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The software crackers who become new generation artists

Generative art review about Fairlight demogroup

written by Hristo Yordanov

In this review I would like to present a phenomenon of late 80s, early 90s, Fairlight is a part of the demoscene which was booming in Europe, and still exist now. There is so much talent and variety of the new generation artists, great coders, experienced gfx manipulators, electronic music composers. They all become united and grouped to work on different projects, one of the directions they took were intros or demos. One of my all-time favourite demogroup is Fairlight (see pic. 1), do you remember the history of cracked PC games and programs?

Fairlight Logo
pic.1 – Fairlight Logo by JED of AciD, 1987

Certainly, the pixelated black and white image refers back to a few decades ago, when all started with the golden age of Atari, Commodore Amiga, the demogroup knew how to use the full hardware potential of these historic personal computers. One of the founding members of Fairlight with nickname Bacchus says "I was very amazed by the intros on games... I realized learning machine-code was the way and cracker was the thing to be!". Fairlight created breathtaking intros containing 3D animations, electronic sounds, and motion graphics all that compiled in under 64KB of code. Very rarely a digital artist is that multi-talented to be able to create a high-quality finished product, so demogroup is a symbiosis between a variety of specialists such as hackers, crackers, coders, mathematicians, graphic artists, musicians, and all are good virtual and real international friends working on common project, in this case a demo.

Fairlight is like fluid metaballs, the team is constantly changing, but each member is focused on a specific process, it is kind of a living organism which creates virtual entertainment and art. At that time there were many software and hardware limitations, so the outcome was in a way restricted too but they were pioneers of the new form of digital art using personal computers (see video 1).

video 1 - Fairlight "Souldrop", 4kb realtime demo released at the Ultimate Meeting, 2005

In the late 90s, majority of demos were produced on C64 with black backgrounds, 8x8 plasmas and filled vectors, there was a lot of garbage, everything was just open for interpretation, with no clear concept. Fairlight during the years took different directions, some of their works had political views, others told stories as visual and sound compositions inspired by technology, emotions, places, others showed full potential of existing systems.
It was the time when Fairlight expanded their position in demoscene around the world with numerous breathtaking demos. They won many competitions such as Assembly (see pic.2) and proved their reputation. In 2003 Pontus “Bacchus” Berg made a statement, "Remember that legends never die. Remember that Fairlight is like space - if we have an outer border, its well beyond human grasp. Remember that we’ll give you reasons not to forget again and again."

Assembly 2004 party hall
pic.2 - Overview of the Assembly 2004 party hall, by ZeroOne

Demos are hard-coded, low-level programs producing cool real-time digital animations combined with special effects, it is also perfectly written and compiled program code say 64 kilobytes or less. Some demo use C, C++, Assembly, OpenGL, GLSL shaders, MIDI, APIs and more, there is no limitation, but normally demo parties organisers set rules to the competitors for each specific category.
One of the generative works I would like to present is a PC demo (see video 2 bellow). It is not a typical intro because of the size of the package, but despite been released in 2011 is still up to date in terms of aesthetics – black and white, shades of grey, technology – stereoscopic 3D, sound composition, storyline – numbers and space concept. It is still way ahead of many present generative projects, but to run in real-time requires a high-end video card, RAM and processor. It takes about 30MB hard disk space as an executable package for about 5min. native resolution of 1280x720 is quite neet code. It is a perfect symbiosis of brilliant music, graphics and style.

video 2 - CNCD & Fairlight - Numb Res, PC Demo, 2011

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