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France Gall Sings About ‘Computer Dating’ In 1968
10.18.2016
09:12 am
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Der Computer Nr.3 45 on Decca Records
 
In 1968, Serge Gainsbourg protégé France Gall participated in the televised song contest Deutscher Schlager-Wettbewerb (“The German Schlager Competition”) where hundreds of composers and lyricists from all over Europe were called upon to write a brand new hit song. A total of 495 titles were submitted, and only twelve songs were selected for the finals which were broadcast live on channel ZDF. Although she was French-born and famously known as a yé-yé singer, Gall did enjoy a successful career in Germany in the late ‘60s. With a little help from Werner Müller and Giorgio Moroder, she published 42 songs in German language between 1966 and 1972.

On July 4th, 1968, 21-year-old France Gall took the stage at the Berliner Philharmonie concert hall and performed a song titled “Der Computer Nr.3” live with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra leaving 300 people and a panel of judges dramatically baffled over what in the world she was singing about: “Computer #3 searches the right boy for me. The computer knows the perfect woman for every man and happiness is drawn instantly from its files.” The song then suddenly takes an unexpected turn when it switches over to a vocoder German computer voice which pre-dates the formation of Kraftwerk “22 Jahre, schwarze Haare, von Beruf Vertreter, Kennzeichen: Geld wie Heu” (Age: 22 years, black hair, professional representative, features: money galore)

The song (credited to the biggest hit-making duo in Germany at the time: music producer Christian Bruhn and lyricist Georg Buschor) then takes yet another completely unexpected turn as it dips into a Beatles cover for a brief moment before diving right back into the subject matter at hand. “Lange war ich einsam, heut’ bin ich verliebt, und nur darum ist das so, weil es die Technik und die Wissenschaft und Elektronengehirne gibbet.” Translated into English, France Gall is singing perfectly to the “Eight Days A Week” melody “Ohh I need your love babe, yes you know it’s true, that’s only because the technology and science and electrons are there.”

Cut to the audience to see hundreds of upper-class post-war Germans staring blankly, emotionless, and reactionless at the very first song ever written about computer dating. While personal computers and the internet were still years away, computer dating was an actual trend in the late ‘60s being targeted to lonely hearts all over the world by way of magazine advertorials. Participants would submit their vital stats, a punchcard-plotted questionnaire, and a personal check in the amount of $3-5 in an old-fashioned stamp-licked envelope. Then they waited patiently (usually several weeks or months) while an IBM mainframe the size of an entire room crunched the numbers on their personalities, intelligence, and preferences (no photos were involved).

Keep reading after the jump…

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Posted by Doug Jones
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10.18.2016
09:12 am
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Hawkwind poet Robert Calvert’s prophetic sci-fi noir ‘The Kid From Silicon Gulch’
10.26.2014
11:07 am
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Detective Sparks (Robert Calvert) is ready to solve the case!
 
In 1981, the idea of something like the Internet and its physical conduit, the personal computer, becoming deeply intertwined with our work and lives, still seemed like something out of a science-fiction novel. Granted, home computers were already in existence back in this time, but only for a small demographic that was mainly consumers with a healthy-sized wallet and a technology-inclined brain to match. There had been a number of sci-fi works, both films and prose that did include plot lines involving a world tied to computers, but none of these could quite touch the futuristic noir/stage musical, The Kid from Silicon Gulch
 
Robert Calvert during his time in Hawkwind.
 
The Kid from Silicon Gulch starred Robert Calvert, who also pulled in triple duty as both the main writer and co-director. Calvert was best-known for being the band poet and occasional lead singer for the space rock sonic phenom Hawkwind, throughout most of the 1970’s. Calvert, while often considered to be the “mad” one of the band, was also an incredibly forward thinking artist and writer, with all of those attributes shining brightly in Kid.
 
The musical stars Calvert as Brad Sparks, the sole private dick, not counting his personal computer assistant, ZYTE B128, at the “Non-Stop Computerized Detective Agency” in an unnamed time in the future. It’s an electro-noir universe with appropriately pulp-novel worthy lines and an eerie nod to the future partially turned into our present. Just look at Calvert’s intro from the original script;

“This is my beat. The heat drenched empty sidewalks and all the millions of lonely electronic hotel rooms and cybernetic apartments. No one goes out any more. They all stay in their rooms pressing their buttons, staring at their terminals. I call it The Gulch. Silicon Gulch.”

 
Detective Sparks is ready for action.
 
Sparks’ world soon is rattled by the arrival of one Baroness Spencer, whom Brad refers to as “Countess.” Blonde, gorgeous, pixie-built but with a big-regal swagger, the Countess (Jill Riches) has come to Detective Sparks to help investigate the death of her husband, Hymy. The police are calling it an accident but the Countess feels like it is murder, with the accusation being that the suspect is not “whom” but “what.” The what in question being Hymy’s own “micro-computer.” Given the mention a little bit later on in the play when Sparks’ is interviewing Hymy’s “micro-computer,” the latter states that everything it says is done in a merely imitative manner. In short, there’s a potential hacker running around the Gulch, manipulating machines to execute the criminal biddings of man…. or woman.

The death numbers start to add up as Sparks peels the layers of this case in an onion-like manner, uncovering some clever twists and great songs along the way. As someone who usually gets a little nervous with the phrase “stage musical,” thanks to a theater geek past that entailed seeing all strains of deep cheese of the Oklahoma variety, the music in The Kid from Silicon Gulch is refreshingly modern and flat out good. Some of the songs, especially “Silicon Neurotic Blues,” “Day Called X” and “On the Case” (which was later covered by Calvert’s former bandmate, Hawkwind backbone and founder, Dave Brock, whose guitar work also appeared on some of the music used in the show) sound borderline No Wave. Calvert’s ability to frame his lyrics perfectly with an assortment of melodies, a skill that served him so well both in Hawkwind and in his solo career, is bar none. Sadly, the soundtrack for Kid from Silicon Gulch were never officially recorded, but thanks to both the video recording efforts from Sandy Cameron and James Heyarth, as well as Calvert’s son, Nicholas, who uploaded the taped segments online, we can enjoy this show on YouTube.
 
Confrontation between the Countess and Sparks
 
The cast, while as minimal as the sets, are great fun. Riches, who also has illustrated a number of book covers, including work for another Hawkwind wordsmith, Michael Moorcock, is appropriately cool and slightly dangerous here as the Countess. (Riches would soon change her name to Jill Calvert, after becoming Robert’s third and last wife.) Peter Pavli is likable as the bumbling Sgt. Karelli. Another cohort of Calvert’s, Pavli also pulled multi-tasking duties here, since he helped create a lot of the music used throughout Kid.

Of course, the real star here is Calvert himself. Physically, with his tall build, strong profile and requisite trench coat and fedora, he could not be a better fit for the hard boiled and hardworking Detective Sparks. While it will shock no one who is familiar with Hawkwind or his solo work that he handles all of the singing duties with sheer deftness, it should be noted that he is equally good with all of the attached stage acting duties. Prior to his transition into the space/punk rock poet “urban guerrilla” laureate, Calvert worked in the theatre, even founding his own street troupe entitled Street Dada Nihilismus in the late 60’s. So his multi-creative backgrounds served him very well here. One has to wonder if the creators of the UK sci-fi television show, Red Dwarf, got to attend any of the performances of The Kid. Sparks’ interaction with the assorted computers, especially his own, is reminiscent of Dwarf’s main computer network, Holly. Given that Red Dwarf started in 1988, a few short years after Kid from Silicon Gulch debuted, it is a possibility. (1988 is also the same year that Calvert passed away from a heart attack.)
 
Still from Kid from Silicon Gulch
 
Considering how many artistic bowling pins Robert Calvert could efficiently juggle, it’s a crime that he remains but a cult figure. Given how many bloated rock-egos surpassed him on the fame game, as well as the critical write-up level, the time is well nigh for Calvert’s work, both in terms of music, writing and overall performance, to get a proper hero’s welcome-style re-evaluation. The Kid from Silicon Gulch is just the tip of the iceberg of the blazing light that is the genius of Robert Calvert
 

Posted by Heather Drain
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10.26.2014
11:07 am
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‘Camouflage’: The first ever real-time home computer generated pop video

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The world’s first computer generated pop promo? Possibly. “Camoulflage” was a single released by the late Chris Sievey (a.k.a Frank Sidebottom) in 1983, on his Random Records label. Sievey had started programing on his Sinclair ZX81 Home Computer, and included on the B-side of his single, the data (in audio format) for 3 programs to run on the Sinclair ZX81. All of the programs were written by Sievey himself, but most intrestingly, one of the programs was an animated video for the song “Camouflage”. Now, more than thirty years later, here is “the first ever real-time home computer generated pop video.”

For more details on the making of the promo, check soundhog09 notes here.
 

 
With thanks to Tom Law
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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03.11.2012
09:25 pm
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Morningstar Commune and the roots of cybernetics

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A photo of Morningstar Ranch featured in Time Magazine in 1967.
 
By the time I visited Morningstar Ranch (aka The Digger Farm) in 1968 it was becoming a suburb of the Haight Ashbury. Young hippies, like myself, were drifting through the Sebastopol commune not quite knowing why we there but feeling we needed to be there. It felt less like an actual community than a halfway house for people yearning for community. None of us were actually ready to settle down yet. We were too fucking young. The idea of going back to the land was nice in theory, but we were still digging what the cities had to offer: rock clubs, bookstores, Love Burger on Haight St., hot water and supermarkets.

Lou Gottlieb founded Morningstar Ranch in 1966. A former member of the folk group The Limelighters, Lou had a spiritual epiphany and felt compelled to explore alternatives to the status quo approach to living. Morningstar was Lou’s experiment in communal living, a work in progress that wasn’t really work but some kind of joyous attempt at re-defining how we lived as neighbors, lovers and caretakers of planet Earth.

Morningstar had an anarchic spirit. It was literally open to everyone. What you did when you got there was up to you. I don’t remember any rules. Most of us didn’t have the discipline or patience to become active members of Lou’s wild dream. We were either too lazy, too restless, or both. There was a core group that kept the place functioning as a community, but for the most part nomadic flower children passed through the place on their way to something called the future.

In nearby Palo Alto, the beginning of virtual realities were stirring in the shadows of mainframe computers.

Long before he co-founded The Hackers Conference, The WELL (considered by many to be the first online social network) and the Global Business Network, Stewart Brand was staging acid tests with Ken Kesey and his ragtag band of Merry Pranksters. Brand, who popularized the term personal computer in his book II Cybernetics Frontiers, took his first dose of acid at the International Foundation for Advanced Study in 1962.

The proto-cybergeeks conjuring electric magic in what would eventually be known as Silicon Valley were dropping Owsley and conceiving realities in which brain meat interfaced with machine and the mind could perceive itself in its true limitless state. Many of these bearded outlaws from computerland were Gottlieb’s close friends and early pilgrims to Morningstar.

We - the generation of the ‘60s - were inspired by the “bards and hot-gospellers of technology,” as business historian Peter Drucker described media maven Marshall McLuhan and technophile Buckminster Fuller. And we bought enthusiastically into the exotic technologies of the day, such as Fuller’s geodesic domes and psychoactive drugs like LSD. We learned from them, but ultimately they turned out to be blind alleys. Most of our generation scorned computers as the embodiment of centralized control. But a tiny contingent - later called “hackers” - embraced computers and set about transforming them into tools of liberation. That turned out to be the true royal road to the future.”  Stewart Brand (founder of The Whole Earth Catalog).

In this short clip from Canadian television, Lou envisions a cybernetic world where machines do the work while humans have all the fun.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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05.04.2011
04:06 am
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1960s video predicts we will all be plugged into a ‘central brain’
01.17.2011
11:41 pm
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image
 
A peek into the future of the Internet as featured on a mid-1960s episode of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World.

“Every home will have its own terminal plugged into a central brain.”
 

 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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01.17.2011
11:41 pm
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