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Peripheral Vision: Bell Labs, the S-C 4020, and the Origins of Computer Art

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In 1959, the electronics manufacturer Stromberg-Carlson produced the S-C 4020, a device that allowed mainframe computers to present and preserve images. In the mainframe era, the output of text and image was quite literally peripheral; the S-C 4020a strange and elaborate apparatus, with a cathode ray screen, a tape deck, a buffer unit, a film camera, and a photo-paper In 1959, the electronics manufacturer Stromberg-Carlson produced the S-C 4020, a device that allowed mainframe computers to present and preserve images. In the mainframe era, the output of text and image was quite literally peripheral; the S-C 4020—a strange and elaborate apparatus, with a cathode ray screen, a tape deck, a buffer unit, a film camera, and a photo-paper camera—produced most of the computer graphics of the late 1950s and early 1960s. At Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, the S-C 4020 became a crucial part of ongoing encounters among art, science, and technology. In this book, Zabet Patterson examines the extraordinary uses to which the Bell Labs SC-2040 was put between 1961 and 1972, exploring a series of early computer art projects shaped by the special computational affordances of the S-C 4020.


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In 1959, the electronics manufacturer Stromberg-Carlson produced the S-C 4020, a device that allowed mainframe computers to present and preserve images. In the mainframe era, the output of text and image was quite literally peripheral; the S-C 4020a strange and elaborate apparatus, with a cathode ray screen, a tape deck, a buffer unit, a film camera, and a photo-paper In 1959, the electronics manufacturer Stromberg-Carlson produced the S-C 4020, a device that allowed mainframe computers to present and preserve images. In the mainframe era, the output of text and image was quite literally peripheral; the S-C 4020—a strange and elaborate apparatus, with a cathode ray screen, a tape deck, a buffer unit, a film camera, and a photo-paper camera—produced most of the computer graphics of the late 1950s and early 1960s. At Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, the S-C 4020 became a crucial part of ongoing encounters among art, science, and technology. In this book, Zabet Patterson examines the extraordinary uses to which the Bell Labs SC-2040 was put between 1961 and 1972, exploring a series of early computer art projects shaped by the special computational affordances of the S-C 4020.

33 review for Peripheral Vision: Bell Labs, the S-C 4020, and the Origins of Computer Art

  1. 4 out of 5

    D Schmüdde

    This is an important book. As we shape with our tools, our tools shape us. Mid-century computer generated art is misunderstood because the process is so foreign. It is not immediate like painting, it is not common like using an iPad. The author does an excellent job of detailing how these images were created. The book has a little difficulty knowing what it is about, but thats something that happens with most platform studies. Regardless, there will be parts that seem less relevant or meander. This is an important book. As we shape with our tools, our tools shape us. Mid-century computer generated art is misunderstood because the process is so foreign. It is not immediate like painting, it is not common like using an iPad. The author does an excellent job of detailing how these images were created. The book has a little difficulty knowing what it is about, but that’s something that happens with most platform studies. Regardless, there will be parts that seem less relevant or meander.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Koen Crolla

    Supposedly about the Stromberg-Carlson 4020 microfilm printer, which was only noteworthy because it was one of the bigger fish in a very small pond for a while. It certainly wasn't remarkable enough to fill even the 110 pages of this book, which is why most of it is actually just descriptions of early computer art for the most part not produced with it. Which is nice, I guess, if you're into that. I understand that platform studies is less about studying platforms than it is about apologising for Supposedly about the Stromberg-Carlson 4020 microfilm printer, which was only noteworthy because it was one of the bigger fish in a very small pond for a while. It certainly wasn't remarkable enough to fill even the 110 pages of this book, which is why most of it is actually just descriptions of early computer art for the most part not produced with it. Which is nice, I guess, if you're into that. I understand that platform studies is less about studying platforms than it is about apologising for the fact that engineering produces useful results and pretending that endless content-free bullshitting is just as legitimate, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    William Anderson

    This book is an excellent text for going over some of the earliest digital art. It most heavily focuses on the works of two particular artists Noll and Schwartz, detailing some of the earlier works, the significance of those works and insights into the processes of their creation. Overall the book could've delved more into the technical aspects of the machines used in terms of code and actual input, though description was given of the interface through which the machines were operated. My favorite This book is an excellent text for going over some of the earliest digital art. It most heavily focuses on the works of two particular artists Noll and Schwartz, detailing some of the earlier works, the significance of those works and insights into the processes of their creation. Overall the book could've delved more into the technical aspects of the machines used in terms of code and actual input, though description was given of the interface through which the machines were operated. My favorite quote was "Pulsing and straightforwardly manipulative, they blister the eye."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ian

  5. 5 out of 5

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  6. 4 out of 5

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  7. 4 out of 5

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  8. 5 out of 5

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  11. 5 out of 5

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  12. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nick Arner

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    Greg

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marc

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lacey Christiansen

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bes

  19. 4 out of 5

    Burc K

  20. 5 out of 5

    Siddhant Shrivastava

  21. 5 out of 5

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  22. 4 out of 5

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  23. 5 out of 5

    Mike Garrity

  24. 4 out of 5

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  25. 5 out of 5

    Marianne

  26. 4 out of 5

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  27. 4 out of 5

    satej soman

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paul Williams

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    Sam Crisp

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Gilbert

  31. 5 out of 5

    pc

  32. 4 out of 5

    Carissa

  33. 5 out of 5

    Mark Nelson

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