Flavour of the month: James Houston and his ZX Spectrum

If you haven’t already been caught by the bug, do go and have a look at James Houston’s video Big Ideas (Don’t get any).

I’m feeling strangely proud as this latest wunderkind is from none other than the Glasgow School of Art. His video, utilising various discarded computer devices to perform a weird and wonderful arrangement of Radiohead’s track, Nude., has been causing a sudden frenzy on various blogs and forums. His elegant synopsis:

“I grouped together a collection of old redundant hardware, and placed them in a situation where they’re trying their best to do something that they’re not exactly designed to do, and not quite getting there.”

James Houston during recording Big Ideas (Don't get any)

photo by James Houston

Never ones to miss a good scoop, the Creative Review interview Houston here. I was charmed to find that the artist’s use of a ZX Spectrum for the guitar parts was no accident – he is as much a fan as the rest of us. And one thing he said really got me thinking:

“The high pitched noise at the start of the video is the sound of the spectrum loading (they loaded via audio tapes). You can load the beeping file into your spectrum at home just by playing the start of the video through it. That is, if you’re that way inclined.”

Well, you know what? I’m pretty sure there are hundreds if not thousands that way inclined! If we look at those loading bleeps as the source code for Spectrum software, isn’t that the most democratic form of source imaginable? Capable of being transmitted through none other than air itself, the code for a Spectrum program can be distributed insanely easily, and stored on any audio recording format. It is distributed inherently with the program and in order to even use the program one first has to listen to, experience, the source code itself.

So: What if we could share data for physical objects in this way? You could conceivably sing a kazoo into existence with a mic, a (souped up) spectrum and a 3D printer! For a music loving post-industrial designer, isn’t this just heaven?

I will ask James on Thursday when the GSA Degree Show opens. If I can get close. And he may well look at me like I’m a nut.

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2 Responses to “Flavour of the month: James Houston and his ZX Spectrum”

  1. Ponoko Blog Says:

    [...] I’ve also talked about my love for the Spectrum before, and its relevance to open sourcing in terms of the medium of audio tapes (World of Spectrum is a great resource for all your old spectrum games). Of course the other side of the coin is the Spectrum’s role in encouraging people to write their own programs and edit each other’s – as Lockton puts it “a fantastic constructionist success for a generation in Britain.” [...]

  2. From barcodes to trees, and beyond. « Ponoko – Blog Says:

    [...] non-ink – one could write them oneself. As a source code they excite me almost as much as the ZX Spectrum tapes! Another great use of barcodes I came across recently was the Beats from Barcodes project, using a [...]