There is an exhibition in November 2020 to launch the Computer Arts Archive, which features Micro Arts. More details soon.
There is an exhibition in November 2020 to launch the Computer Arts Archive, which features Micro Arts. More details soon.
Geoff Davis talking about Micro Arts, his 1980s computer art group
Computer Arts Society, 9/6/2020
Video to be posted here soon.
geoffdavis5 gmail com
or use Contact on the this site.
Micro Arts – produced a range of computer art for popular micros, and a paper magazine. Programmed, curated by Geoff, with contributions from friends, male, female, UK, US, France.
Aim was to start a new computer arts group, educate and perhaps sell a few art data cassettes. Later it all went onto Prestel national teletext.
Modelled on art groups London Video Arts and London Film-Makers Co-op; and indie record labels. This was my social background at the time.
Was intended to be a community, inclusive, diverse, populist, grass roots political. No ‘authority’. Not academic, I left University in 1980 and wasn’t thinking of it. No CAS at the time.
Was well reviewed by mainstream computer press, see Reviews.
No internet so hard to market.
I had a few stories published, this is one of my competing activities. See my section in People.
The print Magazine was free. Full of informative articles, not reviews. (Magazine is on this site.)
Prestel was on invitation from EMAP but that took some of the momentum out of it, then I started working commercially again. See Prestel page.
Also got involved in so-called ‘pirate TV’ NetWork 21. (No pirates, but lots of art, fashion.)
For more from the various contributors see People page.
CAS was not around at this point. Only contact I had was Harold Cohen (art machines) by letter in US, who was famously uninterested in ‘computer art’ as a scene. He told me all art was about marketing. He was in academia, which operates as a huge marketing funnel (as well as providing work for artists).
Before Micro Arts I was working in commercial COBOL programming (using pencils) on a Univac 1100 mainframe, and also Vax minis.
After Micro Arts, networking (at Prudential, first use of networked ‘personal computers’ IBM PC ATs in dealing room, no-one there had experience of micros, it was large IBM mainframe site).
Later, worked in new computer graphics lab at Sheffield Hallam University, Psalter Lane art college (12 x Unix Apollo workstations, 2D and 3D modelling and animation, CGAL (Peter Comninos) etc.).
Later still, London Institute teaching, then web industry, apps.
Now computers and text researcher at UAL CCI, Camberwell art college. Still in early stages.
Huge change in tech from 1980 (mainframes, coding with pencils) to 1990 (workstations). Micros appeared and improved over decade.
Warhol used Amiga, etc. – computers becoming unavoidable in art, design, music, film, smaller businesses.
Early artists moved into commercial work.
What is use now?
Educational examples – what can be done with relatively simple computers – hands on – Raspberry Pi
Artworks and merchandise on sale here soon – archival prints, reprint of Magazine, MA1, MA2, MA3, MA4 Data Cassettes, Magazine 2, previously unpublished.
I’m now a researcher at University of the Arts London, Creative Computing Institute at Camberwell Art College. I’ll let you know more as this develops. Topic is AI and text generation, with various outputs. This follows my 1985 text generation program Cow Boils Head, and the work in my Middlesex Uni MA on zooming and multi-layered texts, Calm As A Dead Clam.
I also have a new site for my general writing and art under the name Geoff Davis Org
I’ve been published on and off (mainly off) since the 1980s, everything was in print but new editions will be published in ebook format by Story Software this year and next.
More to follow…
Martin Rootes, of MA3 release fame, has got them off the original cassettes and made videos of BBC Micro generated graphics. See this video of Texture and Pattern:
This is from datacassette MA2: Piano Bar (red) by Geoff Davis 1984.
For more details see the MA2 Various Unusual Events page.
Pete Shelley, the Buzzcocks founder and writer, went solo and produced records such as Homosapien (banned by the BBC). It makes you wonder what the BBC is banning nowadays, for our own good, supposedly.
It seemed a good idea to make a ZX Spectrum lyrics/graphics piece for the LP (coded by friend Joey Headen). The computer program code was recorded on the 1983 Genetic/Island vinyl LP. This created lyrics and visuals. It was coded for an Sinclair ZX Spectrum (48k, issue 3).
This video has the album with the computer graphics and lyrics.
Another video this time of MA1 ‘Abstract Originals’:1
The first generated art on MA1 Geoff Davis ‘Abstract Originals’.
I’m putting videos of the generated art online (not just the still frames). This one is from the data cassette (and Prestel Micronet 800 later) MA1 Geoff Davis ‘Abstract Originals’, 3rd piece; with no sound. Many more to come. If you visited earlier and wondered where the music went, I decided to leave the videos as they were originally. It takes ages to find suitable music from my archives and then it is hard to fit, so music can be a separate project later.
The ebook is about to arrive, and this has a short page on historical influences. So I’ve reproduced it here.
Repetitive tasks were first mechanised using the loom, an early success in the Industrial Revolution. The loom then inspired early calculation machine inventors.
Linear repetitions have also been used in line-generated Micro Arts pieces such as ‘Piano Bar’ on MA2.
Above: hard at work computing (a ‘computer’ was a person until recently).
Weaving experiments and art from the Bauhaus head have a similarity to some of the Micro Art pieces. This is due to mechanical and algorithmic outputs from a limited but variable input, so the limited colours come out in a grid.
Annie Albers (Bauhas)
The Piano Bar red (Micro Arts Group Geoff Davis MA2 Various Unusual Events)
Interviewer: Ivy Ngeow
There has been no historical record until now, because it was not an academic exercise, it was out in the marketplace, unprotected, and there was no web at the time for archiving. I’ve been talking to Goldsmiths about their Computational Arts courses, so got interested again. I used a Spectrum emulator to rescue all the old software in the early 2000s, around the time of my Electronic Arts Masters degree at Middlesex University, but did not think of putting this material in the public domain until now.
What was your role at Micro Arts?
I thought it up, inspired by the social art vibe in London at the time, did three programs for the initial releases, and did most of the production. Many others were involved, with art, articles, and practical help.
The programs were (MA1) a collection of generated abstract art animations; (MA2) a set of conceptual challenges and examples; and (MA4) a story text generator.
I was writing a novel at the time and I thought Micro Arts might actually make a second income (the data cassettes were for sale, incredibly). This was typical writer’s displacement activity – do anything but write.
Then I moved on, since the Micro Arts material was elsewhere (on TV as Prestel Micronet teletext and telesoftware). I decided teaching computing was more rewarding than endless programming and worrying about what to do with it next.
Micro Arts came between my actual programming jobs, at the time COBOL and a bit of networking, and my next career as a 2D and 3D graphics teacher at Universities and commercial training companies. I did that until around 1995, when I started a web design and build company with an artist friend. When I taught him about the web, he said, is this going to last or will it disappear next year?
What were the initial aims and objectives of Micro Arts and how far do you think they have been achieved?
The aim was to have an active group, with more art from new people. The people involved all had interesting careers, so in some way it achieved the aims. An artist I know said his dad gave him a copy of the magazine, so it must have got to all sorts of places.
I used to paint as a teenager so I returned to a visual medium after years in amateur music with bands and all that, video shows, recording live bands. I also liked the idea of generating art from limited resources, at home.
At the time the focus for programmers on home micros was games. The coding scene is shown in the 2018 non-linear Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch. Making a platform or adventure game was exciting and paid real money.
But for me, it was the opposite of what I was doing professionally, which was mainframe coding. I thought games were for kids. Now, they’re for everyone. So it was great to code in BASIC on the micros, such fun in comparison, and I liked the generative art. So I made many different things using it, which appeared on the Micro Arts releases.
Once Micro Arts went onto Prestel the immediacy of it was lost for me. It was just out there somewhere. My programs covered many areas, and I suppose I felt I’d ‘done’ that. I also needed to get proper work again, and my limited spare energy went in other directions.
What people never mention is the amount of hard work that goes into computer programming, even now with vast libraries to help any possible activity. It’s quite solitary work and not for everyone. Because the code ‘generates’ art or music or whatever, people assume the hardware is doing all the work. Ascribing intention to the machine is what makes people believe in androids, resulting in Blade Runner, which is a category error.
What kind of Arts were you interested in at the time, and how have your interests changed in the last few years?
Before Micro Arts I was more interested in music and the usual painterly art, slapping oil on canvas as a teenager. In Sheffield while at University, I’d had a multimedia band with tape loops, video (on Umatic) and effects with live musicians, and in London I’d got involved in mainly film and video art. Performance art was quite a big thing on the scene, with the Neo Naturists and Leigh Bowery popping up here and there. I never tried that, although I appeared in a video with Leigh (for The Fall). I was working on a music video shoot, and I’d never met him before, and someone said, go and get Leigh from the taxi. I said, ‘how will I know it’s him?’.
But I’d also had fiction published by PEN, and fancied myself as an author, so I concentrated on writing rather than visual art. My story generator ‘Cow Boils Head’ was fun to make and even got shown, but I didn’t continue with generated texts. I might do another now – ‘Cow Central’ is a place in my new novel.
I was soon teaching graphics anyway (Psalter Lane, Sheffield), so I got to hang out with artists, which is one of the main reason people get involved in the arts in the first place. If you work in an art college your own production is bound to drop or stop altogether.
Now I’m still dong a few different things, the challenge is to combine or synchronise them all. But mainly I’m writing a novel, plus one new digital arts piece.
Who do you think this book will appeal to and why?
Practitioners of computer art and CGI graphics might find it interesting that all this was going on back in 1984, since ‘computer art’ is seen as new, cutting edge, even now. Visual artists must have heard of computer art, as there was a huge sale achieved at Christies recently of computer generated art from the Obvious collective. Libraries and so on might want a reference for the work as it was so anachronistic. If I did a memoir it might appeal to a more general public – ‘My Life in the crazy 80s’ or whatever. But I’d hardly thought about all this old art until I recently got interested again in computational arts via a talk by Dr Theodoros Papatheodorou at a 2018 conference at Goldsmiths University on psychology, creativity and neuroaesthetics.
Tell us briefly what you are working on now and what your next arts project will be.
I have a visual digital piece which is based on a game ‘Celebrity Shapes’ that I wrote a few years ago. Now that isn’t a very arty title. All the graphics are changing, and I’m adding text, and possibly a camera input for face recognition. Now it has a working title of ‘Fountain of Youth’. This will be out sometime this year. I haven’t done any music for twelve years [see Recotist on Soundcloud]. There’s a plan for a Micro Arts exhibition with the old art and this new piece. My new novel has been edited by someone from Penguin so that should eventually appear, maybe in installments, since I take ages to do anything.
What is your favourite food?