The Demoscene on paper, at last!
You could say that to read of the life and times of the demoscene on the
printed page is a Diskmag editors wet dream. In spite of criticism of the
dead tree woodpulp format, it is still the holy grail to see their works in
print on something you can physically pick up in your hand.
The majority of us are content to carry on dreaming, but Hamburg-based
'Sceen' team have turned this dream into reality. Their subscription based
72 page periodical magazine provides a glossy and fashionable window onto
the activities of the demo scene. It is a intended to be showcase of much of
what is considered cool and interesting. As such, it would be a good
introduction for any newcomers. Even before I get into reviewing the main
part of the magazine, I must congratulate the creators of Sceen for making
such an expensive and high-risk venture happen at all.
There is a cover DVD, I think available to subscribers only, which contains
much of what is being reviewed or discussed in the magazine. So you get to
see the winning demos and intro's for the Scene Org 2004 awards, and the
winning demo's for Breakpoint '05, in a user-friendly and non-platform
specific format. My personal favourite was the Black Lotus 'Ocean Machine'
Amiga demo, because I feel a closer kinship with the shared Motorola
heritage. There were also some damn fine 4ktro's for the peecee too, the
rather spacial 'Parsec' being a deserved first place winner at BP '05. There
are plenty more bigger demos, and some examples off the not so demo specific
articles as well, but I've only had a brief look at the DVD.
The overall look and feel is very contemporary in style. It certainly
wouldn't look out of place in the style section of a big newsagent. The
cover is not at all geeky, the very tools of the trade which are usually
given loving emphasis, computers, are conspicious by their absence. It is
the end-result of all that realtime or precalculation, all those noughts and
ones switching on and off, that is important here.
The impression to a casual browser, picking it up for the first time, would
be that of an upmarket music journal with a techno theme. If it were on
direct sale in a newsagent near you, then it might subvert a lot of people's
expectations, once they got their teeth into the content.
'Sceen' is published by a trio consisting of Alexander Scholtz, Enno
Conners, and Hakaan Toepper. The magazine is presented in English, which is
very thoughtful of them, and to get the widest possible scene audience,
English being the lingua franca (ha ha!) of Western Europe. The footnote
about distribution of the mag is interesting. It is currently available at
major creative festivals and technical trade shows. It will be on the
newsstands for 2006. I can't quite see it nestling up against the ranks of
PC Format in my local WH Smith somehow? This is nothing to do with the
quality of the mag, just the boring profit-centered attitudes of the major
retailers. Ah well, we'll see.
Anyway, time to turn to the contents, and see what is inside.
Immediately after the first page, and the contents page, there is a picture
of a Woody Guthrie tribute made out of an Amiga. This was made, courtesy of
a band called 'Ender Error'. The home-made Amiga guitar is incorrectly
described as "Rocking it 8-bit", or is that to do with the sound quality?
"This machine kills fascists"! - Indeed it does, but you have to get a good
swing in a downward arc on it first!
Two pages of news, or 'Random Access'. A Pacman guitar, the Bitfilm festival
sort of blurring the line between conventional movie compo and demo
competitions. Also Widgets like a NES console hollowed out to use as a DVD
"Aliens ate my Demomaker". Filipe Cruz, aka 'ps' gets to grips with
Breakpoint 2005, he seems to be a little bit shocked that there are drunken
people passing out there ;-) Over the following pages, there are a generous
helping of pictures of the winning competition entries and suitable
captions. These are also a good companion to the giveaway DVD, explaining
what these demos are about, if you are not intimately familiar with the
Peecee scene. There is a bit about the live events and bands at BP '05, and
it is great to see old friends, 'The David Hasselhoff Big Band' get in
there. Dipswitch analyses the trends from the BP '05 releases, he is
generally pleased with things, compared with previously, where the scene is
"recovering from the irritation of 2004".
The Scene Org awards, are considered in detail, and here the best of the
best are reviewed. Some choices like Planet Risk being a jury decision, and
considered controversial, as it is a 'love or hate' demo.
Moving onto a less scene specific topic. The lengthy and sometimes difficult
birth and rise of alternative methods of music distribution, netlabels, is
considered by Moritz Saur. This had its beginning in the BBS distribution of
Amiga soundtracker modfiles, toured the dizzy days of the dotcom boom, and
is now recovering from the fallout of the crash, and may be of future
interest to the big bad record companies. One of these netlabels,
MonoTonik, is considered in more detail, as the founder, Simon Carless is
interviewed. A page is also devoted to Stadtgruen, another netlabel, their
main man, Martin Donath reveals "I always got an 'F' in music at school. To
this day I don't know much about notes and all that. I simply do my thing."
Something a bit on the wild side now, as John Paul Bitchard shows off his
crime scene lookalike pictures, the Evidencia series. He's a busy artist,
and likes to make people consider the bloody aftermath of the most violent
There are a couple of pages, where people access the Machinima movie maker
through the Sims 2 game, Lots of possibilities from this one. The winner of
the 'Make Something Unreal Contest' is Machinima made, and the creator,
Freidrich Kirschner is interviewed. The entry, "Person 2184" has a very
orwellian theme. Other entries, such as 'Engine' by Tomislav Bezmalinovic,
are also considered.
Klaus Neumann tells us of his movie making efforts with "Drv3r", and
reflects that his grandchildren will be surprised that movie making didn't
always have a pause button.
Nico Barbat takes a good long look at the Pokemon Mini demo, 'Shizzle'.
There was a mighty struggle to get the technical info and even the cpu
details, off what was a completely closed and undocumented system. It took a
year to hack the hardware. 'Shizzle' is included as a movie on the DVD, they
even managed to get the skyscraper flyby from Second Reality in there! For a
4k ram, 4mhz 8-bit processor, and cartridge access, the six minutes plus of
that demo manages to pack a lot in! It is not surprising that the phrase
"Pokemon Mini me beautiful" is seen a lot on Pouet.net.
By way of a complete contrast, Micromusic.net tries to get us overweight
sceners exercising with their brand of training shoes!
Several pages follow, discussing the art of VJ-ing, or live performances
with lightsynths and DJ-ing with images and animations. Jeff Minter was not
mentioned, but maybe another time?
Another hardware plaform, slowly growing as a demo platform, is the mobile
phone. The birth of modern demo effects on a moby is considered to be around
2002 at the Assembly party. The state of the art, and possible future
evolution are considered. (Mobile phones with dedicated 3-D graphics built
'Amondo', a very slick 3-D movie is featured here, apparently made on some
middling spec peecees and commonly available softools. Not really realtime,
but a stunning end result, going from the screengrabs.
Art meets Mario, with Jon M Gibson, who recreates real canvas, pencil, paint
and collage paintings of some of his favourite 8-bit gaming memories.
There are a couple of articles which concentrate on computer music, to
finish off with. Firstly, 'Chiplandschaften' comes to chip music via the
Amiga. Where as "It's all about game...music" Considers the world of
remixing classic game soundtracks.
There are a few other bits and pieces, such as a handful of advertising
pages. These do stay on-topic, and don't overwhelm the rest of the mag, and
a back page with the credits and publishers information.
To try to condense our feelings, 'Sceen is very self-consciously arty. This
would fit into the Alternative Party sceneview quite well. They already
tried something like this, a 'fusion' of demoscene and other avante-garde
interests in paper form, but not going as far as 'Sceen' has. To some
extent, we are seeing a convergence of the hardcore coding-based scene with
many other related artforms. We can even see this with the YM-scene
musicians closer to home as well.
There is a mixture of reverence for the demoscene mainstream, that is, the
peecee scene, but at the same time, a sneaking regard for limit breaking on
some quite small platforms to restore some balance. My favourite article
being the involved story of hacking the Pokemon Mini to make the 'Shizzle'
demo. If Sceen did realise its ambition of being made available to a wider
public, it is written well enough to make the idea of the demoscene more
accessible to them.
I wish Sceen magazine well. This isn't one I'd get every issue for, but I'd
be interested on their views on some of the minority platforms, including
CiH, for Alive! Mag,Oct '05