Saturday, July 02, 2016

RETROTECH | Gone digital in '83

Sinclair ZX-81
I found a very interesting link a couple a weeks ago, shared by my good friend Tad Ermitano. Tad, who is an established multimedia artist and a pioneering member of sound art group Children of Cathode Ray, knew that I would be fascinated by it. And he wasn't wrong.

In a 2014 post by Robert Sorokanich at Gizmodo, he revealed in an article entitled "The 1983 Punk Rock Record With a Digital Music Video For a B-Side" a long lost recording that I myself didn't know even exist. #ThankYouInternet.

Apparently, a 1983 single by an English music artist named Chris Sievey's was released containing the digital noise created by a computer, a ZX-81.

One of the earliest home computers, the ZX-81 was manufactured by Sinclair Research based in Scotland (Yeah, we had one when I was a kid but my sister didn't like the thing because of the small keys and eventually swapped it with a Commodore VIC-20).

And it's not just ordinary digital noise that was produced but rather an entire computer program created from the ZX-81.

Digital sound, in this case a computer program, when recorded and played back in analog will make unbearable screeches -- similar to the sound of the computer modem when handshaking for an Internet connection, if you remember those times; distinguishable only by a computer, decoding the noise as bits of data.

Sorokanich said "(T)he B-side of Chris Sievey's 1983 single 'Camouflage' sounds like an unlistenable malestrom of noise. It's not an avant-garde song; it's a program for the ZX-81 computer, and if you could load it correctly, it gave you a (very rudimentary) computer-animated music video, coded in the grooves of a vinyl record."

Here's a video of that computer program from the single:

Sorokanich continued saying  in his post: "(T)his neat little tidbit is well known to fans of early 80s punk music, butUsVsTh3m brought it back to our attention recently and it's worth re-remembering. Chris Sievey, on top of being a founding member of The Freshies and the mind behind the charmingly offbeat character Frank Sidebottom, was a computer tinkerer drawn to the ZX-81. The hobby computer, weighing only 12 ounces, with zero moving parts and no display (you plugged it into your TV), bolstered its 1kB internal memory by storing data to cassette tapes at a blistering 250 baud."

Truly ahead of his time, Sievey definitely created something that would mark him a pioneer. The only thing though, the song itself is not 'punk' (music) as described by Sorokanich or the editor's at Gizmodo. The only punk there was the way it was packaged in 1983. Indie maybe. But definitely not punk music by 1983 standards. Power pop is more like it.

Nonetheless, Sievey's contribution in pop (tech) culture is marked by this adorable revelation.

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