accessories to acheive clarity and interest. He draws upon instinct and intuition. He considers the spectator, his feelings and predilections.”
Rand: The Designer’s Problem from Thoughts on Design 1946 p11
Rand goes on to analyse the tasks of the designer, outlining an emergent ‘design process’ that he helped to formulate. As it emerged in the post-War West, the design process was based upon the practical experiences of industrial designers, computer-engineers, graphics designers (like Rand, Jan Tschichold and others) and the rationalisation of these processes by Herbert Simon in his Administrative Behaviour (1947).
Siegfried Giedion: Mechanisation Takes Command 1946
Frank Stauffacher: Art in Cinema Club at SFMOMA 1946 – 1954
George Marshall: The Blue Dahlia with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake 1946
Christian Dior: The New Look 1947
Jacques Tourneur: Out of the Past (aka Build My Gallows High) 1947
Diane Kirkpatrick, in her article Time and Space in the Work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy:
“Throughout his career, Moholy thought deeply about what kind of art would be best and most appropriate for the world in which he lived. His ideas infused his work in all media. His art can be understood more completely when it is seen in the context of the concepts the artist consciously sought ti express.
Underlying the creation of all Moholy’s mature works were his ideas about the time-space nature of our world. He believed we are
‘heading toward a kinetic time-spatial existence; toward an awareness of the forces, plus their relationships which define all life and of which we had no previous knowledge and for which we have as yet no exact terminology… Space-time stands for many things: relativity of motion and its measurement, integration, simultaneous grasp of the inside and outside. revelation of the structure instead of the facade. It also stands for a new vision concerning materials, energies, tensions, and their social implications.’
Because Moholy held that the ‘space-time experience is …a biological function of every person,’ essential as one of ‘the laws of life which guarantee an organic development,’ he felt it to be imperative that each of us develop a new way of seeing if we were to exist fully in this era. Moholy wrote at length about this quality as ‘vision in motion…simultaneous grasp…creative performance – seeing, feeling and thinking in a relationship and not as a series of isolated phenomena’”
Diane Kirhkpatrick: Time and Space in the Work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in Hungarian Studies Review Vol XV, No1 (Spring 1988)
Philippe Halsman: Portrait of Jean Cocteau 1947
An informative promotional video by Goldmarkart gallery, announcing a set of reproductions of Paolozzi’s sketchbook collages of the late 1940s – the British invention of Pop Art, made public at the Bunk! lecture to the Independent Group in 1952.
John Bardeen + William Shockley + Walter Brattain: Point-Contact Transistor 1948 + Julius Edgar Lilienfeld: Field-Effect Transistor 1933
Norbert Weiner: Cybernetics “the science or study of control or regulation mechanisms in human and machine systems, including computers” (1948)
Robert Graves: The White Goddess 1948
Leo Fender: Broadcaster/Telecaster Electric Guitar 1948-1952
Tom Kilburn: The first stored program 1948
The coeval emergence of the theories and technologies of early digital computing and communication media in the late 1940s – from Norbert Weiner’s definitive Cybernetics – Or Control and Communication in Man and Machine and , Shannon’s Theory of Communication, the transistor, Tom Kilburn’s programming, von Neumann and Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour, and Grey Walter’s analogue robots – is no doubt a product of the rapidity and urgency forced upon the research community – and the burgeoning military-industrial complex – by the Second World War. So the really transformative technologies of nuclear power, computing and modern telecommunications were a product of the great military-industrial war-time projects like Bletchley Park, the Manhattan Project, and Dowding’s Air-Defence System.
Claude Shannon: The Mathematical Theory of Communication 1949
Jean Cocteau: Orphee 1949
John Alton: Painting with Light 1949
scenes from Minelli’s An American in Paris shot by John Alton in 1951.
William Grey Walter: Tortoise & Turtle Autonomous Robot experiments 1949
William Grey Walter: The Living Brain 1961 Penguin edition of his 1953 publication.
Wikipedia says this about Walter’s robots:
“Grey Walter’s most famous work was his construction of some of the first electronic autonomous robots. He wanted to prove that rich connections between a small number of brain cells could give rise to very complex behaviors – essentially that the secret of how the brain worked lay in how it was wired up. His first robots, which he used to call Machina speculatrix and named Elmer and Elsie, were constructed between 1948 and 1949 and were often described as tortoises due to their shape and slow rate of movement – and because they “taught us” about the secrets of organisation and life. The three-wheeled tortoise robots were capable of phototaxis, by which they could find their way to a recharging station when they ran low on battery power.”
from wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Grey_Walter
Joseph Campbell: The Hero’s Journey from The Hero with a Thousand Faces 1949
The mass post-traumatic psychic stress following WW2, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the revelation of the Extermination Camps, seemed to provoke some serious investigation into human-kind – what we were, why we were, what we aspired to – and these investigations spanned Behaviourism (Skinner), Existentialism (Camus: The Outsider), Poetry (Graves’ White Goddess), epic fantasy (Lord of the Rings, The Narnia Chronicles), speculative fiction (Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm) and of course Joseph Campbell’s epic The Hero’s Journey.
Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino: Fat Man 1949
I was eleven years old when I heard Blueberry Hill in Fats Domino’s brilliant, rolling, rocking version – on Radio Luxemburg of course – the main channel for youngsters who had been given a brand new transistor radio for themselves! (we listened under the blankets after ‘lights out’ – floating off to that land of Decca Records, – so well remembered by Van Morrison in his song In the Days Before Rock’n’Roll (1990).
George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty Four 1949
Erline (Rock n Roll) Harris: Jump and Shout + Rock and Roll Blues 1949
What a period this was for popular music – the multifarious sources of Rock’n’Roll emerging like a great aroma from the Creole Gumbo of its ingredients.
Frank Hoffman, Lee Cooper and their colleagues quote Phillip Ennis:
“Using the single word rocknroll to define a specific type of music that developed in the United States after World War II, Phillip Ennis argues that the American recording industry was significantly altered artistically, politically and economically by the advent of this new sound. Actually, the author’s primary metaphor is liquid rather than auditory. Ennis contends that before 1945 American popular music was a broad river of sound flowing in six homogenous streams – white pop, country, black pop (rhythm and blues), gospel, jazz and folk. However during the twenty years after Hiroshima a dynamic, independent, and heterogenous seventh stream emerged. This radical rocknroll rivulet owed its origins to the artistry of composers and performers from the six tributaries of modern American music, although it originally appeared to emerge solely from the melding of country and R&B in the persona of Elvis Presley. Ennis eschews such a simplistic explanation. The multiple causation approach that he elucidates is so thorough, so complex, and yet so reasonable that it staggers the imagination. This is 20th century musical history at its best.”
Phillip H. Ennis: The Seventh Stream: The Emergence of RocknRoll in American Popular Music (1992) quoted in Hoffman, Cooper et al: Rock Music in American Popular Culture III – More Rock’n’Roll Resources (2014).
Richard Feynman: Feynman (Particle-interaction) diagrams 1949
Innovations in communicating ideas come in all kinds of forms – from Florence Nightingale’s graphs of the statistics of deaths in the Crimean War to Harry Beck’s superb London Underground schematic, colour-coded map; to Dowding’s Ops Table, Neurath’s Isotypes, Wentworth D’Arcy Thompson’s growth drawings, and Alan Kay’s graphical user-interface for the Xerox Alto business computer – even the cryptic space-time squiggles of Richard Feynman clarified the complex interactions of sub-atomic particles. Diagrams, drawings, schematics, maps (Fuller’s Dymaxion Air-Ocean map), charts, time-lines, cut-aways – all these forms are a product of the aesthetic and intellectual, and are tools as well as pictures…
Jackson Pollock: Number 8 1949
Giuseppe de Santis: Bitter Rice 1949