<< preface

this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

the focus is on the time period from the beginning of the 20th century up to today.

>> search this blog



>> algorithm

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Flowcharts are often used to graphically represent algorithms.
Flowcharts are often used to graphically represent algorithms.

In mathematics, computing, linguistics and related disciplines, an algorithm is a sequence of instructions, often used for calculation, data processing. It is formally a type of effective method in which a list of well-defined instructions for completing a task will, when given an initial state, proceed through a well-defined series of successive states, eventually terminating in an end-state. The transition from one state to the next is not necessarily deterministic; some algorithms, known as probabilistic algorithms, incorporate randomness.

A partial formalization of the concept began with attempts to solve the Entscheidungsproblem (the "decision problem") posed by David Hilbert in 1928. Subsequent formalizations were framed as attempts to define "effective calculability" (Kleene 1943:274) or "effective method" (Rosser 1939:225); those formalizations included the Gödel-Herbrand-Kleene recursive functions of 1930, 1934 and 1935, Alonzo Church's lambda calculus of 1936, Emil Post's "Formulation I" of 1936, and Alan Turing's Turing machines of 1936-7 and 1939.

>> Sten Vanderbeek and Ken Knowlton, Beflix

In this two-part demo, Sten Vanderbeek (at that time artist in residence at MIT) demonstrates the use of Beflix, a programming language especially designed for him by Ken Knowlton (from Bell Labs). With creating Beflix, Knowlton's goal was to invent an intuitive tool for artists.

"BEFLIX is the name of the first specialised computer animation language.
BEFLIX was invented by Kenneth C. Knowlton at Bell Telephone Laboratories, USA.
BEFLIX was invented in 1963.
BEFLIX is a corruption of "Bell Flicks".
BEFLIX produced images at a resolution of 252 x 184 in 8 shades of grey.
BEFLIX-generated films, created using an IBM 7094 computer and Stromberg-Carlson 4020 microfilm recorder, cost approximately $500 per minute of output.

Beflix-operations are:
Draw straight lines from dots
Draw curves
Copy region
Move region
Solid fill area
Zoom area

Jasia Reichardt in "The Computer in Art", 1971:
"The mosaic picture system devised by Kenneth C. Knowlton was used to produce both educational and research films. The other main programming language used was FORTRAN. Knowlton used the computer in two specific and distinct ways: always as a high-powered drafting machine and sometimes as a calculating machine which could determine the consequences of mathematical and logical statements.
With the mosaic system or BEFLIX (corruption of Bell Flicks) the pictures are made up of 252x184 arrays of spots of different shades of grea, or as numbers 0 to 7, indicating light intensity at that point. Pictures are built up and modified within the computer by appropriate manipulation of htese numbers. BEFLIX is not a complex language mathematically since it does things that could literally be done by hand, although it performs this task more easily (not to mention faster) since some of the patterns are 'logically simple' although graphically complex. The instructions in the BEFLIX language permit drawing straight lines consisting of dots, or drawing arcs and other curves, or copying one area with a solid shade of grey, or shifting the contents of one area up, down, right, or left, a specified number of raster positions. There are also operations for automatically filling an outline with a specific shade of grey, for enlarging part of a picture or a whole one, and for gradually dissolving one picture into another. The BEFLIX films were produced at approximately $500 per minute.
Apart from a film which demonstrated how the BEFLIX system works, Knowlton together with Stan Vanderbeek made a number of films for pleasure, with pulsating colours and intricate cascades of dots changing colour and position at a phenomenal speed. One of them Man and his World, was made for the World Fair in Montreal in 1967."
Dissolve image transition"
(from: Jasia Reichardt, The Computer in Art)

>> Peter Kubelka, "Arnuf Rainer", 1960

Although this is an analoge film, it references digital principles and uses a binary system by only having cadres of black or white. Printed out frame by frame, you can see the highly conceptual quality of Peter Kubelka's score for "Arnulf Rainer":

Sequences in "Arnulf Rainer" reach from one single frame up to 24 frames.
If you have only one frame, there are just two possible sequences: black and white
For two frames there are already four possible sequences, white and white, white and black, black and white, black and black. (= 2²)
With three frames, the number of sequences reaches 8 (=2³) and so on.

Oppositional factors in that film not only include black or white, but also sound (white noise) and silence (in reference to white noise: black silence).

In "Arnulf Rainer", Kubelka uses sequences of 1,2,4,8,12 and 24 cadres. He uses 576 cadres altogether, which is what he calls "the square of a second" - given that to fill one second of film, you need 24 cadres, so the square is 24 x 24.

peter kubelka's "arnulf rainer" (1960) as an analogue execution of a binary code = set of instructions --> compare to vera molnar's "machine imaginaire"

>> Stan Vanderbeek and Ken Knowlton, "Poemfield"

„All of the Poemfield films explore variations of poems, computer graphics, and in some cases combine live action images and animation collage; all are geometric and fast moving and in colour. As samples of the art of the future all the films explore variations of abstract geometric forms and words. In effect these works could be compared to the illuminated manuscripts of an earlier age. Now typography and design are created at speeds of 100.000 decisions per second, set in motion a step away from mental movies.“ (Stan vanderbeek)

The video you see here is Poemfield #2 (out of a series of 7 films, starting from 1966)

>> "Computer generated Pictures" - first US-computer art exhibition

at the Howard Wise Gallery, New York, 6th - 24th of April, 1965

Artists on show included Bela Jules and Michael Noll

>> Lilian Schwartz and Ken Knowlton

Jasia Reichardt in "The Computer in Art":
"In the case of Lilian Schwartz, for instance, he [K.Knowlton] developed computer pictures from her original paintings. Several of her portraits and still lifes were were transformed into black and white computer-generated replicas, described by her as examples of 'technological pointilism' Lilian Schwartz's attitude to the process is that the computer can merely complement the material provided in the first place by the artist, which should be made deliberately simple in order to allow for elaboration in the process itself.

--> reference to traditional art
--> computer doesn't generate work of art, only processes it
--> compilation of Knowlton and Schwartz's films: "A Beautiful Virus Inside the Machine", 2004

from: http://www.atariarchives.org/artist/sec31.php

An intense interest in new materials and its effects on continued stimulus to the creative process during the growth of a work of art led me to be aware of and to incorporate existing technology into my work.

I met and began working with Ken Knowlton, a computer scientist, in 1969, following the 'MACHINE' exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The international organization of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) was founded "to try to establish a better working relationship among artists, engineers and industry." In line with that purpose E.A.T. agreed to arrange a competition in connection with the 'MACHINE' exhibit. About 200 works were submitted. Of these, nine works were selected by Pontus Hulten, the director of the show, for inclusion in the exhibition.My sculpture 'Proxima Centauri' and 'Studies in Perception 1,' a graphic, by Harmon and Knowlton were two of the exhibits.

The show catalogue describes 'Proxima Centauri' as, "Changing patterns appear on the surface of a white translucent dome, which at times seem to become a gelatinous mass that shakes, breathes, and then returns to still images. As the spectator approaches the sculpture, the dome throws off a red glow while slowly sinking into the base and thus inviting the viewer to come still closer to observe this phenomenon. The dome is now resting inside the base. Peering down into the rectangle, the viewer sees the spectacle of a series of abstract pictures focused on the globe..."

The catalogue writes about 'Studies in Perception 1' ... "Computer graphics were created for utilitarian purposes. Among the uses are to study the field of view seen from the pilot's seat in an airplane, or to analyze a flat image in order to manipulate graphic data. The characteristics of the computer at the moment are strikingly shown in 'computer art.' The computer can act as an intelligent being: process information, obey intricate rules, manipulate symbols, and even learn by experience. But since it is not capable of initiating concepts, it cannot be truly creative; it has no access to imagination, intuition, and emotion." The last sentence can be applied to any medium but the previous sentence describes a medium that can process information, obey rules, and even learn by experience!

The awesomeness of such a tool places the artist in quite a humble position. There is a necessary kind of readjustment for the artist for here is a medium that may take some of the burdens from the artist. To find the real justification for the use of the computer by a painter would be to shift the emphasis by stimulating a new angle of approach; to may be relieve the formal elements of some of the conscious emphases which are necessary and place more stress on content.

With such a medium we now have the means of displaying, in its constituent parts, images which possess simultaneously a number of dimensions.

To handle such a tool I find it necessary to break down these specific dimensions.

First, there are the more or less limited formal factors, such as line, tone value, and color. And, secondly, if the computer is used in filmmaking a knowledge of the craft of film.

As an example, when the artist considers line it is usually thought of as being a matter of simple properties such as length, angles, focal distance, and thickness. But measuring the characteristics of line by using a computer is of quite a different nature.

The associative properties once used by the non-computer artist no longer correspond to the direct will of the artist.

To perform the simple act of drawing a line over a page, exerting pressure on the pencil, charcoal or other instrument to change the thickness of the line or the direction becomes a major task in programming.

All rules concerning the use of the line must be well thought out in advance. With proper flexibility in a program one can accept or reject. The rewards eventually come when these lines can be positioned as desired. The artist can then contemplate the positions of these lines as drawn with any other medium but—with the computer an instruction can rotate the lines, join them, multiply them, or whatever instruction has been previously built into the program.

From this point, given mastery of the medium, the structure can be assured foundations of such strength that it is able to reach out into dimensions far removed from one's expectations.

It is no easy task for the artist to live with too much freedom in her medium. Great care must be given to the selectivity of these elements. Speaking from my own experience, it depends on my mood at the time of editing images into their final film form that decisions as to which of the many elements are brought out of their general order, out of their appointed array, and raised together to a new order and form. It seems clearer that the results of this medium may well fall into direct ascendancy of the hieratic forms of Seurat and the mosaics of Byzantium. The artists in India also worked from set Sudras. Even among the more recent artists Delacroix, Cezanne, and Matisse, the same desire for system and regularity for an ordered universe seem to dominate.


"Night Scene" Computer-generated etched aluminum plate. Copyright © 1975/2004 Lillian F. Schwartz courtesy of the Lillian Feldman Schwartz Collection, Ohio State University Library and Foundation. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Artists must express their own creative character in the technology of their era in order to find their own historical and individual level.

The computer has also assisted me in the visualization of sculpture in three dimensions. Programs can be used to rotate sculptures, to view them stereoscopically, to place in a given site—all before any execution has taken place.

For the artist newly exposed to using the computer it is not unlike Stephen Leacock's hero, who jumped to his horse and dashed madly off in all directions.

Watchung, New Jersey
November 1975

>> William Fetter, Boeing computer graphics, 1964

Jasia Reichardt in "The Computer in Art":
"One of the first exponents of computer graphics was William Fetter of the Boeing Company, for whom the medium represented from the very beginning, a new stage in the art of visual communication."

W.Fetter: 'The techniques of typesetting and the photomechanical processes fulfill the role of translating thought into visual form. Computer graphics represent a further stage in this process involving the skills of a designer, programmer, and an animation specialist. In this latest step, however, there is less scope for ambiguity because the information must be communicated descriptively and accurately. There are three important stages which have to be considered in making computer graphics: first come the communicator who has an idea or message to communicate; second, the communication specialist who decides on the best ways to solve the problems - for instance, whether it should be done graphically, verbally or as a combination of both; third, the computer specialist who selects the equipment and interprets the problem so that it can be dealt with by the computer. It frequently happens, of course, that the communicator, the communication specialist and the computer specialist are one and the same person.'

"The Boeing Company, which first coined the term "computer graphics" in 1960, have used them since to stimulate [hic!] andings on the runway and to determine the possible movements of a pilot sitting in the cockpit. [...] Computer-animated films were also made for testing instruments in the cockpit and showing the pilot appropriate views of part of the ground ahead of the aeroplane by means of a television screen."

--> simulation
--> Boeing, 1960, computer graphics
--> communication, translation
--> design vs art

>> Leon D. Harmon, Kenneth Knowlton, "Nude", 1966

Jasia Reichardt in "The Computer in Art":
"If one were to look for any one centre which has produced more, and a greater variety of computer-generate images than any other, one would probably have to turn one's steps to New Jersey and the Bell Telephone Laboratories. It is there that a number of individuals working in different departments, have contributed original systems and ideas in the field of computer graphics and computer animation. Leon D. Harmon and Kenneth C. Knowlton produced their first computer graphics at Bell Labs in 1967, after Harmon was asked to make a 'modern art' mural to decorate an office. The complete idea, according to Harmon, emerged within minutes, and two months later the office was emlazoned with a 12-foot long, and by now famous, nude made of alphanumeric characters and produce with the aid of a computer. The nude and various other images generated in the same way, Knowlton and Harmon referred to as 'computer processed creatures'. The described their method as follows:

'A 35mm transparency is made from a photo of some real-world object and is scanned by a machine similar to a television camera. The resultant electrical signals are converted into numerical representations of magnetic tape. This provides a digitized verion of the pictures for computer processing. The first step taken by the computer is to fragment the picture into 88 rows of 132 fragments per row. The average brightness level of each fragment is computed; Thus 11.616 (88 x x132) numbers are generated. That is for gull, gargoyle and telephone pictures. The nude has only 50 rows with 100 fragments per row; thus only 5.000 numbers were generated for that picture.
The brightness levels are encoded into numbers 0 through 15 which stand for white, black, and 14 intermediate shades of grey.The original picture is now represented by 11.616 numbers each one of which represents a small area having one of 16 possible density (brightness) values. The nude is represented by only 8 brightness levels. In the processed picture a given density is reproduced by the number of black dots occupying an 11 x 11 square (the nude is simple with 10 x 10 dots for each micropattern, and the telephone more complex with 15 x 15). This dotarray is produced on microfilm by a microfilm printer. Instead of randomly sprinkling black dots over the 11 x 11 square in the rpoduction called for by any given brightness level, the dots are organized into micropatterns which can be seen at close range. [...] There are a total of 141 patterns. Again, the nude is simpler, having only 16 possible patterns (2 at each level), and the telephone has a greater variety (196 different micropatterns). [...]
When a particular brightness level is called for, the computer makes a random choice among the set which fits that level; different probabilities may be assigned to different patterns within a given level.
The overall picture is actually produced on 6 frames of microfilm (12 for the more detailed telephone picture) because the resolution of the microfilm printer is only 500 seperable dots horizontally, whereas we need 132 x 11 = 1452 dots along that dimension. The 6 microfilm frames are than enlarged photographically, pasted together, and rephotographed to produce the final high-contrast 8 x 10 negative. This negative is then used to produce large prints. At close viewing distances the many tiny patterns are clearly visible, but unless you know exactly what to look for, the large picture (the overall Gestalt) cannot be perceived. With increasingly great viewing distances the small patterns disappear, and the overall picture emerges.'

Harmon and Knowlton give the following reasons for experimenting with these pictures:

' To develop new computer languages which can easily and quickly manipulate graphical data;
To explore new forms of computer-produced art;
To examine some aspects of human pattern perception.'

What is interesting here is that neither Knowlton nor Harmon sought an image that would be eitehr abstract or synthetic, or indeed invented or in any way transformed. Quite rightly they considered that a common recognizable image would be the best vehicle to demonstarte the technique they had invented. On the other hand, their aim was also to produce something in the idiom of 'modern art'. Had they been inventing this before the advent of Pop Art perhaps the imagery would have been drawn from the vocabulary of abstract impressionism."

--> Pop Art, Computer Graphics, 'modern art':
----> process vs result
--> develop, explore, examine
--> Bell Labs

additional information about "Nude" on mediaartnet:
"Deborah Hay in the nude was photographed by Max Mathews. The original computer output was a photograph and was given to E.E. David, who, when he became President Nixon's science adviser, gave it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art."

note that if you compare the artists' original description of the process and the medienkunstnetz text, you will find some inaccurancies and incorrectness in the latter.

--> experiment in pattern recognition (using patterns of dots, symbols, rpinter characters)
--> exhibited at The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, curated by K.G. Pontus Hulten, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1968

>> Jasia Reichardt, The Computer in Art

Jasia Reichardt,
The Computer in Art

Studio Vista, 1971
ISBN: 0289795524

Excerpt from the introduction:

"Computer-aided art is one of the most important links between art and technology. During the last decade functional designs for industry as well as non-functional pictures for pleasure have been produced with the computer. Computer-produced drawings are the work of people from a wide variety of disciplines - a few of them are artists, but most of them are the engineers who have access to computers and their various graphics peripherals, as well as the know-how to use them. The computer has thus enabled people without the ability to draw so much as the simplest design to produce pictures that are both intricate and visually satisfying. Artists generally have to rely on collaboration with engineers to produce computer-aided pictures, though more and more are now learning computer programming, and special computer languages are being devised to meet the requirements of art departments of universities."

"Most art movements are remembered for the relatively few great works which are associated with them and the exceptional individuals who brought them about. [...] Since the early 50ies, however, there have been two international movements which in this context constitute an exception. An exception in the sense that there are no masterpieces to be associated with them, nevertheless these two movements have a unique significance both socially and artistically. The first of these is Concrete Poetry, and the second, Computer Art. The salient points are that both these movements are international, that they are motivated by the use of media, technique, and method, rather than an ideology, and that those participating in them come from a variety of professions, disciplines, and walks of life.
"... one can assume that there are no more than about 1000 people in the world working with computer graphics for purposes other than the practical ones of designing machine tools, car bodies, or the distribution of structural supports for buildings."
The role of the computer in the arts extends beyond its actual use, for there are many works based on the ethos of computer technology but which have not been made with the aid of the computer or its peripherals. Many interactive devices, sound and visual systems are ingenious cybernetic environments which operate on a feedback system owe their existence directly to those principles on which computer hardware and software are based. [...] Whereas this particular field appears to have a far greater potential than computer-generated art, which in the early 1970ies is largely limited to computer graphics, it is the computer graphics that forms the core and basis of computer art to date."

>> Ivan Sutherland, "Sketchpad", 1963

Ivan Sutherland,
Sketchpad: A man-machine graphical communication system

"The Sketchpad system makes it possible for a man and a computer to converse rapidly through the medium of line drawings. Heretofore, most interaction between man and computers has been slowed down by the need to reduce all communication to written statements that can be typed; in the past, we have been writing letters to rather than conferring with our computers. For many types of communication, such as describing the shape of a mechanical part or the connections of an electrical circuit, typed statements can prove cumbersome. The Sketchpad system, by eliminating typed statements (except for legends) in favor of line drawings, opens up a new area of man-machine communication.

[...] Information about how the drawing is tied together is stored in the computer as well as the information which gives the drawing its particular appearance.

[...] If the master hexagon is changed, the entire appearance but not the structure of the hexagonal pattern will be changed." (--> principle of master and instance; copy function)
(from: proceedings of the AFIPS Spring Joint Computer Conference, Detroit, Michigan, May 21-23, 1963, pp. 329-346.; link to this article at teh bottomof this page)

Originally written in 1963, Ivan Sutherland's phd-thesis was published only in 1981!
Sketchpad is a graphical interface and anticipates a lot of later developed GUI-elements.
Sutherland saw the use of sketchpad in the following applications:

- For storing and updating drawings
- For gaining scientific or engineering understanding of operations that can be described graphically
- As a topological input device for circuit simulators, etc.
- For highly repetitive drawings

the light pen:

- for drawing
- for making changes in existing drawings
- "inking-up": by touching the display with the pen, the tracking is initiated, the pen is represented as a cross on the screen (--> mouse pointer)

"The major feature which distinguishes a Sketchpad drawing from a paper and pencil drawing is the user’s ability to specify to Sketchpad mathematical conditions on already drawn parts of his drawing which will be automatically satisfied by the computer to make the drawing take the exact shape desired. The process of fixing up a drawing to meet new conditions applied to it after it is already partially complete is very much like the process a designer goes through in turning a basic idea into a finished design. As new requirements on the various parts of the design are thought of, small changes are made to the size or other properties of parts to meet the new conditions. By making Sketchpad able to find new values for variables which satisfy the conditions imposed, it is hoped that designers can be relieved of the need of much mathematical detail. The effort expended in making the definition of constraint types as general as possible was aimed at making design constraints as well as geometric constraints equally easy to add to the system. "
--> make lines straight, corrections, image manipulation

Sketchpad and art:

Figure 16. Winking girl, “Nefertite,” and her component parts.
This image can be zoomedFigure 16. Winking girl, “Nefertite,” and her component parts.
"Sketchpad need not be applied exclusively to engineering drawings. For example, the girl “Nefertite” shown in Figure 16 can be made to wink by changing which of the three types of eyes is placed in position on her otherwise eyeless face. In the same way that linkages can be made to move, a stick figure could be made to pedal a bicycle or Nefertite’s hair could be made to swing. The ability to make moving drawings suggests that Sketchpad might be used for making animated cartoons."

Link to the full phd-thesis pdf:

some key terms and implications:
- predecessor of CAD-programs
- object oriented programming --> objects, instances
- inspired by Vanevar Bush's "As we may think", 1945
- x-y point plotter display
- light pen
- ran on the TX-2 computer
- uses a window for the first time

more info on sketchpad: http://www.guidebookgallery.org/articles/sketchpadamanmachinegraphicalcommunicationsystem

video-lecture from: http://www.archive.org/details/AlanKeyD1987

Sketchpad presentation with Alan Kay's voice over:

Sketchpad demo from the 60ies (2 parts):

>> Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture

Fred Turner,
From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism.

The University of Chicago Press, 2006

ISBN: 978-0-226-81741-5

Review from The University of Chicago Press:

"In the early 1960s, computers haunted the American popular imagination. Bleak tools of the cold war, they embodied the rigid organization and mechanical conformity that made the military-industrial complex possible. But by the 1990s—and the dawn of the Internet—computers started to represent a very different kind of world: a collaborative and digital utopia modeled on the communal ideals of the hippies who so vehemently rebelled against the cold war establishment in the first place.

From Counterculture to Cyberculture is the first book to explore this extraordinary and ironic transformation. Fred Turner here traces the previously untold story of a highly influential group of San Francisco Bay–area entrepreneurs: Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth network. Between 1968 and 1998, via such familiar venues as the National Book Award–winning Whole Earth Catalog, the computer conferencing system known as WELL, and, ultimately, the launch of the wildly successful Wired magazine, Brand and his colleagues brokered a long-running collaboration between San Francisco flower power and the emerging technological hub of Silicon Valley. Thanks to their vision, counterculturalists and technologists alike joined together to reimagine computers as tools for personal liberation, the building of virtual and decidedly alternative communities, and the exploration of bold new social frontiers.

Shedding new light on how our networked culture came to be, this fascinating book reminds us that the distance between the Grateful Dead and Google, between Ken Kesey and the computer itself, is not as great as we might think."

>> Craig Harris, Art and Innovation

Craig Harris,
Art and Innovation
- the Xerox PARC Artist-in-Residence Program

The MIT Press, 1999

ISBN: 0-262-08275-6

Review from MIT Press:

"The idea behind Xerox's interdisciplinary Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is simple: if you put creative people in a hothouse setting, innovation will naturally emerge. PARC's Artist-in-Residence Program (PAIR) brings artists who use new media to PARC and pairs them with researchers who often use the same media, though in different contexts. This is radically different from most corporate support of the arts, where there is little intersection between the disciplines. The result is both interesting art and new scientific innovations.

Art and Innovation explores the unique process that grew from this pairing of new media artists and scientists working at the frontier of developing technologies. In addition to discussing specific works created during several long-term residencies, the artists and researchers reveal the similarities and differences in their approaches and perspectives as they engage each other in a search for new methods for communication and creativity."

>> Richard Barbrook, Imaginary Futures

Richard Barbrook,
Imaginary Futures
- From Thinking Machines to the Global Village

Pluto Press, 2007

ISBN: 9780745326603

Review from Pluto Press:

Richard Barbrook argues that, at the height of the Cold War, the Americans invented a truly revolutionary tool: the Internet. Yet, for all of its libertarian potential, hi-tech science soon became a tool of geopolitical dominance. The rest of the world was expected to follow America's path into the networked future.

Today, we're still told that the Net is creating the information society. Barbrook shows how we can reclaim its revolutionary purpose: how the DIY ethic of the internet can help people shape information technologies in their own interest and reinvent their own, improved visions of the future."

audiofile of Richard Barbrook's presentation at the parliaments of art symposium in 2005, Vienna:

>> Claude Shannon, Information System, Bit

In his 1948 paper "A Mathematical Theory of Communication", Claude Shannon first defines the term "bit" as a unit for information and the constituents of a general information system.
(The Bell System Technical Journal, Vol. 27, pp. 379–423, 623–656, July, October, 1948)

link to the full pdf: http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/ms/what/shannonday/shannon1948.pdf

>> bit
"The choice of a logarithmic base corresponds to the choice of a unit for measuring information. If the base 2 is used the resulting units may be called binary digits, or more briefly bits, a word suggested by J. W. Tukey. A device with two stable positions, such as a relay or a flip-flop circuit, can store one bit of information. N such devices can store N bits, since the total number of possible states is 2N and log2 2N =N. If the base 10 is used the units may be called decimal digits."

>> communication system
"By a communication system we will mean a system of the type indicated schematically in Fig. 1. It consists of essentially five parts:

1. An information source which produces a message or sequence of messages to be communicated to the receiving terminal. The message may be of various types: (a) A sequence of letters as in a telegraph of teletype system; (b) A single function of time f (t) as in radio or telephony; (c) A function of time and other variables as in black and white television — here the message may be thought of as a function f (x;y; t) of two space coordinates and time, the light intensity at point (x;y) and time t on a pickup tube plate; (d) Two or more functions of time, say f (t), g(t), h(t)—this is the case in “threedimensional” sound transmission or if the system is intended to service several individual channels in multiplex; (e) Several functions of several variables—in color television themessage consists of three functions f (x;y; t), g(x;y; t), h(x;y; t) defined in a three-dimensional continuum—we may also think of these three functions as components of a vector field defined in the region — similarly, several black and white television sources would produce “messages” consisting of a number of functions of three variables; (f) Various combinations also occur, for example in television with an associated audio channel.

2. A transmitter which operates on the message in some way to produce a signal suitable for transmission over the channel. In telephony this operation consists merely of changing sound pressure into a proportional electrical current. In telegraphy we have an encoding operation which produces a sequence of dots, dashes and spaces on the channel corresponding to the message. In a multiplex PCM system the different speech functions must be sampled, compressed, quantized and encoded, and finally interleaved properly to construct the signal. Vocoder systems, television and frequency modulation are other examples of complex operations applied to the message to obtain the signal.

3. The channel is merely the medium used to transmit the signal from transmitter to receiver. It may be a pair of wires, a coaxial cable, a band of radio frequencies, a beam of light, etc.

4. The receiver ordinarily performs the inverse operation of that done by the transmitter, reconstructing the message from the signal.

5. The destination is the person (or thing) for whom the message is intended."

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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.