What’s that computer above, asking if you’d like to follow? Well, a long-time interest of mine has revolved around how computers were developed. In my mind growing up, I see a young Bill Gates fiddling with calculators and digital clocks, putting together a giant machine. For years I have tried to backtrack and think-in-reverse to mentally reverse engineer the construction and invention of the computer – just to wrap my mind around how they function the way they do.
Computers were so primitive back when my Dad was in school in the late ’60s and ’70s. In fact, he was the founding member of the ‘TRSA Computer Club‘, and was also the only student allowed to go into the computer room alone, during breaks. Using computer basic, he would code numbers and draw a complete maze, like a little game for the cursor to navigate through. I remember Dad saying how the Science Master came into the computer room one day in amazement. He was amazed to see that Dad could draw a picture onto the screen just by typing in numbers. He said that if Dad could do that, he could do anything! And coming from the head teacher of science, that was a serious compliment to make and receive. When I think of what Dad would have created, I always visualise that old 3D Pipes/Maze-screensaver from pre-WinXP operating systems. But in reality it probably would have looked something like what is to follow – the ANSI art look. Something I also visualised when picturing Dad’s maze, was the computer that Dad would have created it on. I remember at my Pop’s house, not too long ago (2005) – a perfectly preserved commodore computer, under a cover slip (which had its accompanying giant floppy disk). We never started it up, since Dad said that he probably wouldn’t remember how to, given that you had to command the shell, and input code into the console to boot via that giant floppy disk. I would have loved to see that computer run. Though, seeing a similar computer from that /era in technology/ run, in my favourite TV show LOST, was awesome. This is where the above image comes into play. The blinking cursor block on screen, simulating a command line interface, was not only inspired by LOST’s terminal doomsday computer (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42, [EXECUTE]), but by retro video games. The first instance that comes to mind is from the film ‘WarGames‘. Shall we play a game? Y/N
“What has this got anything to do with anything at all?” Well, my eyes finally have opened up, and noticed something recently that has been staring at me in the face for many years. I’ve been a big fan of pixel art, GIF animations and early video game sprites, all along – once having a go at creating my own “computer cartoons – binary bit patterns” (but discovering how difficult it can actually be). It looks so simple and basic, but in fact it can be very hard to get on top of. My method in the end was completely unorthodox and experimental. I was both satisfied and unsatisfied by the resulting pieces I created – and was happy to move on and come back to it another day. It was time I travelled to a different sphere of phenomenon.
What I like about these animations though, is the clear-cut, crisp coloured pixel dots you can easily make out. The textures, dithering and shading in these pixel artworks are so cool to look at. Having loved every minute I spent in the printmaking block (2011-12), using large silkscreens, discovering all the different dot patterns and halftones you could create to represent gradations and tone, etc – made me fall in love with “that look”. In photography, particularly when printing digitally, pixels are something you don’t want to see. It correlates with the ugly notion of ‘low resolution’. But here, is where you can embrace these blocks that make up an image. The number of ‘bits’ from 1, 8, 16 and even 24 bits of 8red/8green/8blue, when chosen and utilised can create what I think is a very awesome, ordered graphical array – a mosaic of sorts. An illusion formed. Up close, you see square blocks, but from afar, you see a picture where everything merges and works together. Recently, what I had “opened my eyes to”, is what is called ‘ANSI art‘ – not to be mistaken with ASCII art.
My block logo is a jumble of initials that make up my name. As a signature, it is almost like an icon, or graphical script. A symbol. It could be used as a graffiti tag, a pattern for embroidery or decorative element. A motif. Like the ‘Greek fret’ or ‘meander’ (Greek Key pattern). A label, a logo or some kind of emblem or branding. My mark of identity. Possibly all of the above. I had initially dreamed of a single character that I could input on a keyboard, ALT+??? to insert my GH logo where I desired in text. I dreamed that it could be implemented into the system default font so that it would be recognised and appear across all devices with different operating systems. I guess I had also imagined a world where my ID could be hidden within a barcode. Hitman aka Agent 47 may have inspired this, for my use as ‘individual identity” – possibly even my days of fascination aged 11-13, spent with my friend down the road (who had Skannerz!) inspired this.
Using this ASCII character map as stimulus for material, I created something simple yet complex. It combines a double story ‘g’ with a capital ‘H’, intertwined like a puzzle or maze. I learn now, two years after devising this logo – – that this is not a piece of ASCII art (which uses 7bits), but ANSI art (which uses 8bits of represented characters). Now that I think of it, it could actually be entirely Unicode – the successor of ASCII & ANSI.
After my fascination with pixels used to create graphics, I became interested in text used to create pictures. Replacing pixels with characters of text, to create the illusion of an image amazed me – like magic. Though this was as equally difficult, to execute text drawing, as it was with pixel painting. I felt like it would be a form of cheating if i were to use those ‘Image-to-ASCII’ conversion program’s. It was at which point I discovered something that befuddled me – Z̝̟̺͈̩ͨ̎̍̊̕a̴̲͈̹͎͒̉ͥ͆̐ͯ̈́l̨̹̯̄̅ͮ͛ͬg̡͖͈̠̗̤͍̥ǫ̤̗̩ͤͥͤͪ. It took me a while to get what was going on and to figure it out, but after a while searching, I discovered that combining Unicode characters will produce this kind of result.
The text uses combining characters, also known as combining marks. See 2.11 Combining Characters in the Unicode Standard, chapter 2 (PDF).
In Unicode, character rendering does not use a simple character cell model where each glyph fits into a box with given height. Combining marks may be rendered above, below, or inside a base character.
So you can easily construct a character sequence, consisting of a base character and “combining above” marks, of any length, to reach any desired visual height, assuming that the rendering software conforms to the Unicode rendering model. Such a sequence has no meaning of course, and even a monkey could produce it (e.g., given a keyboard with suitable driver).
And you can mix “combining above” and “combining below” marks.
It intrigued me greatly. It looked like some kind of glyph, or hidden alien language, some kind of ancient code. It appeared to break the boundaries of what I knew text could do on a computer – unlike a typewriter. It was a glitch in my eyes. Glitchr on Facebook is one of my favourite pages to follow. Whoever admins it, is a genius and has amazed me numerous times over the years, reaching outside of facebook’s platform boundaries and exploring what is possible!
Speaking of “glitch“, growing up, watching analog TV – always having static grain, ghosting and signal interference, always always always was there unexpected (or maybe indeed expected) noise and incomplete data/images on screen – scrambled. Never was there a “clean” image received from broadcast (could be because I live in a “bowl” below sea level). Now with digital, high definition broadcasting, this analog signal interference is nearly eliminated. Nearly. The human electronic element, organic, magnetic and natural, still makes its presence in this digital television world. Visual digital artifacts, and undesired alteration of data, corrupted and garbled over the airways, scared me at first. In relation to computer data, it really does scare me, somewhat mightily. No one wants to lose important data. But as the years went on, I have grown to become fascinated with it, as an Art. You can use a computer to purposefully glitch and corrupt data for desired effects. “Zalgo text” introduced random character marks and renderings, and “glitching” created data-bent, unexpected errors giving ‘happy accidents’. Both reaching outside the boundaries of what is normal. With image files, I particularly fell in love with what results you can obtain from altering file data. To create chaos from something so ordered and perfect. To make it imperfect and unpredictable, made me feel like a mad scientist. It makes you feel like a bit of a rebel, a cyberpunk, breaking the rules, exploring digital destruction. Though, I did feel like I was in some kind of virtual handcuffs. I found it very difficult to glitch images outside of the native Windows Text/Hex-Editor. At first I had trouble finding 3rd party software for Windows (plenty of options for Mac and Ubuntu) to help break my files for me. Swutits & Decim8 on iOS devices worked perfect for me, for a while. I enjoyed my time using these mobile applications, but only of recent did I find it to produce the same repetitive results – obviously, but not to my kind of taste or liking. I was “beginning” to fall out-of-love with this kind of glitching.
Data-Moshing videos, replacing all the I-frames after the initial first frame, with P-frames, amazed me. To see this jungle of artifacts move and swirl in space mesmerised me. It brought back and refreshed my views on ‘glitching’. Recently, WatchDogs, Falling Skies and the Revolution opening intro, influenced me to explore video glitches a little bit more deeply. There is a lot you can explore and gather using google (you just have to persevere and search for the right queries). After a while with video glitching, I went backwards to revisit image glitching. I was lucky to find some windows compatible and java-built software – toys and tools to help me achieve different “glitch results”. The ‘Keystone Krater‘ banner, features speckled/scattered noise in a vast dark space. Like the stars in the night sky. This was created by invoking destruction upon many saved bitmaps and tiff’s of a grid image I had created – a digital grid, like a three-dimensional digital matrix (from The Matrix).
Also, around this resurgence of the glitch, I embarked upon a search to find a way to generate crazy renditions of my digital photographs. I wanted something “like” but completely “unlike” the popular fractalius/high-pass/edge-detection effects you see on so many of those novelty computer generated, photoshop plug-in altered, filtered graphics/images (mostly seen on desktop wallpapers). I remembered something that a friend told me about (who worshiped the almighty Flying Spaghetti Monster), about 6 years ago – some software that could be used to detect “photoshopped” photographs. On my search, I found what I had remembered – Error Level Analysis. The varying results that can be generated using the different forensic ELA software’s available, pleased me very much. Hence why I want to adopt the results I get from this generator, as a method for my own stylistic design ambitions. For me it has a very useful purpose, unlike the intentions the software was created for. It might help me with my “photographic process” in the long run.
Comprehending what my Dad’s Science Master said to him all those years ago – “You could do anything!” – I feel this is very appropriate, with what technology we have at our hands, evolving everyday as we all venture into the future, day by day (notion of the passing of time). Art in particular (for me), will continue to break the boundaries, break rules, and most certainly break from the mould, as time continues to roll on.