1984 Computer digital art and music


Micro Arts founded in London UK by Geoff Davis, a programmer (mainframes, minis) and writer (PEN, etc.). Designed, programmed and curated series of computer art programs, for 8-bit home micro computers such as Sinclair Spectrum and Acorn BBC Micro.

These compilation releases were curated mini-galleries of computer art, so both art and educational. Included ambient graphics, algorithmic art, slow art, dada word generation, ‘feminist’ agit-prop, animations and a short story text generator based on a text about Mad Cow Disease. Also published a print Micro Arts Magazine.

Artists in the productions included Geoff Davis, Martin Rootes, Michèle Gauthier Carr-Brown, Simon Holland, Robin Metcalfe, Bill Mooney, and others.

The art programs were distributed on data cassettes (standard audio cassettes with program data) for the inexpensive home micro computers Sinclair Spectrum and Acorn BBC Micro. In 1985, most of the material was transferred onto Prestel Micronet 800 in 1985. Included downloadable art software.

“[Prestel] Micronet is to communication in the 80s what the [Gutenberg] Bible was to the Middle Ages” David Babsky, Micronet Editor, Prestel, 1984.

Micro Arts data cassettes released: MA1 Geoff Davis ‘Abstract Originals’ (ironic quotes), MA2 Geoff Davis Various Unusual Events, MA3 Martin Rootes Volume 1. MA1 and MA4 Story Generator exhibited 1984 and 1985 at the London Film-Makers Co-operative LFMC. Micro Arts Magazine later appeared as a prop in a play by artist/ film-maker David Larcher.

Michèle Gauthier Carr-Brown – uses Quantel Paintbox to produce art. Some work shown in Micro Arts Magazine. First fine artist to use Quantel. See also Adrian Wilson (1986).

Paul Brown – founding head of the United Kingdom’s National Centre for Computer Aided Art and Design at Middlesex Polytechnic.

Stephen Bell – Artist in Residence1984-85 at the Computing Laboratory of the University of Kent at Canterbury. He wrote programs based on predator-prey interaction and human conflict, producing abstract images. Exhibited Computer Generated Images in London, Birmingham and Canterbury.

Bell joined Prof. Ernest Edmonds‘ Computer-Human Interface research centre in Loughborough, exploring the aesthetics of interactive computer art. Extensive personal use and exhibiting of his interactive art system Smallworld.

Cynthia Beth Rubin – Artronic Paint works – 1984-1987. Early digital art, drawn onto the Artronic hardware using a stylus, and styled with Artronic Paint software. Exhibited at Connecticut College Faculty Show (1984). Exhibited pieces include Daffodil Drawing (1984), Daffodil Scroll (1985), and variations until 1987.

Brian Reffin Smith Soft Computing: Art and Design (Addison-Wesley). Stated that the general view of computer art was ‘meretricious, falsely portentous, and crassly thrusting and futuristic’. He also wrote the 43 Dodgy Statements on Computer Art (2010), which included ‘Using state-of-the-art technology merely produces state-of-the-technology art’.

Jean-Pierre Hebert – full time dedication to drawing by software from 1984 on.

Jaron Lanier – worked at Atari then devised VPL, a ‘post-symbolic’ visual programming language, which he considered a future universal interface, by not using words as usual, or maths, to control the processing, but virtual symbols. Along with Thomas Zimmerman (inventor of the data glove), Lanier founded VPL Research, focusing on commercializing virtual reality. Lanier is an important inventor and commentator on all things computer and society. He says “If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people [creating the content] and making ourselves into idiots.”

Michael Short – started work on Mermaids Reflect : Colour computer design.

Bruce Wands – Computer Art Department/Faculty, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY US. Successful and prolific 1970s and onwards producer/director of computer graphics. Founder of the BFA Computer Art Department and Director of Computer Education at the School of Visual Arts. Several books published including Art of the Digital Age (Thames & Hudson, 2006).

Order Out of Chaos by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers (foreword by Alvin Toffler). Influential chaos theory book. See also Gleik 1987. Introduced fractals to the general and art public.

Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz’s Electronic Café commissioned by The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art for summer Olympics Arts Festival of 1984, merging digital reproduction and interconnectivity.

Harold Cohen – ‘The Machine as a Young Artist’ group exhibition. Ontario Science Center, Toronto. 1984.

Nam June Paik – January 1, 1984, Nam June Paik aired ‘Good Morning, Mr. Orwell’ live between WNET New York, Centre Pompidou Paris France, and South Korea. This was the first international satellite art installation, which reached an audience of over 25 million and invented what is known as video art.

Many others, such as Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Salvador Dalí, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Peter Gabriel, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass and others also participated in the live New Year’s Day show.

Lillian Schwartz – BIG MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) – collaged image demonstration of computer techniques for drawing and painting such as palette matching, alteration of aspect ratios, texture mapping, and perspective. Schwartz called it her ‘ultimate poster’.

Racter – program to generate prose at random. Published by Mindscape for IBM PC compatibles in 1984, then later for the Apple II, Macintosh, and Amiga. An expanded version of the software, not the one from Mindscape, was used to generate the text for the published book ‘The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed‘, which is claimed to be the first book (with an ISBN) written by a computer. The later released program was simple compared to that which was supposed to generate the text in the ‘Policeman’s Beard’ book, indicating a lot of post-production editing by the human author/programmer.  The published Racter was similar to a chatbot like ELIZA.

Neuromancer – novel by William Gibson expanded his concept of cybernetic crime or cyberpunk.

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol combined methods and created a series of artworks, during 1984 – 1985. Previously street artist and advertising design artist, now  fine artists, showing democratisation of art scene. Both very controversial at the time. Warhol later used paint software live on TV (1985).

WIMP interaction was developed at Xerox PARC (and Xerox Alto, developed in 1973) and popularized with Apple’s introduction of the Macintosh computer, adding a menu bar and extended window management.

In January, the Apple Macintosh computer was launched, with a ‘1984’ advert directed by Ridley Scott and aired during the US Superbowl on January 22, showing Apple buyers breaking free from oppressive control. Big Brother was supposedly IBM, who had created the personal computer (PC). Highly ironic as the PC was an open standard, reducing prices by competition, and Apple is a cult, with an expensive closed system, even now some 36 years later. As Steve Jobs said at the ‘1984’ launch, “Will Big Blue [IBM] dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”.

Amstrad CPC 464 launched in June in the UK.  Sold more than two million units in Europe. Conceived by Alan Sugar as a more user-friendly entry, unlike other more hobbyist micros, the BBC Micro etc. which required taking over the domestic TV as a display.  All-in-one design, computer, keyboard and its data storage were in a single unit sold with a dedicated display monitor. The CPC 464 had 64 KB RAM and an internal cassette deck for data, CPU was a Zilog Z80A CPU. Had many  add-ons like a printer, disc drive etc.
Later models were the CPC664 and CPC6128.  Last version was the  GX4000 a game machine that failed. See also PCW (1985).

IBM PCjr was a simpler PC aimed at home users, with a better keyboard that the original. It had a 3-voice sound synthesis chip, the SN76489, which could generate three square-wave tones, and a ‘white noise’ channel that could generate primitive percussion sounds.

The Tandy 1000 was a clone of the PCjr at under $1000, and had the above sound functionality with the TL, SL and RL models adding digital sound recording and playback capabilities. It was sold in the popular Radio Shack stores.

The Macintosh or Mac was the first Apple computer with a Xerox Park inspired graphical user interface (GUI) was released. Though the Apple Lisa computer was previously released with a GUI, it was a commercial failure due to its cost. The Apple Lisa was a groundbreaking personal computer, but the Apple Macintosh was the breakthrough for Apple’s success. The television advert itself was also successful, winning a Clio award, and later Hall of Fame awards. The first Macintosh computer (Macintosh 128k) was sold for $2,500, at a quarter of the price of the Apple Lisa.

MacPaint was released with the Apple Macintosh computer in January 1984, the earliest user-friendly software of its kind for digital painting. This broight paint software to normal consumers, unlike expensive professional hardware Quantel Paintbox and similar like Lumina.

MacVision – an image digitizer also provided by Apple, see above.

George Lewis – Rainbow Family – composed at IRCAM Paris. See 1987.

SpecDrum drum machine (Cheetah Marketing) peripheral for the Sinclair Spectrum, cost one tenth the price of standalone professional instruments.

The Thompson Twins Adventure game – graphic adventure game given away by Computer and Video Games Magazine. It was recorded on a 7″ flexi disc (thin vinyl to play on a turntable) in the October issue 36. The game is based on the hit Thompson’s song ‘Doctor Doctor!’. The three band members were protagonists in the simple game. A few other musicians released games, including Pete Shelly of the Buzzcocks. Apart from promotional games, 1980s music and video star Thomas Dolby went on to found and run music software company Beatnic.

Rockstar San Diego, Inc. (formerly Angel Studios, Inc.) is an American video game developer based in Carlsbad, California. Founded by Colombian artist Diego Angel in January 1984, the company focused on animations and visual effects (CGI) for multimedia productions, including movies and music videos. The company began working in the video game industry during the 1990s.

In March, the first-person shooter game ‘Rescue on Fractalus!’ was released by Lucasfilm Games on Atari, with the first fractal generated landscapes. It was played on platforms such as Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

London Video Arts (LVA) secured proper funding and set up an office with independent art production facilities and video art distribution. Merged with the London Film-makers’ Co-op (LFMC) in 1999 as LUX, which still continues today.

Stewart Home – UK underground writer – single-handedly revived Neoism, the American artistic group, and joined in the Neoist Apartment Festival in London.

Kathy Acker – Blood and Guts in High School. Metafictional novel with drawings, lists, dreams, and non-linear constructions. Originally written in the late 1970s, finally had an official release. It is Acker’s best-selling book. Acker lived in London (UK) during the 1980s and did many readings and was an influential figure.

Andy Warhol – Vanity Fair magazine commissioned Orange Prince (1984). Warhol produced a portrait of Prince celebrating the success of the album and movie Purple Rain.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood release double LP Welcome to the Pleasuredome – early use of modern production techniques (by Trevor Horn of ZTT) dominating a whole album.

Cabaret Voltaire – Micro-Phonies LP released in November, their most commercially successful album.