CD-ROM Cover

The History of Stereo


Programmer: Ewan Branda

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The History of Stereo is a computer game, and more to the point, an interactive structuralist film. It's based on media-historian Friederich Kittler's quote about how stereophonic sound, and the music invented to be heard stereophonically, developed out of a military application. Kittler's history is a Cuisine-Art of facts and conclusions whose primary effect is aesthetic rather than informational; a history whose aesthetic is the resonance of a collision.

...The Battle of Britain, Göring's futile attempt to bomb the island in preparation for Operation Sea Lion, began with a trick for guiding weapon systems: radio beams allowed Luftwaffe bombers to reach their destinations without having to depend on daylight or the absense of fog. Radio beams emitted from the coast facing Britain, for example from Amsterdam or Cherbourg, formed the sides of an ethereal triangle the apex of which was located precisely above the targeted city. The right transmitter beamed a continuous series of Morse dashes into the pilots right headphone, while the left transmitter beamed an equally continuous series of Morse dots-always exactly between the dashes-into the left headphone... resulted in the most beautiful ping-pong stereophony (of the type that appeared on the first pop records but has since been discarded). And once the Heinkels were exactly above London or Coventry, then and only then did the two signal streams emanating from either side of the headphone, dashes from the right and dots from the left, merge into one continuous note, which the perception apparatus could not but locate within the very center of the brain. A hypnotic command that had the pilot-or rather the center of his brain-dispose of his papyload. Historically he had become the first consumer of a headphone stereophony that today controls us all-from the circling of helicopters on Hendrix's Electric Ladyland all the way to the simulated pseudo-monophony, in the midst of the soundspace of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, that once more wishes for the acoustics of targeted bombing.

Friedeich A. Kittler, Gramaphone, Film, Typewriter

The user is the pilot steering through clouds, trying to keep her plane within the double beam of Morse-Code signals. The stated objective is to drop the bombs at the right place. The actual objective is exploration since the pilot is rewarded both for repeated failure and repeated play. Going off course abruptly brings up video-clip fragments and music that are in a completely different space than the one in which she is flying. These clips present different aspects of the History of Stereo, but in the most oblique way possible. As play is repeated, new clips are accessed. On a basic level the user's pleasure comes from steering through the sonic and visual flying environment, and the surprise of seeing the various fragments of video.

Every time the user fails (goes off-course), a random number generator chooses between three video-clips. After failure, the game starts again. There is a new set of three clips available each time the user attempts to play the game. There are over 30 clips in the game's memory. In other words, the user can play 10 times in one session and not see the same clip twice. Upon winning she gets to see a long, edited sequence made up of some of the clips. She can sit back and relax. Otherwise, she can keep playing and take in the clips that come up every time she loses. The clips get longer with each failure, from about 2 seconds (the first time she goes off course) to 20 seconds (the tenth time).

The video clips are from a few different sources, like Alphaville, Pierrot le Fou by Godard and Pompeii by Pink Floyd. The sequences were chosen by typology: All are either 1) pans - in which the camera is active or 2) still shots that focus on a singular action directed to the camera. Many of both kinds of shots are of turntables, banks of speakers, a sound studio, juke-boxes - in other words images of the history of stereo.