Geekscream: Demoscene

It’s a mesmerizing blend of graphical mastery and electronica – a post-apocalyptic hiss of static reverberating down snaking, rusted pipes, twisting through a derelict urban environment. Alien, non-euclidian structures flow in cue with a low-fi bass line, others twisting and disturbingly organic. The industrial rhythm crescendos, the world flakes apart like polluted snow, leaving blinding white space behind, sinking into itself, until all that’s left is space.

Demoscene works can get kind of trippy sometimes.

(c) Black Maiden

(c) Black Maiden

The history of demoscene is relatively short, stemming from the days when the Commodore C64 and Amiga personal computers were state of the art technology, and when teenagers skirted the law with copy parties to mass-distribute the latest floppy-disk softwares. It was art for art’s sake, a matter of pushing primitive computing software to its very limits, stretching the limits of what the hardware of that era could do. It was competitive – a matter of bragging rights, and a means of settling disputes over which system was arguably the superior platform.

In many ways, it was perhaps the first true new form of art in the budding era of digital technology, combining a paradoxical mix of minimalistic resource usage with maximal output complexity. It set the standards for computer graphics as art, and many of the lessons learned in its formulating years are still applied, sometimes relearned, by both the game and movie industries as digital graphic mastery becomes not only more important to their works, but outright vital. Though Moore’s Law’s effect on computer hardware has removed much of the physical barriers on digital arts, the industries’ drive towards greater detail, greater realism, and more sheer computational power means that the lessons of minimalism will never go out of vogue.

Perhaps it would be mistaken to talk of demoscene in past tense – it is, after all, still thriving, if somewhat diminished from the heydays of its initial excitement. The ‘scene is very much still alive, even after its original practitioners have grown older and gone elsewhere. They’re still congregating by the hundreds, even thousands, at weekend-long conventions throughout Europe, and even in the US, schlepping along tables and chairs and hulking, LED-lighted computers – or hulking beige-yellow antiques, as old-school demoscenes are still popular competition formats. It’s dim, it’s loud, and industrial electronica booms out from every corner. The sharp tang of spilled beer and meaty scent of roasting hot dogs drift in from the outside tailgate party – demoscene conventions are as much major social gatherings as they are competitions. And above the crowds and old CRT monitors are giant projectors, streaming out the latest digital dreams, be it directly from the convention itself, or – a sign of the swiftly changing times – piped in from demoscene.tv.

Max Payne, Spore and many others: though the scene is still esoteric, and may very well stay esoteric, even now you can trace the roots of popular media back to the eldritch, droning beats of a dusty old computer, jury-rigged by arcane symbols and dark rituals to serve as a gateway to a world of jagged shadows and twisted beauty.

 

Assembly 2004

Assembly 2004

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~ by Gonzo Mehum on March 12, 2009.

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