More Bits to Come

In a generation where technology has thrived, people become less involved with the space around them. It is difficult to go anywhere leaving your phone at home or be involved in anything without having to feel connected through social media sites like Facebook. People become dependent on the convenience that cellular phones provide to the point where the human population does not own house phones. With the continuation of growth within technology, people tend to forget how it all began. Once ideas of technology become viral, people invest into those ideas and execute them with simplistic means. The term, 8-bit, starting out with simplistic means, originally defined as the internal registers of what old computers and video games were integrated with, is now a genre of art. The idea of 8-bit making up the “pixelated” forms means of what technology once was, has now developed, producing higher quality technologic devices (more pixels). With that, technology is always developing to be bigger and better. Artists in this generation, take in that realization of what technology used to be and use it to their advantage. They take the concept of starting out simple in terms of nostalgia.

My interest in video games led me into research of how it all began. The first video game was invented in 1958, by William Higinbotham, which he called, “Tennis for Two”. It was played on a oscilloscope in the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Then the game SpaceWar! Came out in 1962, invented by Steve Russell. It became the first game intended for computer use. During the 1970’s Nolan Bushnell came out with the Atari 2600 sparked the Golden Age of Video Games. [1] People started to recognize video game devices for what they were. During this era, video games begin to make their mark on society and culture. Arcade games became very popular during this time. During these formative years, the video game’s cultural impact is reflected through its appearance in novels, films, and television shows. Businesses such as liquor stores, restaurants, gas stations, even funeral homes were looking for another source of income. Eventually, inventors came about with gaming consoles right at home, so arcade games served a huge decline. Then, shortly after, during the 1980’s, came the 8-bit era.

Video games originally had only a single screen or flip-screen gameplay that constrained the size and flow of a game. The 8-bit era revolutionized the whole idea of video games to a scrolling view. Becoming a huge leap in game design, it allowed for video games to be longer and have a better flow. The 8-bit era revolutionized visually also. The objects in the games became more colorful and bright compared to monochromatic backgrounds with little detail. With the game consoles, Atari 7800, NES, and Sega Master System, allowed for this new revolution to take place. Some of the most popular recognizable 8-bit characters are from the video games, Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Megaman. [2] The idea of 8-bit having huge expansion for its simplicity is why a lot of video game fanatic-artists look back on it for inspiration for their work today.

The term, 8-bit, is more recognizable with today’s generation as a new respected art form, a new media art. It is not only the internal registers of older computers. As time goes on with the complex development of digital art, other artists tend to find a simpler way to express their creative values. Because we live in a world where technology is vastly expanding, people tend to want to slow down, or look back on the way things were before and using the idea of 8-bit helps them recreate that nostalgic value. 8-bit art can be defined as modern day minimalism.

8-bit is a throwback to the time when computers and video games had a distinct style. The idea of 8-bit culture today really is a combination of graphical and visual style from the console themes. The 8-bit ideally has three functions, easy to make, rejecting big budget productions, and challenging the creative process. 8-bit characters are made out of pixels, defined as little squares of what makes up an image. Because of the easy production, artists take on rejecting the big budgeted game productions. Artists using 8-bit also challenge the creative process, because now, it’s more like a game. You are creating artificial constraints as a creative person. It’s very limited from a programming perspective in terms of visual imaging, and sound. [3] You have to take huge bits of information from memory to scale it down to simpler means.

Taking on the feel for nostalgia and minimalism, for my project, I wanted to convey the same idea. I originally wanted to create a website that allowed people to upload their own images or music files where I would program the website to generate their uploads into 8-bit works. After doing research, I was only able to come across downloadable programs and applications to generate 8-bit art works. Similarly, the Adobe Photoshop program has an effect that users can apply to an image that would generate the image into “pixels”. Because there was no way for me to generate a code to make music into 8-bit sounds, I decided to upload the music on the database, Soundcloud, for the songs that are translated into 8-bit. The database would organize the submitted music. As more music would be translated into 8-bit works, I could easily organize the music. I would tag the music by genre, song title, and artist. Users would be able to search keywords that would for them to easily find the song they are looking for.

The idea behind the work would make a nostalgic statement. The intentions of the database is to allow the audience to translate their favorite songs into a distinct style that they can relate back to their childhood. Ideally, people would be able to download their favorite tracks and use it for their entertainment. To expand my idea, I could create my own website where users could artistically use the database to make a mix of their songs of choice and/or even creating a visual imagery, such as a video animation to go along with songs. Similar to the Database of Virtual Art, it would not only document 8-bit music, but providing, everything 8-bit. The Database of Virtual Art compiles everything from technical data, interfaces, displays, video documentation, and even literature. [4] The final project itself is executed at its simplest. Using a simple web layout and easy navigation, people would be able to find their way around the website by clicking different link categories or using the search box.

My research took a couple of days searching for a website that would generate 8-bit art, but there were none. Instead, I found a program that seemed reliable. I came across multiple forums and websites; Gxcss. Gxcss is a MIDI, musical instrument digital interface player. [5] MIDI allows the interchange for musical information between instruments, synthesizers and computers. Different button, dial, and pedal adjustments are used to generate codes for musical notes. [6] The program Gxscc, allows for users to drag and drop .midi files into the program and it emulates the sound of 8-bit consoles.

Although, Gxscc emulates the sound, there is a more technical way to produce 8-bit music. Chiptune, using the hardware from older video games got and as personal computers became less expensive, it became highly more accessible and affordable. [7] Chiptunes are just frequencies moving at different rates. There’s a triangle wave that provides bass, square wave that is harsh but provides a wider range than a triangle would, and there’s also a pulse wave that is a tweeter. It is believed to grow with today’s generation and some performing artists see it as an instrument. It has influenced the development of electronic dance music.

Theoretically, the problem with attempting to generate regular music files today, such as mp3, is too complex compared to a simple 8-bit file. Technically, there are no physical codes that would be able to scale down files that are too complex. The website that I used to download .midi files from was, http://www.free-midi.org. This website itself served as it’s own database for .midi files.

The program was originally for pc use only until they developers updated it. To install the Gxscc program, I also had to install the application, Wine (bottle) that ran the program through its application. The application is made to where users drag and drop files into the program. Because the program had to run through the Winebottle application, I was unable to drag and drop the files directly into emulator program. I eventually had to switch over to a PC to use the program because of the technical issues I was having. With the program, I found a website database with .midi files which were free to download. Using that website to download the .midi files, I was able to just drag and drop the files into the Gxscc program. Once the .midi file was in, the program would emulate the music file and scale it down to 8-bit sounds. The sounds can then be transferred onto a CD-ROM database.

The work would represent itself as a nostalgic database. Database art is becoming more recognizable that simply, anything from a computer to a website is considered a database. In computer science, database is defined as a structured collection of data. Different databases are based on hierarchical, network, relational and object-oriented to organize data. The user experience of such computerized collections is therefore quite distinct from reading a narrative or watching a film or navigating an architectural site. The world appears to us as an endless and unstructured collection of images, text, and other data records. Database is everywhere around in everyday items that we use. CD-ROMs and other digital media storage are considered to be a database; people are able to upload information that provides a collection of data. The virtual web is a large collection of databases, like websites. Webpages itself are made of sequential elements such as text areas, images, and links to other pages. Web as a medium is continuing to grow. Websites never had to be completed because sites always grow. Websites are an easy database to edit since you can easily insert elements anywhere. Websites compared to video games are different in a sense that video games consist of a narrative. Video games are a sequential timeline of events that cause from one action to another. All the actions from a user’s point of view, are motivated to achieve a goal that programmers have set into the hardware of the game. [8] Essentially, database art is related to my work in a sense that my Soundcloud page is considered to be a database. My page is a collection of data of .midi files. It is made up of different elements of where the text lies and different links can allow users to play to listen and download the tracks.
My work today compared to what it would be during the 1990s would take part in the Internet revolution. Since the Internet was not heavily populated until mid 1950s, I feel as if, it would not be as well-known. During the 2000s,  the website traffic would pick up, and more people would be able to search and hear about it. It represents 2012 in a sense that with the major growth in technology, this is the generation where people tend to look back on the simpler days. In 1995, users would not be able to appreciate the works until now.
The project itself could expand in numerous of ways. If I had the knowledge to generate a code for emulating music into 8-bit tracks, the website would be better. I would also want include a visual element that users could use to create an animation with tracks. The interface would include a selection of visuals to choose from, with that, users are able to drag and drop the visuals into their “work box”. The visuals would be programmed to sync to go along with the song.

[1] Bellis, Mary. “Computer and Video Game History.” About.com Inventors (blog), http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blcomputer_videogames.htm (accessed November 15, 2012).

[2] “The 8-bit Era of Console Video Games.” Tvtropes.org http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/The8BitEraOfConsoleVideoGames?from=Main.EightBitEra

[3] “Evolution of 8-bit Art.” Youtube.com https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xYL1DsY8GMI

[4] “Database of Digital Art.” http://www.virtualart.at/about/general-information.html

[5] http://www.geocities.co.jp/SiliconValley-SanJose/8700/P/GsorigE.htm

[6] http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,1237,t=MIDI&i=47014,00.asp

[7] http://chipflip.wordpress.com/chipmusic/

[8] http://transcriptions.english.ucsb.edu/archive/courses/warner/english197/Schedule_files/Manovich/Database_as_symbolic_form.htm

Other resources:

http://www.free-midi.org/

http://www.soundcloud.com/

Link to the 8-bit tracks: http://soundcloud.com/nhiii

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