Friday, 22 April 2016

Prince Rogers Nelson has logged off

I couldn't locate any Prince ANSI artwork (Maze even turned on string searching in for me to have a look, as Sixteen Colours appears to be down indefinitely), so this piece of period teletext will have to suffice. His Purpleness isn't a great fit for this blog, as (despite presaging the Y2K bug in 1982 with "1999") he was never an icon of the (painfully white) digital underground, which may just amount to a case of bad timing: the first and biggest huzzah for his work in my memory and for those in my cohort will be his soundtrack to Tim Burton's '89 Batman film, a fault line for the '80s crossing into the '90s, a bold and jarring shot of dissonant brilliance thrown in the kitchen sink as part of Warner Bros.' spice rack. That movie got turned into a lot of video games but Prince didn't make the transition (heck, I don't think even Danny Elfman did) and computer fan-art was just in its infancy at this time -- Aces of ANSi Art just started that year, though you might find some pictures made in the earlier C64 scene (I could locate none at The Pixelling Cow.)

But even if he was denied his 8-bit glory on the NES, his genius still made its way into home computers of the era. There was a brief window there for a few years where digital audio -- before the MP3 standard became widely adopted -- could be used to share popular music on floppy diskettes using the Amiga's 4-channel .MOD music tracker format: sample brief, repetitive loops from the original song, then repeat them as needed. A kind of bespoke file compression, if you will. To combat inevitable repetitiveness (this isn't just similar to the part that came before, it's quite literally the same 3 seconds over and over again) the arrangement would be seasoned (liberally) with voice samples... because they could. In the early '90s, figuring that I would have to figure out some way of transplanting my analogue musical expertise into the digital forum, I was ravenously downloading as many public domain .MODs as I could fit through my 1200 baud modem (which is to say: not a lot) and given a Yellow Pages of files with bizarre names and no descriptions to randomly select from, I would often latch on to something whose name was a little less abstract and hang on to it for dear life. Here's something -- a 1990 arrangement (spent a year in the oven, I guess) of Prince's music from the movie the previous year. You can find BATDANCE.MOD>the original file or, if you like, I can play you an exported MP3 version of the .MOD right through your web browser:

yo there! how do you
like this tune?
i think it's rather
nice for a first try
in conversions!
you can use it in
your own demo or game
but don't forget that
it was made by :
dark knight from the
cool team called :
s y n e r g y !!!!!!!
if ya want to contact
me then write to :
rodolphe bono
8ter rue pierre neveu
61600 la ferte-mace
software houses are
of course welcomed!
hi to all my friends
all over the world!!!
-coolness is forever-
made by dark knight
in august 1990
Four years after Prince's Batman soundtrack was in the can (the Batcan), however, he made a bold artistic decision in 1993 that involved computers at a fundamental level: changing his name to an unpronounceable glyph as part of a contractual dispute with Warner Bros., anyone who wanted to write about him now had to use digitized assets contained on this floppy diskette. (That or refer to him as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, TAFKAP for short. When I was entering the computer artscene, I heard a lot from an elite dude following in his footsteps, TAFKASK, The Artist Formerly Known As Shihear Kallizad (about whom you can learn more from this ANSI of the Day post)... then he disappeared from the field altogether, forever. So it was with elites -- either they messily quit, were busted, or simply... ascended.)
Prince was quicker on the digital uptake than we'd realized, however, releasing in 1994 (only one year after those glyph-floppies, and not incidentally the golden year of nostalgia in which I founded Mistigris) a sign 'o them times -- a multimedia CD-ROM entitled Prince Interactive. We were still mucking around with textmode characters using the EGA colour scheme (not that we aren't still doing that 8) while he was pressing full motion video to mass storage devices. Now, Windows 3.11-era multimedia content is touchy to get working properly these days, but you can enjoy some splendidly bizarre screenshots over at Mobygames.

That marks the transition point following which he stopped regarding computers as a boon to his musical genius and began viewing them more as a bane; he ran hot and cold for Napster around the turn of the century, and for basically as long as there has been a YouTube, Prince had been serving legal notice to have unauthorized postings of his songs removed from it (culminating in Radiohead authorizing a contested posting of Prince's performance of their song Creep: we wrote it after all and we approve.)

I'm not going to post that here, because ... you can find that kind of stuff everywhere. But backing up a little bit to BATDANCE.MOD, here's another neighbouring file I remember vividly from my BBS download explorations: BATMEAT.MOD, an original composition splicing a little bit of the Adam West era campy Batman TV program with what sound like samples from the '89 Batman movie and some slick, are-they-Prince instrumental samples. (I think... maybe yes, let's throw it in this post anyway.)

this module was
ripped from the
best music disk out
at time of going to
press. it was coded
for effects by cecil
who loves getting his
name everywhere
Bonus! Some time after the fact, Misfit drew an ANSI portrait of Prince, released in the Blocktronics Block'N Roll collection: