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Brain Activity



Farbrausch and the Demo Scene

March 30th, 2008 by Rory Harper

Today’s post is going to be complex and lengthy and geeky. Feel free to bail out, but you’ll be missing some amazing weirdness if you do. I’d prefer that you read all the way through before you click on any of the links.

Here’s why – Unlike our usual practice, none of the links are live streams. I’m going to encourage you to choose whether to download some large video files or to execute some small programs. You should know what you’re getting into, and whether your computer can handle it. You need a monster machine to run some of the programs that I’m about to link to. I have a rig with an Athlon64 3200 CPU, 1.5 GB of RAM, and an NVidia FX5200 video card. My WinXP installation is extremely stripped down, so that I have maximum use of resources for recording. It’s hot enough to run only a few of them.

Okay, let’s go.

As I’ve mentioned I hang out a lot at KVR, which is one of the major sites for computer music geeks. Last week, a group named Farbrausch released a newly-updated version of their synth, which is named V2. It includes a speech synthesizer, so you can even make it talk. Here’s the KVR thread on the subject.

Who cares?, you say. Except that Farbrausch also does one of the coolest things I’ve seen in years. They make computer programs that unfold into music and video. They are a dominant player in what’s called ‘the Demo Scene‘.

The V2 synth is their sound-generation code. I’ve tried it and it’s effing awesome, with virtually no CPU hit.

Here’s one from last year, and it’s already a classic.

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It’s called ‘Debris’. Here’s the link to download the program and the separate non-program video, which is slightly under 200 MB in size.

Here’s the mind-blowing part:

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The procedural synthesis code which emits this entire video is an executable file that is 177 Kilobytes in size.

You read that correctly. 177,000 bytes. It does not play back video and audio. It creates them as it goes.

The video resolution will go as high as your screen will allow, and the music is deep, rich, and thick stereo.

‘Debris’ won’t run smoothly on my rig, even at 800×600 resolution. The music is fine, but the video is jerky, with lots of dropped frames. I suspect that the choke-point is my video card, though this sort of program is happiest on a fast dual-core CPU. Digital Audio Workstations like mine are often deliberately populated with older, slower cards, because the fast gaming cards can cause problems with what we want to do, which is record and play back audio, not video.

I’ve played a lot of demos from Farbrausch and others this week, and none of them have actually crashed my machine. Sometimes, the vids stutter and staticky annoyance comes out of the speakers for a few seconds. More often, I just get a low frame rate. Two have crashed themselves, but not my machine, with C++ runtime errors. As far as I can tell, they’re all entirely safe, but, as usual, YMMV.

Here’s the Wiki with more info about the whole Demo Scene. The Scene servers are a rich resource on the subject, and they host Pouet, which is a database site for demos and ‘intros’, which are programs no larger than 64K. Pages there are ranked, and usually contain links to both the demo program itself, and a high-res video, if your machine can’t run the code at speed.

Some demos do run well on my machine. Some of them are just meaningless pretty colors and sounds, but others are the best emotionally-resonant science-fiction eye-candy imaginable.

I adore ‘828’, which seems to be a cold robotic far future war documentary. I find it utterly hypnotic.

Popular’ is popular. It’s got some serious disco happenin’.

.the .product’ may be the one that kicked Farbrausch into high gear.

Poem to a Horse’ is only 64K, which makes it an ‘intro’. It’s old, from 2002, and it still crashed on my machine. The vid’s cool, though it feels less resonant than most of the others to me.

Candytron’ is a delight, and uses the speech synth to great effect. It’s also NSFW because it’s got some incomprehensible naughty-sounding vocals and lots of computer-generated nipples on display.

There are, of course, lots of other Demo Scenesters, and I’ve only skimmed the surface myself so far.

Here are some recent award winners at the Scene. They also maintain an archive of past winners.

I wasn’t impressed with the beginning sequences of this year’s Breakpoint winner, ‘Lifeforce’, but then it kicked into high gear and blew me away.

There are tons of others, some vastly entertaining, some just ‘meh’.

The last one I enjoyed while finishing this post is ‘Suicide Barbie’, which is deeply twisted and NSFW.

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Some of these programs will let you choose some variables for running them when they start. Unless you have a monster gaming machine with a $200+ video card in it, you might want to choose to run at 800×600, in a window, with no oversampling.

Most of them look and sound pretty cool even then.

But, assuming you have the available disk space, you can always download and enjoy the hi-res vids almost as much.

I’d be grateful if you post any especially wondrous finds in comments here.

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Posted in Music, Pop. Culture, Rory, Technology | 4 Comments »

4 Responses

  1. bob Says:

    Thanks, Rory. I remember the demo scene from my Atari days. It’s good to see it’s still going strong. As I recall, the Finnish kids dominated the demo scene back in the day.

  2. Steven Gould Says:

    I glanced at the wiki and am I wrong in assuming that we’re pretty much talking PC based stuff, mostly? (I did see mention of mobile devices but nothing about Mac OS.)

  3. Rory Harper Says:

    It turns out that you can search Pouet by OS platform;

    http://www.pouet.net/prodlist.php?platform%5B%5D=MacOSX

    There seem to be plenty of MacOS demos.

    But, actually, who cares? Get a real computer. 🙂

    …And, of course, the vids should run on any platform….

  4. Procedural Content Generation: Articles Says:

    […] of Procedural Synthesis Content is Bad – Danc of Lost Garden responds to Chris Delay’s article. Farbrausch and the Demo Scene on procedural generation in the Demo […]

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