petite mort In this issueLa Premiére No.1 2003
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Cory Arcangel

Paperrad mario sketch...just before his band 8-Bit Construction Set, was about to play at a Warp records concert at Chicago's Metro. We got to chatting about, among other things, the art of hacking, modding, rodding, retro gaming, and his Beige Records projects.

8-bit’s only release, flipped upside down the hi score spells "beige." Beige Records.

One thing about his band that struck me was the fact that they were spread out over the net. Being spread out over a network, without a central point, means being indestructible and above all unpredictable. Having a band without a central point (i.e. a bandleader) also meant that creativity could move horizontally through all band members instead of from the top to the bottom. The negative effect of not having a central point might make it

chaotic, unorganized and as a result the band might not produce as much. So far all those things are true: 8-Bit Construction is still together and is still quite unpredictable. Creativity is flowing to and from all members but 8-Bit Construction Set has still only released one album. With this in mind it's unlikely that you'll be hearing a new albums soon -a reminder that the utopian ideas of an more efficient society via internet technology hasn't completely replaced the idea of practicing live, a.k.a. jammin'. "It's really just about us being lazy", Cory reasoned.

Outside of the slowly making music within 8-bit construction set extranet, Cory mentioned a collaboration a PaperRad, a 'zine out of Boston.

Cory's contribution to PaperRad 'zine: 2.5 pages of hand written coded that orders a Dominos Pizza to a specified location every 20 minute, forever, or at least until the Dominoe's webmaster bombs your computer offline.

For PaperRad he mentioned that he might be writing the script for a new play which will hopefully star all of the Super Mario Brothers characters: Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Princess Toadstool, Goomba, and Koopa-Troopa. When we started taking pictures of Cory for this article he insisted that he be photographed with his favorite threads. With his visor and Mario Cloudz T-shirt Cory began to resemble a modern day Mario Brother's character with his low-tech style and poses. Perhaps this is his technique for getting into character so he can write the script. Just as I thought the interview has reached its maximum level of lo-tech wackiness Cory slapped on a video for the song "Dollars" that the band made in a do-it-yourself video booth back in 2000. At that point that I began to understand where he was coming from…

8-Bit construction Set's Dollar's Video
Super Low Budgets: Still from "Dollars", an 8-Bit production. I can't imagine the Video Kiosk in the Mall charging more than $20 for 5 minutes. Click here to watch the complete "Dollars" video (11mb Quicktime .mov)

Juicing with lo-fi digital art with video games we've out grown, musical influences from the vibrant Detroit techno-scene, and thrift shop sensibility, Cory has been able to concoct a unique and tangy artistic style. The modern world gives him new technology and Cory hacks it back to its fundamentals. Hopefully after reading the interview you'll know what I'm talking about and you just might have a better picture of what kind of artist Cory is, even it does turn out to be just an 8-bit screenshot...

Cory Arcangel

W hen did you make this Dollars video?
We were all in the conservatory together. This is late, late, late conservatory year, I had just quit guitar -I went there to study classical guitar by the way. That was our last year -we had no idea of what we were doing. Know what I mean?

Truthfully, in my senior year I thought I knew what I was doing and it wasn't until after I graduated that reality set in… So you didn't go to art school?
Right, I went to Oberlin, I majored in Electronic Music Composition with a minor in Computer Science and Classical Guitar -"Selected Study in Classical Guitar" to be exact.

Now that you don't have the umbrella of school, how does your band get together to make music?
Basically send bits and pieces of mp3s over email to one another and then we chat about how we can improve them. Like when you walked in, I was on the phone with my friend Paul and we were talking about this one project. Work gets done over phone calls and emails. I'll just email them and say: "hey guys listen to this mp3 I made!" There’s stuff floating around as we speak. With the hacked Nintendo cartridges, I’ll burn a cartridge and send it to Paul and ask him if he can maybe can make some beats for it. Otherwise he’ll suggest I do this and that to it to make it a bit better.

So there’s not a real bandleader per say?
No, there's barely a band.

That’s sort of good. You don’t have to deal with the lead singer's personality or worse- his girlfriend.
Yeah, that's right.

Can you even call this a collaboration or is this more of an Ether Jam Session where you guys just jam over each other's tracks?
Most of the songs definitely feel like collaborations. But "jamming" might be the wrong word for it. Jamming is more like when you play with each other live -this is more like goofing off. Most of the time we play live, we just goof. For example, someone will stop the show to explain over the microphone how we made that particular song. Or we might pull someone not from the band on stage to explain how we made it. Did you see any of those performance-slash-presentations that we've done?

I saw one of your PowerPoint presentations on the basics of hacking Nintendo.
Yeah, it’s like that. We'll do a presentation, and right in the middle of our performances I’ll be like "O.K., enough of this music, let’s talk about hacking Nintendo!" Know what I mean?

Cory Arcangel

Music stops and then you give a lecture?
Yep, or I might be in the mood to play a video or some booty bass. When we get together it's always a total disaster.

So are any of your guys nervous to see each other in such a long time?
Oh no, it hasn't been a long time. We’re more like "Oh, here we go again!"

In the lecture you mentioned that you hack the chips in the Mario cartridges to make your art and music?
That's right, these EPROM chips hold binary code in 32k files, which run in the 6502 microprocessor. All you need to do is pop the chip in to the burner, hook it up to your computer, and burn it. To erase the chip you expose them to light. And it copies in a second! It’s really fun to think about how much information is in that little 32k.

So you're really into saving space!
Yeah, but not necessarily saving space but being thorough -getting the most of what you have.

What computer do you have over there?
Oh, that’s a old phase G3 mini tower. And I have Windows 98 machine too because that’s the only type of system I can use to burn these chips. Luckily someone gave that one to me for free. So now my G3 is like my normal office computer, I use it for things like email. There's only about 128mbs of ram on it.

I suppose you're not doing anything in Director or Premier on it then?
No, no I don’t use that computer for anything but administration. Although I did download Future Splash Animator on it just to see what it was like. There’s just like little difference between it and Flash -it was weird. Future Splash Animator is what Flash was before Macromedia bought it up in 1995. An independent company called Futurewave developed it.

On the 8-Bit Construction Set self title album, both sides of the albums have programs pressed onto them along with the music??
Yeah, each side has one program but they're pretty much the same. The Atari side has a bass, line shout out screen, and post-data video by Joe Beuckman. Commador64 side has the Roland 303 (the synth that gave us ACID house), shout out screen, and post-data video by Paul Davis.

Why doesn't anyone ever talk about the programs on the album? It seems like for a while you were pulling a PR trick, like holding back information, keeping it a mystery so people would want to buy it?
We weren't really keeping it a secret. Not many people would know what it is even if they buy it because they would have to load it on to a computer with a cassette drive. There are only about five people in the world that have really ever done that.

Cory Arcangel

I would have figured there might have been more?
Nah, there were a couple of kids from the Netherlands who did it, and they were like "cool!" -but that’s about it, that’s the kind of audience for this type of thing. Who has a Commodore 64 lying around anymore? And who has a Commodore 64 with a cassette drive and is interested enough in obscure electronic music to do that? You know what I mean? So that's why it really isn't talked about in the reviews.

Did those guys email you from the Netherlands?
Yeah, we got one email from this kid out there. We also got one mail from someone saying, "It didn’t work!" We actually get more emails like that! (laughs)

Does it come with instructions?
Yes actually, we have instructions printed on the insert -detailed instructions on how to load it. On top of not having the proper equipment and the know-how of loading it, it was a very obscure record. People didn't get to it much to actually figure it out, and half of those who did get the album still couldn't figure it out! Which in someway was a shame.

So what are you guys working on now then? It's been two years now.
We have a 10" coming out with this band call Bodenstandig 2000, which is a German equivalent of our band. They are on Rephlex. They are incredible!

How long have those guys been around?
Probably for about the same time as we have. Their first record was released in '99. We got in touch with them through the Rephlex people. The Rephlex people told us to listen to their record. When we heard their record we were heart broken.

They made you want to try harder?
Definitely, but I have to say that their record was the first true non-poser old-school home-computing-movement pop record.

Tell me about the Beige World Cassette Battle.
It’s a DJ battle we are hosting this summer but the participants don't spin vinyl, they use cassette tapes. It's the second year we're hosting it in association with Version>03 Festival and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

Interesting, CJs instead of DJs! What do you need to compete?
Well, you bring your own cassettes and a tape player/records of course -it's really up to you. Many kids modify the tape recorders, use tape loops, etc. We even had this one kid last year that brought in a pencil with the head of magnetic tape reader attached to the tip. Then he laid out the cassette tape on a piece of wood and started to scratch! We had a DJ mixing it live so it sounded just like scratching. The movement of the pencil back and forth gave the cassette the same effect as scratching vinyl! It sounded just like scratching- it was really incredible but unfortunately he didn't win.

So the magnetic head pencil was still attached to tape player with wires, there must have been wires all over the place!?
Yeah, that's one kind of a modification you might see at the Cassette Battle.

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