2014/07/17

Interview with Demoscener – kb (Farbrausch)

Welcome to the Interview with Demosceners. 
This time, we have kb from Farbrausch!  Enjoy!


.. well, I guess that should be enough for the opening.. no? :)

Because Farbrausch is doubtlessly one of the most popular groups in the demoscene. They have been releasing technically and artistically sexy demos and reigning on top of the game. And for aspiring sceners they are the benchmark to aim and the target to beat.

Because kb, who has been active demoscener since 90s, is doubtlessly one of the most iconic person in the demoscene. He’s a coder, musician, party organizer, and has been successful in each of these domains.

In this interview, I asked him about some myth around Farbrausch, scene politics (!), his creative surroundings and favorite leaf (it's not what you think! :)

So yeah, welcome to the interview with demosceners. This time, we have kb from Farbrausch. 

Enjoy! :)


Update: You can read this in Russian now! Big thanks to gravisus!


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First of all, could you please introduce yourself briefly?


Photo by kb

Hi. My name is Tammo, and in the scene I’m known as “kb”. My scene career started on the C64 (Commodore64) with The Obsessed Maniacs in 1993, continued with groups like Reflex and Smash Designs, and to this day I’m a member of Farbrausch where I mostly code but was also responsible for a few sound tracks. Apart from that I’ve been an organizer for German Easter demo parties since 1997, and am the current head of the Beam Team (the people responsible for showing all the stuff on the big screen) at the Revision party.


I’ve read somewhere that you became interested in coding in very early age. When was the first time you touched computer?

I was always fond of things with buttons on them – my parents showed me how the light switch worked when I was two years old, and from that moment on my destiny was sealed :) - and at age six I found those weird typewriter-y things that were connected to a TV in a shop. I can remember how I hammered the “shift” key on some Commodore computer and how disappointed I was that nothing happened… that probably led me to want to find out what these things were. And oooh boy, when my father copied me the manual of a C64 and I read about that you could program this device to do all kinds of stuff for you, I fell in love for the first time in my life.


6 years old! Do you still have that copied manual?

Hehe, no :) If I remember correctly I threw it away a few years later when I got my own C64 with a real manual :) And even that one doesn't exist anymore. I have kept one of all the computers I used in the past tho, should the need for those old systems arise.


Well, you figured out what you like in quite early age :) What type of child you were?

Basically I was always doing something. Building weird contraptions from Lego and dismantled old electronics I snagged from my grandparents, experimenting with electronics (not really successfully, though I realized that capacitors would change sound quite early), sitting in front of my C64, or combining all of those things, that was basically me. You could say “typical nerd boy” and wouldn’t be too far from the truth. 


Okay :) And when and how did that curious boy discover demo and demoscene?

The first contact was probably with early cracktros of C64 games, and then suddenly I got this disk full of those intros but without the games that would normally come after them, and got curious. There were people who were doing audiovisual stuff just for fun, and they had those weird names and they greeted each other and oh wait does that picture really go over where the border should be?

And then in the early 90s there were commercial German disk mags on the C64 that came out every month or so – and one of those actually had a small ongoing demo competition where people would send in small demos and get like 50 German Marks (€25 nowadays) if they won. That’s where a friend and I who were both into demos but not really into the scene found some fellow sceners in The Obsessed Maniacs, and decided to join.


How was it like to create your first demo? Did it take much time?

Our first big demo (Who Cares (TM)) then took almost a year to get finished. It was a classic “Megademo” with single parts that are shown after each other with loading screens in between, so there wasn’t that much of a process – we just assembled what we had done and threw it together somehow. And then we just spread the disk to everyone else; the whole demo party topic only became relevant a year later :)


And you’ve been releasing your work since then :) I know you’ve been in several groups in 90s, but you started brand new group called Farbrausch in 2000. Why the new group? And how was this group formed?

Farbrausch was actually born out of frustration: Back then Yoda, Ronny and I were all fed up with the politics we had to endure in our former demo groups. People were calling themselves “Leader” and trying to make decisions about productions they didn’t even have a hand in, there were petty fights between group mates and a lot of other stuff that essentially did nothing except keep us from doing the one thing we were in those groups for – making demos. And on the other hand we all had fresh experience from that one-off experiment called “Elitegroup”; caricaturing all those demoscene tropes that certain other oldschool groups can’t shake off even in 2014 not only was a lot of fun but in the end turned out to make us even more creative than before.


"Kasparov" by Elitegroup (1999)

So we three founded Farbrausch on simple premise: “Let’s make demos, and let’s never feel bad about that”. Every FR member was allowed to do basically anything he or she wanted to do, and there’s no leader or committee or whatever to tell what comes out under the group name and what doesn’t. And this attracted a lot of our other friends, such as Chaos, Fiver2 or the other ex-Elitegroup people.

And even after we suddenly got famous for reinventing the 64k genre, these basic principles stay. To be honest there have been some productions of the other guys that I’d rather not seen released under the FR label – but that’s not for me to decide, so I just shut up about it and look forward to being able to release the next 8-hour 4k intro as fr-0something whenever I feel like it. :)


Wait wait, you said politics among group members? Are these politics are common in demogroups?

Not really anymore. It's mostly a thing that came from a time when the internet wasn't ubiquitous, and people still had to send disks throughout all of Europe or even beyond. Some people emerged as being better at communication and organizing and started acting as a hub to keep a group together. From there the leap to "Manager" and "Dictator" isn't too far, so that happened. Or it was simply a group's founders who had a clear vision about how "their" demo group had to look like and what releases to expect, and they didn't want to lose control over that.

Of course nowadays people can just communicate in real time over a plethora of channels, so you don't need a strict organizational structure anymore to get a production done, and luckily a MediaWiki installation on some server isn't too prone to delusions of grandeur. Yet. :). Which makes the kindergarden fights certain oldschool groups are having publicly at e.g. Pouet even funnier. Here you have some guys in their 40s acting like the rules they made up when they were twelve ever applied to anyone, and wasting their time with typing page after page of rage-induced rants just because in 2014 someone in the group dared releasing something not completely in accordance with some arcane commandments from the late 80s.

But don't worry, basically everyone else in the scene couldn't care less if it's TRSI or just T or just RSI or, seriously, people, get a grip already. Or just write a nice letter to your family and put some glue over the stamps just to feel relevant again, 'k?


Oh.. well I guess where there’s people there’s drama… but honesty I’m very surprised to hear that your group doesn’t have leaders or structures. I kind of imagined there must be a strict hierarchy… then how do Farbrausch project start usually? Can you explain its demo-making process?

As I already said, the premise Farbrausch operate on is “let’s do stuff”. So we don’t really have the _one_ process for making demos. Pick five of our demos and I can tell you five different stories about how they came to be. But in the end there is a common thread: It all starts with somebody having one idea, and then others joining in because they think it’s cool. This could be Chaos wanting to show off his multicore physics, or it could be Fiver2 who always wanted to do a disco demo and thanks to that new “bloom” effect finally could, or it’s Ryg who declared he wanted to make an “we can also do art” demo at one Evoke, and with a little help of Ronny and me we suddenly had “Cargo cult”. But from then on the actual creation stories diverge again.


Okay, then what is “Elitehaus” that you guys visit to make demo? I’ve heard about this place before and rumor says that this house has magical power to make killer demos. Sounds very suspicious to outsiders…

Did I just say the creation stories diverge? Well, that’s not 100% true. There is always the Elitehaus.

Photo by kb

The Elitehaus is a thing that we came up when we did the whole Elitegroup thing and seriously needed to work on a few killer productions to show the scene who is the boss. So in December 1999 we rented a vacation home in Denmark, an hour from the German border and ten minutes from the next supermarket, and basically locked us up for two weeks with nothing than our computers and a swimming pool. And after those 14 days we almost had “Kasparov” done and were able to finish it at The Party (demoparty held in Denmark) a few weeks later – to great success, I must say.

From that point on it became a tradition until today. We didn’t do it every year, and 15 years later we aren’t working as frantically on productions anymore as we did in the beginning, but all the “big” Farbrausch productions, such as “The Product” (video), “Poemtoahorse” (video),The Popular Demo” (video),Of Spirits Taken” (video), “Debris”, “Rove” (video), “Magellan” (video) and the likes were made in a Danish vacation home to a significant part. As were various other productions by friends of us that we invited over. E.g. last year the Mercury guys joined us to work on the productions they now released at Revision, and in 2005 Paniq was there – he showed us two poems on the first day, we decided that we liked the second one better, and thus “Die Ewigkeit Schmerzt” (video) was made.


"fr-041: debris." by Farbrausch (2007)


I believe ‘locking yourselves in the place with computers and swimming pool’ must sounds like a heaven to some people :) Compare to other groups, I guess quite a many people are involved in Farbrausch projects. Why is that?

That whole Elitehaus atmosphere kind of leads to this. Even if you don’t work on the same project as the others you constantly look at their screens and suddenly you realize you’re starting to feel like a part of the team. Making helpful suggestions or lending yourself to help with coding or graphics then just comes naturally. For example I helped optimizing the code in “Rove” and “Magellan” although I originally had brought my own projects with me. But there were a lot of milliseconds of execution time to squash, and Chaos was busy enough writing effects and finishing the demo itself.


Ok... you just mentioned before, but your group uses product code for your demos. And sometimes you use “minus” on its code to show that the work is not so serious. Is there certain criteria to be released as positive product numbers?

As said, the first rule in Farbrausch is “basically, do what you want”. But then quite at the beginning we thought if we have that numbering scheme anyway (and even that one isn’t mandatory – noticed that “Masagin” (video) doesn’t have an fr-number?), we could also be nice and separate our “serious” from our “crap” releases, just to give a hint to people. But that’s as much rule as it is. We released some fairly crappy stuff with positive numbers, and some of our fr-minus productions do have their special place in my heart, so the line is rather blurry there.


Ha. I thought you have some thick written rulebooks :) By the way, when I watch the live video of demoparty, people tend to get really excited just by seeing the name “Farbrausch” on the screen. You know there’s this high expectation from people. Does this expectation work as a burden or an encouragement to you?

Actually, after “The Product” and perhaps also after “The Popular Demo” it wasn’t too easy, and of course even nowadays people thumb us down on Pouet because some two-weeks project of ours wasn’t a new “Debris”. But you learn to just live with it and go on with whatever you were doing. Or you subvert it, like we did by releasing “Farbomat” at TP2001 one year after “The Product”.

Of course sometimes I watch a demo and go like “how could they release that? Don’t they have, like, EYES? I really suck at graphics but even I wouldn’t release something like that”, and one minute later I remember that this attitude is probably another of the reasons why I haven’t released anything worthwhile for three years now. Except the current Partymeister beam system, also known as “everything you see between the entries at most recent demo parties” :P


“Subverting it” seems very brave attitude :) But you might have received some mixed comments… Do you care about other people’s comments?

Of course. Nobody is living in a vacuum, and if feedback wasn't important nobody would release a demo at a demo party, cowering anxiously in their chair during the compo and dreading the audience's reaction when their entry is over; or even release at all. But in the end most of us in Farbrausch are so experienced that we can easily tone out all the cheap praise and stupid flames, and only listen to people either whose judgment we trust, or who bring up actual points, positive or negative.

At least that's the theory. :)


Ok, thank you :) Now, let me ask you a bit about your personal creative process. Where do you get your inspiration for demo and music?

At all kind of places. It might manifest as a melody in my head, or it might be a fluid process like in my 4K “sunr4y” (video) where I decided to try out a few rendering techniques and then just let the demo take shape over time. Or it’s like the music in “Candytron” where I had no idea even about what genre the soundtrack should be for weeks, and then suddenly I heard exactly the right thing in a club, and went for that direction. But in general I must say it’s easier for me to keep up coding than making music – In the end programming is a very linear kind of work that I can always do while music is “either I have a good idea in my head or I don’t”– and in the latter case I can’t do much about it except wait.


"fr-030: candytron" by Farbrausch (2003)
(note: It's a bit sexy stuff, so be careful when you watch it at school or office :)


Regardless of what group or what project you’re working on, is there anything you really care about when you make demo/music?

I think the only thing I care about is that I need to like what I produce. Songs I made need to pass the “doesn’t get annoying after looping it for 5 hours” test for me. Demos I participated in should be pleasing for my eye and such. Of course the bar varies depending on how much time I spent on doing something, but in the end I need to have a good feeling watching or listening to the end result.

As far as meaning is concerned – I don’t really see myself as an artist, just as someone who enjoys making and consuming cool stuff. My past as a goth certainly helps with writing that lyrically loaded scenepoetry though :)


You just remind me that I’ve read about how you went into goth culture.. Since you’ve brought it up, do you see any similarity between goth culture and this geek (no offence) culture?

Another point where I have to say "in the 90s it was more prevalent". I think the biggest common denominators are the certain feeling of "not belonging" that probably most members of both groups had in their childhoods, and consequently a certain kind of looking down on those so-called "normal people". That's a feeling that unites goths and geeks, and that's why these two groups normally go pretty well together.

That whole thing sadly diminished a bit in the last years, when both geek and goth culture got more mainstream attention and even got "hip" in a way. It's still there though.


That’s very interesting to know.. it might be a good theme for a thesis :)
Right, back to the creative process.. do you do anything particular while making demos.. like drinking beers, always after midnight…?

Darkness and tea certainly help :) Unfortunately with a full time job and a private life there’s not too much choice regarding the time I have for demoscene activities, but yeah, I rarely see the sun when I’m coding or making music for fun. When we are having Elitehaus it’s in the middle of the winter in Denmark so the days are rather short and our sleep schedule overlaps with half of the daytime. So, yes, darkness. And tea. Lots and lots of tea. You’ll be hard pressed to find me without a glass or pot of tea next to me when I’m working on stuff.


Hmm… sounds like a serious tea drinker. What leaves are you into? :)

My first choice would be Darjeeling, first flush, and the more letters there are in front of the TGFOP (note: grades of tealeaf), the better. Try the Jungpana estate, I really like all these details in the flavor. :)

Apart from that I do like some green (Sencha or Jasmine) and the occasional white tea, too (try Bai Xue Long) - and when it comes to the evening hours there's a nice selection of different fruit or herbal teas in my kitchen.


Wo…wow… your kitchen must look like a tea shop :) How about music? Do you listen to music or pink noise when you work on the project?

As far as music is concerned: When I’m coding I’m mostly into pleasant electronic stuff without too many lyrics to distract me. Just give me nice melodies and harmonies to keep my right brain busy while the left is churning out those algorithms. Songs in languages I don’t understand sometimes work too – If I really need to finish something important in an hour, chances are that I crank up the J-Pop :)


Haha, that’s quite fun to imagine :)
Unfortunately I won’t be able to understand, but here’s one for the readers who make demo… What program do you use to make demo/music? Do you create your own tool?

Well Farbrausch is known for their tool centric approach to demo making, so of course I’m a part of it :). I think the point is that coders like Ryg, Chaos and I are pretty bad at graphics and design, actually. So creating a tool where we plug in the effects from one side and let actual artists make them look good from the other side was just a natural fit for our skills. That’s basically how Werkkzeug and all the other iterations of our modular demo making tools were born. Same thing with music – when it came to making tracks for 64k intros, I decided that the “coder me” had to write a tool that the “musician me” was happy to use. So it became an actual synthesizer that anyone could use with any music software. I could have composed the music for “The Product” in a source file or text editor but I just wanted it to sound “real”, not like something hand-coded. So the best choice was to make the workflow as “real” as possible.


"fr-08: .the.product" by Farbrausch (2000)

Apart from that, here’s a short list of tools I deem essential: Coding wise I’m almost exclusively using Visual Studio for everything, and my music software of choice is Reaper nowadays, plus a lot of plug-ins. Add the usual text editors, file managers and a zillion small command line tools to the mix, and you have an environment I feel comfortable in.


Ok! time to shoot this classic question… your favorite demo, memorable demo, demo that changed your life… anything… tell us a demo which is special to you.

1993. The living room of my parents. I just got a broken Amiga 500 from a friend, somehow managed to fix it, connected it to the big TV and the stereo, took a random disk out of a box that contained demos, and shoved this disk labeled “State of the Art” (video) into the Amiga’s disk drive. Five minutes later I knew: I was newschool.

Funny thing was that even with my very limited Amiga knowledge back then I kind of knew that technically that demo wasn’t that big of a deal, but still. This was something new and exciting, and this was the point where I kind of said goodbye to scrollers and effects in front of black backgrounds and looked forward to what the future would bring.

The fact that I have picked a demo from over 20 years ago of course doesn’t mean that everything from then on wasn’t as good :) … Future Crew and the Gravis UltraSound sealed my fate as a PC scener, DirectX and the first GeForces lead us into a new era, and the advent of pixel shaders pushed the demo scene into unseen directions so far. There were slow years but in the end we all had so many exciting moments.


I believe you’ve seen the rise and fall of demoscene culture.. and not just being a demoscener, you’ve been organizing German Easter demoparties for a long time that I heard you haven’t had a “usual” Easter for more than a decade. What makes you keep going?

One tUM party (which takes place in Germany between Christmas and New Year) a few years ago had a motto; it was called “Christmas with your REAL family”.

That’s kind of fitting. I don’t even know anymore what a “usual” Easter is supposed to look or feel like, and I’m not sure I want to. Fact is – I still love what the scene is doing, I still love the job I’m doing at Revision, and just standing there in the hall and seeing the compos and events, and knowing I did my part in making this happen is worth all the stress.


You never thought like “I’m done with demoscene” in the past?

Can you ever? I haven’t been too productive in the last years to the point I have a bad conscience whenever I attend yet another party without having a production with me, but I still very much consider myself a part of the scene. Actually I think when people are “quitting” the scene it’s because it wasn’t the right place for them to begin with. Because on the other side there’s all those “Ex”-sceners and veterans in the game industry and wherever else, and those people still very much like watching new demos, and most of them would even like to attend a demo party – especially after all those reports of people who came back after tens of years of inactivity and it took them only one Revision weekend to fully convert them back :)


That’s really nice :) Hopefully we'll see more demos with middle-aged charm and guts :)
And what do you expect the future demoscene to be?

I have no idea and I like it. :) But honestly, I would wish for the scene to at least partially lose their fixation on the usual oldschool platforms and let new ways of expression in. There’s a lot of fresh blood out there, people who make things not too unlike demos, and yet there’s not too much common ground with the demoscene. Sadly attempting to open up let’s say Revision to those other people would possibly make a lot of sceners feel uncomfortable because they’re not ‘among themselves’ anymore, and most mixed events except Assembly weren’t a too good place for the scene.

But that’s too big a discussion for this interview, I fear. Let’s see what the future brings :)


Yes, let’s :) Personally what type of demo/music do you want to make in the future?

There are a lot of vague ideas in my head but nothing too concrete yet. There are a few half-finished audio related projects waiting for the right occasion to finish them, and as far as a demo is concerned, I really would love to play around with current rendering techniques because they made such a jump forward in the last few years with all the High Dynamic Range and the Physically Based Rendering and whatnot, and it should be fun to do something with those tricks that isn’t a dull grey and brown so-called AAA game. But then, as said, I’m not too good at visuals and first of all a current-gen engine takes time to write, even if it’s not an engine per se but loose pieces of code that render stuff.

But perhaps the others in Farbrausch have something on their mind, and as always I’m ready to contribute :)


Finally, your message for demosceners and demo fans out there please.

Currently?


Yes! And maybe for the prospect and dormant sceners too! :)

Make a demo about it.
Really, fire up the development environment of your choice and code something that looks promising. Send a screenshot to your favorite digital artist and tell him to do a paintover. Get that paintover back and try to replicate the look of it in code. Then make variables of all the numbers in your code and GNU Rocket the hell out of them. Now contact your favorite indie musician in the style you want to have, send him a video and ask him to either give you one of his tracks or make a new one. Assemble everything, pack it into a zip archive, copy it to a USB stick and somewhere into the cloud, buy some booze, show up at a demo party near you, show your production to a select few people and tweak it a little, submit it, start drinking and sit down in front of the stage when the compo starts.

Bam. Demo made, and with a bit of luck new demo group founded in the process. Now was it that hard?

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Well, I bet I’m not the only one to discover new side of kb and Farbrausch :) Thank you so much for answering all the questions, kb! 

On his website, you can check his works and blog posts, and download his “V2 synthesizer system” (the synth he mentioned in the interview). And on Farbrausch’s official website (looks bit confusing!), you can check their prods, Elitehaus diary, and download their demotool source code including "werkkzeug".

For further reading including how kb got into the goth culture, I recommend this ZINE’s great article.

Thank you very much for reading this till end! :)

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- In case you’re wondering what “demo” or “demoscene” is, better check out the well-made documentary called Moleman2.  (and the director, M. Szilárd Matusik's interview can be read in here.)

#1: Interview with Demoscener: q from nonoil/gorakubu is here.
#2: Interview with Demoscener: Gargaj from Conspiracy, Ümlaüt Design is here.
#3: Interview with Demoscener: Preacher from Brainstorm, Traction is here.
#4: Interview with Demoscener: Zavie from Ctrl-Alt-Test is here.
#5: Interview with Demoscener: Smash from Fairlight is here.
#6: Interview with Demoscener: Gloom from Excess, Dead Roman is here.
#7: Interview with Demoscener: kioku from System K is here.

For some of my posts related to “demo and “demoscene” culture is here.

5 comments:

  1. Hello. Just passing through and just wanted to comment that this interview and the other demoscene interviews you've done are great! As someone who has enjoyed demos for a long time but has never really been part of "the scene", these are very interesting. Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for your kind words, I'm glad that you enjoyed it! :)

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  2. This interview was posted on Hacker News (thank you!) and they exchange some comments in here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8063594

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanx for the interview. I made a Russian translation and published on the largest IT and geeks community :)
    http://habrahabr.ru/post/230617/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi gravisus. ..Oh my gosh, can't believe it!!! Thank YOU so much! wow, this is great...!

      Delete

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