Written by: The Floppy Totaal Team
Pictures by: Mathijs van Oosterhoudt, Niek Hilkmann, Thomas Walskaar and other participants
On October 19th 2019, in the South of a city called Rotterdam, the second Floppy Totaal event of 2019 took place at Varia, the Center for Everyday Technology, a recently founded collective-space with an interest in exploring the social dimensions in the technical and vice versa. For our second event Floppy Totaal was joined by the Hungarian floppy artists Tamás Szántó (aka Kisszántó) and Mark Windisch (aka Eoforwine and one of the two founders of not-for-profit, floppy-only label Floppy Kick Records) and virtually, via video-conference software, by floppy-archivist and historian of technology Jason Scott. Furthermore, the UK based sound-artist Michael Ridge sent us two floppy disk films via snail mail to compliment the floppy experience of "Double Density".
As with our previous event, "Magnetic Flux", there were two parts to our full-day program. The first consisted of a recording and publishing workshop by Floppy Kick Records in the afternoon, while the second part took place in the evening and included performances, talks and a DJ set.
The afternoon program kicked off at around 14h00 with a workshop by Mark Windisch of Floppy Kick Records. This resilient floppy disk label takes a non-political, yet critical position by explicitly rejecting any racism, sexism, homophobic or other forms of radicalism on their releases, choosing to instead focus on the beauty of sound. This can be in any style; experimental, noise, ambient, musique concrète, dark sounds, hnw, avant-garde, field recordings, industrial, power electronics, lo-fi, grindcore, or anything else interesting. At the start of their workshop people were seated around a large table filled with a wide array of seemingly disparate objects like beer bottles, a saw, various kitchen utensils, staplers, pliers, rubber bands and bottlecaps. Various contact microphones connected these to Mark's computer. He explained that the objects were going to function as improvised instruments and we were going to record a true Floppy Kick release on floppy disk that day. As soon as he pressed "record", people shifted around the table, trying out different combinations between the objects. After about 10 minutes of improvised sound-producing fun, Mark declared that he had all the material that was necessary for the release (and maybe even a bit more). The group now turned to the production of the actual floppy disk release.
After Mark showcased how the compression of our new audio file was going to happen (one of the defining aspects of any floppy release), it was time to prepare the artwork. We started by numbering stickers and soon-to-be covers from 1 to 60 (we were producing a limited run of 60 floppies). Stickers were placed on floppies, paper was cut and diskettes were slipped into their covers. While finishing the release, participants continued experimenting with the tools around the table, developing even more sophisticated instruments and testing them out. After about three hours our brand new release was finished. Participants sat in anticipation for the first collective listening session of the joint recording. Afterwards, Mark uploaded the new release to the Floppy Kick website and Discogs where it can be found under the name "People Of Varia - Double Density Workshop" . Each member was provided one of the final product, while the remaining stack was left for the evening program as a special kind of give-away.
IS IT TOO LATE?
The evening program of "Double Density" consisted of a performance by Mark Windisch under his Eoforwine monikor, a screening of Michael Ridge's floppy films, an online interview with Jason Scott, a DJ set by Kisszántó and a presentation by our very own Floppy Team wherein we answered questions such as "What is a floppy?", "Why Floppy Totaal?" and "What is the future of floppy publishing?" Accompanying us once more was Mariëtte Groot with a stall from Underbelly Soundartmedia that showcased relevant items and a collection of Sony Mavica floppy cameras (kindly borrowed by Florian Cramer), which were used by the attendants to document the evening and themselves.
As performances, DJ sets and screenings are sometimes hard to convey through words, and it seems a little self-indulgent to document the Floppy Team presentation (though we might turn this into an article on a later date), we will limit ourselves in this report to (re)presenting some of the highlights from our talk with Jason Scott, the floppy archivist.
First of all, a bit of context: In 2011, Jason Scott wrote ing session of the joint recording. Afterwards, Mark uploaded the new release to the Floppy Kick website and Discogs where it can be found under the name "Floppy Disks: It’s Too Late". "Floppy Disks: It’s Too Late". Naturally, the first question we wanted to ask was: "Do you think it is still too late?". Jason's answer took the audience on a journey through the difficulties of recovering data from forgotten floppies, subject to the inexorable passage of time, mold, dust, etc. Not all brands of floppy stand the test of time equally. According to Scott, he sounded the alarm at a pretty good time with his 2011 text. People are still sending him plenty of disk collections to process and recover, which is not always easy or possible.
In Scott's opinion, the impact the floppy disk still has on popular culture nowadays comes from the fact that they were, until 1995, the singular way through which regular people transferred binary data between one another. In this sense, the floppy disk was a badge of humanity, individuality and expression. Floppies were the first self-contained medium to allow for an exchange between hardware, software and humans. Asked about floppy art and how the limitations imposed by the medium might affect the art, Jason Scott's personal opinion is that, when you have to make things fit within 1,44 MB of data, you really have to think about what you are trying to do. And the art, says Scott, improves for it; there are people working with these constraints in "some really amazing ways."
Another practical step that Jason Scott takes in his endeavor to preserve and recover as much floppy disk content as possible, is to stream his floppy reading/preservation sessions on Twitch, a popular live video streaming service that is particularly popular with gamers. People's reaction is almost always one of surprise: "I might as well be blowing glass or bending metal (...)". By explaining his work to his viewers and showing them the contents of the floppies when possible, Scott hopes that the word gets out and that people can make the connection between what he is doing and the piles of floppies they might have rotting in their basements.
Another project that Scott has recently initiated, called "Project Everything" , "is currently a spreadsheet that is yanking in data from a variety of sources/books, and so on, to figure out exactly how much Apple II material is actually out there.". With this, Jason Scott hopes to inspire more people to send in their Apple II floppies to be imaged/preserved. During this process, Scott told us, he has already encountered very special things. It is especially exciting, he says, to come across games that were never heard of or even played because they were never released.
To prepare for the future and battle the inevitable loss of the data he is currently saving, Jason Scott aims to spread and give away as much of his material as possible. This means that he is not only storing it on as many storage media as possible, but also making it available online through his own website "Textfiles.com" and "archive.org" Jason Scott concluded his talk by telling us that he likes to believe that there is an incentive for the industry to create storage media that is durable and dependable, reversible and extractable.
With the end of Floppy Totaal: Double Density, we also reached the end of the first phase of Floppy Totaal's research into contemporary floppy disk culture. We were happy to see that floppy diskettes are still everywhere around us and that there is no lack of enthusiasm or imagination within the various floppy communities. It was very rewarding for us to get into contact with some of them and discuss the future of residual media during and around our two live programs, at WORM and in Varia. We were also glad to see such a big interest from participants, both from within and outside of the event spaces.
After the first six months of our research the logical next step for Floppy Totaal is to focus on a publication that fully addresses the social dimensions of the contemporary floppy diskette. This publication might take the shape of a cohesive, curated collection of interviews and essays by a broad range of floppy theorists and artists, including some of those we established contact with during the last couple of months. We intend to work on this publication in 2020 and will be back with you during "Floppy Totaal: Badly Labeled"!
Written by: The Floppy Totaal Team
Pictures by: Mathijs van Oosterhoudt, Thomas Walskaar, Florian Cramer, Carlo Sander and other participants
On August 31st 2019, in the city of Rotterdam, the first Floppy Totaal event of 2019 took place at WORM, the institute of avant-garde recreation. Here, Adam Frankiewicz, of Pionerska Records and Floppy (Not) News, Sascha Müller and Remute (Denis Karimani) shared their work with those attending and recounted their experiences and reasons for using the floppy disk as a publishing and distribution medium. The program of Floppy Totaal: Magnetic Flux, consisted of two parts. The first one started at around 14h and included a workshop by Adam Frankiewicz, several artists' talks and a joint roundtable discussion. After a short dinner break, the evening program, which included DJ, VJ and FJ sets by the floppy artists in attendance, launched at 20h30.
Below, we will attempt to convey the highlights of the afternoon program, that is: the presentations, the workshop and the joint roundtable discussion.
The afternoon began with a talk by Adam Frankiewicz, that focused mainly on his music publishing endeavour, Pionerska Records. While Frankiewicz had previously worked with cassette releases, he decided the time had come for something new after his tape deck broke. That is how, in the year of 2018, Pionerska Records started publishing music on floppy disks: "diskettes are nice, small and comfortable objects, and the memory limitation means fun."
Frankiewicz had prepared a lecture that took the audience on a journey through the history of musical floppy disk music releases. The music industry was never particularly fond of floppies and this lack of mainstream appeal deprived the diskette of the chance to become a 'proper' music format like cassettes or vinyl. That doesn't mean, however, that there were no musical floppies releases at all. Frankiewicz presented a timeline showcasing a selection. It kicked off with the release of Nobuo Uematsu's Alpha game soundtrack in 1986. After this came the 1988 floppy release of midi Chopin by Stanislav Bunin, winner of the Chopin contest, and Billy Idol's Cyberpunk from 1993; the first full album to be released on a floppy, complete with a graphic interface to navigate the music, lyrics and other material. In 1996, Brian Eno released Generative Music I on a floppy. Because the music here was generated on the fly, the sound resolution was not compromised, as is the case with a lot of floppy disk releases. Besides being used as a music carrying-medium, floppies were also used as a promotional tool, filling them up with screensavers and other goodies. A famous example of this is Radiohead's OK Computer from 1997.
Frankiewicz moved on to a more contemporary floppy disk music history, which comprised the Demoscene, underground punk, vaporwave, chiptune, drone, ambient, noise, lobit and sound art. The distribution of Demoscene audio floppies still happens through a Sneakernet; friends send floppies to friends, who in turn send it to other friends. Frankiewicz explained that his interest in floppies is not so much retromania, as it is a reinterpretation and exploration of all its possibilities. The floppy helped enable the PC revolution, independent software development and much more. Small things travel faster and limitations increase creativity. Floppies can change or stop the game and there is always an element of surprise. Specifically, Frankiewicz is interested in investigating the creative possibilities of the floppy disk, as the format's rapid obsolescence never allowed for its potential to be fully explored. Currently, he is experimenting with the Ogg Vorbis container, as it is good for compressing music and working with low bitrate, leaving very few compression artifacts.
Frankiewicz also spoke about floppy disk usage for their design properties: as business cards, for advertisement purposes and, importantly, the object in and of itself. Our task as participants of Frankiewicz's workshop consisted of personalizing floppy disks using a wide assortment of markers, paper, stickers, glitter, spray and decorative tape. For the first exercise, as we were all sitting around a table, Frankiewicz explained we each had 30 seconds to leave our mark on the floppy in front of us before passing it along to our neighbor, and so on and so forth, until we got back the floppy with which we had started. For the second exercise, we had the remainder of the workshop to finish our own floppy design.
After a short break, it was Remute's turn to present his work. Remute started his talk by presenting Limited, his 2017 hybrid release comprising a 7" vinyl and a 3.5' floppy. The floppy disk holds 6 of the tracks. Instead of choosing to compress .wav files, Remute decided to generate the music in real-time by using .MOD files, which contain all the sample and sequencing data. The generated sound of a .MOD file isn't necessarily of a lower fidelity than a .wav file. Cruise Missile, one of Limited's track, takes up only 64kb. According to Remute, .MOD files date back to the Amiga, and are still very popular with the Demoscene. Remute's decision to use this format was justified by his desire to release something rhythmic on a floppy.
Remute told the audience a bit about his background. He had started his music career in 2002, releasing plenty of music in 'the usual way'. By 2017 he got fed up with the business model of pushing everything to the max, including production. Having 200GB worth of sample libraries and getting lost in all of the possibilities was taking its toll on Remute's creative flow. The question became how to focus on ideas once more. The answer was the floppy disk, as its limitations force one to focus on the most essential and important ideas. Remute called this 'necessary minimalism', saving him from maximalism and the tyranny of too many possibilities. A small creative room (the floppy disk) gave him the power to focus on the most important ideas. Composing .MOD files was, for Remute, a new, special and refreshing way to release music.
Thus, Remute's love affair with small file sizes, with pushing things to the minimum, began. His next step was the release of Technoptimist on a Sega Megadrive cartridge which included 14 tracks (900KB) and a music video. Technoptimistic uses no samples at all, only a set of instructions that generate the music and the video once the console loads the cartridge. For this release, Remute worked with two other famous Demosceners, known for cramming out very good performances from old computers. Always on the lookout for new formats, Remute finished his talk by previewing his performance later that night, wherein he would use two RaspberryPi running emulators and PT1210, a DJ software for the Amiga.
For Remute, rediscovering the floppy disk, which was always there and which he had previously used for archiving and games, was indeed good fortune. It saved him from completely running out of ideas and drowning in a sea of possibilities.
Sascha Müller's talk centered mainly on the performance he had prepared for the evening program. Müller explained the audience not only how he releases his music on floppy disks, but also through which method his floppies would be played that evening. The audience learned that Müller uses ReBirth, an older software synthesizer, as a tool to release his music on floppy disk. Each track takes only between 20KB to 50KB of space, so each floppy release can fit up to 50 tracks. This is possible because only the instructions on how to play the track are stored on the disk and are then interpreted, using ReBirth, by the sound card. That way, there's no compression necessary, resulting in hi-fi sound. This means, however, that whoever wants to play Sascha's floppies needs to have ReBirth.
For Müller this is a feature: part of his art is the effort one has to go through in order to be able to play his music. An additional benefit of this way of releasing music is that it allows for modification of the tracks, stimulating the creation of remixes. For the performance that evening, Müller noted, all music would be loaded from floppy disk and played using ReBirth.
A floppy community?
As his presentation was over, Müller's talk gave way to a roundtable conversation that involved all three of the attending artists. The conversation kicked off with a reflection on the perceived audience for each artist's releases. Remute suggested that all three of them have in common that they feel that the limited accessibility of their music is in itself a sort of adventure that engages their audience. Frankiewicz added that he felt the need to actively build an audience for his music, by traveling, talking to people, gathering and forming networks and making friends. He emphasized the community aspect of floppy music-making, publishing and consumption, something that goes beyond the mere isolated listening to music.
This triggered Niek Hilkmann, who moderated the talk, to enquire after the possibilities of achieving something similar with a different, physical medium. Historically, the floppy was not necessarily a medium for music distribution; yet lately there is a slow rise of floppy disk labels popping up, and the community aspect shines through. It seems however that the music here comes second and the medium first. Not everyone has access to the hardware necessary to play Remute's Megadrive release.
These remarks launched a lively debate about audience engagement, with Remute stating that he tries not to limit his audience by forcing the people to listen to his creations on a single medium. His music is also available on Spotify. He would recommend, however, to look for the proper hardware to experience the full journey. Müller reacted by informing that he does want his audience to put in an effort to listen to his music, as he wants to enforce the point that dance music is not only to be gotten through a cassette or vinyl, but is also highly recommended for the floppy. When one buys a physical copy, one knows where to buy it. This is the reason why Müller is still doing physical releases. Frankiewicz's intervention focused on collectionism and highlighted, once more, the community aspect of the floppy music scene: collections are shared and reactivated. While the community is now small, the spreading and the sharing of collections hold the promise of growth, like a virus.
At that moment, with a little prompt by Hilkmann, the discussion turned towards existing streaming services. With Frankiewicz stating that he has never tried any. Remute, who also releases through Spotify, recognized that using this service is too easy. Listening to music on formats that one needs to work for is, according to him, rewarding, affording a satisfying journey. His opinion is that people listen to music differently now that streaming services exist and there's barely any effort involved. His feelings seemed to be echoed by Müller, who called Spotify the grave of music, existing only for its consumption, and not for its listening. Anticipation is gone, consumption is readily available at any point. From Müller's point of view, this 24h availability (e.g.: listening to music on the way to work) hurts the ability to fully appreciate its depth.
In these opinions, they were joined by an audience member, who proposed that music had become like information and one can overload from it: it is sampled, quickly scanned, not entirely taken in and savoured. Indeed, added Hilkmann, it is difficult to create a community around streaming services. Frankiewicz then mentioned Netflix as part of a similar problem: the more you watch/listen, the more you get recommended the same stuff, creating a filter bubble; the human aspect still allows you to discover more and outside your own "declared" interests.
"What could be the next thing for the floppy scene?"
It was this question, formulated by Hilkmann, that gave the motto for the next and final part of the discussion. Remute mused about the possibilities of a special player for floppies: a Floppyman of sorts (like a Discman or Walkman). Some suggested that the floppy scene might hit the mainstream if there would be such a thing, because at the moment it is too much effort for most people to get a floppy drive. The new possibilities promised by such a device launched the table, artists and audience alike, into a brainstorm of ideas, leading Hilkmann to question if such a device would actually be desirable. .
Wouldn't accessibility go directly against the main appeal of the floppy disk? While it would certainly decrease the adventure aspect of the medium, admitted Remute, it would be more convenient. Müller agreed that a floppy Walkman could be a nice idea. Walskaar intervened to emphasize that such a device could bring new people to the floppy scene. At the same time, getting the Floppyman would also require some effort, as he predicted that big stores wouldn't have it in stock.
The last topic of the day was introduced by Hilkmann: is the resurgence of the floppy disk fetishizing a false history of this format as a music-carrying medium? Could it have been any other format? Remute responsed by emphasizing the emotional aspect of using the floppy disk, due to its strong history, concluding that he doesn't think there is another format, at this moment, which has such an emotional value.
As the discussion stopped, so too did the afternoon program of Floppy Totaal: Magnetic Flux.