1981 Computer digital art and music


ALAMO (Atelier de Littérature Assistée par la Mathématique et les Ordinateurs, or Workshop of Computer- and Mathematics- Assisted Literature) founded by led by Paul Braffort and Jacques Roubaud (Oulipo writers), exploring literature and computers. ALAMO was active until 2020. Quite hard to find so there’s the link: http://www.alamo.free.fr/pmwiki.php

Barbara Nessim – after missing an MIT placement in 1980, the already very successful artist and illustrator started working as Artist in Residence with Time Inc. in New York (US), where she taught herself to use their Norpak IPS2 (a Canadian computer) from manuals. Worked from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. for a period of two years until 1983. Built up a large body of digital art including 3D, video, software art, prints, etc. In 2013 the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (UK) opened an extensive retrospective ‘Barbara Nessim, An Artful Life’.

Stephen Bell – exhibited at International Festival of Electronic Music, Video and Computer Art, Brussels.

Paul Brown – founding director of Digital Pictures Limited, 1981-84.

Brian Reffin Smith – educational book ‘Computers’, Usborne Publishing Ltd, in which he predicted tablets like the iPad and remote or cloud computing. Smith was very active in the computer art and educational scene throughout the 1970s and 80s, with appearances at SIGGRAPH and many other galleries and conferences.

Michael Short – uses CGAL for the Industrial Design 1981 year book cover art for Teesside Polytechnic (now Teesside University). CGAL was publicly released in 1983.

Judy Malloyelectromechanical books in her installation, ‘Technical Information,’ at SITE in San Francisco, USA.

The Soul of a New Machine, book by Tracey Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction (US) Paperback edition features Jeremy Gardiner on cover.

Sinclair ZX81 released. CPU Z80 at 3.25 MHz. Huge success, over 1.5 million sold.

BBC Micro released in the UK as a teaching computer for popular TV shows. Designed and built by Acorn Computers Ltd. Takes 80% of the UK education market.

Commodore VIC-20 goes on sale in January (announced in Japan in 1980). $299 in North America. First computer of any sort to sell over 1 million units. See also Commodore 64 (c64), 128 (C128) and Amiga models.

IBM Personal Computer model 5150 (the ‘PC’) goes on sale. 16 bit model aimed at first at business users. Cost several thousand dollars depending on configuration. IBM use off-the-shelf components and standardised the specification. Improved PC XT (1983) and PC AT (1984) follow. The first clones (using the same spec) appeared in June 1982.

Osborne Computer Corporation (US) founded in January. Adam Osborne and ex-Intel engineer Lee Felsenstein started work on a portable computer with bundled software. This was designed to fit under an airplane seat, and became known as ‘luggables’. By April the Osborne 1 Personal Business Computer was launched for $1795 with $2000 of bundled business software. Was a big success at first but had many problems in deliverability and marketing. Competition was fierce from Kaypro (with the Kaypro II, their first machine, named after the Apple II), Compaq, Apple, IBM etc. Osborne Corp. went bankrupt in 1983. Failures of marketing and quality control thereafter became known as Osborneing.

Quantel Paintbox TV graphics computer now available to the public after 1980 appearance. First generation Paintbox, the 1981 DP-7001, used custom-designed hardware, unlike later models (see 1989).

Xerox introduced Star, a workstation incorporating many of PARC’s (Palo Alto Research Center) innovations. Not very successful but Star greatly influenced future developments at Apple, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.

Silicon Graphics, Inc. (later SGI) – founded in California USA in November by Jim Clark. In 1995 Clark founded Netscape, producer of the early web browser Netscape Navigator.

Stanford University started the MIPS (Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages, related to RISK) research, continuing until 1984.

Frank Gehry – architect with interest in CAD (Computer Aided Design), BIM (Building Information Mangement), and other processes. Completed buildings designed by Gehry during the 1980s include the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium (1981) in San Pedro and the California Aerospace Museum (1984) at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles.

Polybius  – an urban legend about a fictitious 1981 arcade game, which was a government psychology experiment in USA. Gameplay caused psychoactive and addictive effects. The staged arcade machines were analyzed by ‘men in black’, then all of the machines were secretly removed. Apparently inspired by many technical faults causing failed arcade games to be removed, and lingering in the memory, plus some imagination.

Universal Synthesizer Interface UMI, the precursor to MIDI, announced at the Audio Engineering Society show in October 1981.

E-mu Systems Emulator – digital sampling synthesizers with floppy disk storage, manufactured until the 1990s. Popular as relatively cheap and portable.

Simmons SDS 5, SDSV, or Simmons Drum Synthesizer – electronic drum kit with hexagonal pads. First pads were made out of riot shield material but were too hard so replaced with rubber-coated pads.

Computer World, the eighth studio album by the German band Kraftwerk, was released in July 1981. It featured the track ‘Computer Love’, which was released as a single and reached number 1 in the UK Singles Chart. The covers of both the album and single featured an image of a computer.

The Human League, the British synthpop group, release the Dare album, popular and influential. Produced by Martin Rushent.

Heaven 17 release Music For Stowaways cassette under their B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation) moniker. Ambient synth techno music. BEF later produced successful Tina Turner, Terence Trent D’Arby  albums. Founder Martyn Ware works extensively in music and technology, including 3D sound, with his Illustrious Company.

Techno music originated from early 1980s. German music such as Kraftwerk’s, merged with African American music, into the genre of techno music, in Detroit, USA, and electro in Denver, in the mid-80s.

Laurie Anderson enjoyed a surprise popular hit in the United Kingdom with O Superman, reaching number two in the UK charts. The text addresses the human aspects of technology and communication. The song was part of the larger multimedia show United States I-IV (1983), which toured the world, and also appeared on the album Big Science (1982). Later worked with VR, such as The Chalkroom (2018).

Vangelis composed the score for Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire. Vangelis won an Academy Award for Best Original Score.

Jean-Michel Jarre was the first western musician to play in communist China. Recorded ‘Les Concerts en Chine’. The performances ran from 18 October to 5 November 1981.

Brian Eno and David Byrne – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts – influential album using a lot of samples of radio and television broadcasts, field recordings from Ghana (recently visited) etc. Also Apollo (1983) continued ambient releases.

MTV (Music Television) (USA) a new cable channel, launched on August 1. Showed music films (also known as pop promos or music videos). Started a huge boom in pop video stories with exotic or weird locations and staging, from Michael Jackson to Cabaret Voltaire, Duran Duran, Dire Straights.

The Neo Naturists started in London by Christine Binnie, Jennifer Binnie, and Wilma Johnson. Artist and writer Grayson Perry appeared in many live performances. Famed for nakedness and body paint, cooking, and anarchic performances in art galleries, clubs, etc. Last seen in 2012 (Hayward Gallery).

Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp started in September at RAF Greenham Common (UK), which was a base for American weaponry during the Cold War. Protesting against USAF nuclear cruise missiles. Stayed there until 2000. Helped revival of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) formed November 1957.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s first painting (after move from street art) Cadillac Moon was purchased by Blondie singer Debbie Harry for $200. See 1985 Warhol/Blondie.