I’m a kind of “Jack of all trades”, but the love to computers shaped my life, so this is the part of my story i’m going to tell for now.
Disclaimer: this story is full of holes where i forgot or missed things and may not even present all the events in the correct order – this is just for your entertainment, not my resume…
It all started at the home of my first girlfriend with a vintage Atari gaming console that could only play Pong.
Then i started hanging out in shopping centers and electronics stores that sold gaming consoles. One particular store didn’t have much business, so they let me play all day and test all the games they were selling.
At some point i discovered home computers – a relative our family regularly visited had a Sinclair ZX81 with a whooping 1kB memory and the ability to read/write to a tape recorder. I was fascinated and hooked…
My father must have noticed, because he surprised me with my very first own computer, a Texas Instruments TI99/4A. He also bought me a few cartridge games and a great speech synthesizer, even found a tiny color TV.
Learned BASIC and wrote my first game where Mickey Mouse had to catch fruits falling from a tree. Manually digitized the Space Shuttle on millimeter-Paper for crude first experiments with computer animation. Quickly got bored with the limitations and began bugging dad for an upgrade, luckily “The Breadbox” had just started turning up for sale.
The Commodore C-64 opened a new world for me, for one my parents threw me out because my mother couldn’t stand the sounds the computer made, so i came to live with my grandma. I quickly found friends at the new place who also had computers and we traded programs via cassette tape. Started to learn machine code to create graphical intros for an emerging demo scene and created game art for various small-scale game development projects.
Then a new, wild girlfriend appeared, called Amiga 500. Fell face-first into 2d/3d painting, modelling and animation; still fondly remember my friend trying to explain the concept of vertex point positioning in 3d space to me on a cocktail napkin in a bar at night while we were both totally drunk. We started a computer club and managed to grab a classroom in a re-purposed old school building, the freshly founded Offenes Kulturhaus, short OK.
The original idea of the house didn’t work out because one day a disgruntled musician/artist defecated on the doormat of the director, so it got closed for re-conception and renovation. A relative helped me get a job as a trainee at Wang laboratories in Vienna, preparing me for a career as computer-service-technician. On arrival i raised a few eyebrows by hacking me into their network and mainframe before we even got issued training logins.
Working there was great, my co-trainees were all nice guys who had a bit of background, we often hung out together after work and the company was running like a well-oiled machine, very professional. At one point i was stationed at a local service bureau in the UNOV complex to service all Wang terminals in the building, it was very nice to meet and chat with all the cute secretaries of the UN and IAEA from all over the world, gave me a great Starfleet vibe.
After finishing my training in Vienna i went back home, unfortunately soon after that the local office got closed and i was laid off. The OK was still being renovated/restructured, but for helping with the re-conception we got a small room under the roof where we could put our Amigas, we even got an Atari ST with laser printer for graphics layout and publishing stuff.
Started to branch out in the direction of video production with the Amigas, keying D-Paint animations over videos, doing animated intros and titles and so on, surfing and downloading from BBS‘s, experiments with digital feedback loops and other such stuff i learned a lot from.
Re-conception of the house continued and i had to look into how to best combine the needs of artists with the multimedia possibilities of the new medium. Around that time i got introduced to the great people at Stadtwerkstatt, an local artist collective that were doing lots of exhibitions, events and having great parties.
They let me network my Amiga with their U-matic recorders and editing station, thus enabling me to learn editing and TV-graphics by analyzing and re-editing their large library of clips and recordings. And this is the result of my very first editing session:
In turn i was able to assist the STWST-TV project with editing, computer graphics and my general tech skills on a few occasions and even had the chance to be part of the interactive Live-TV project in Buffalo, NY and two TV-shows from the Ars Electronica. I’ve learned a lot with and from these guys, and that helped me to further tailor the Media-studio structure in the OK to best suit the artist needs. Some well-known artists have taken their first digital steps accompanied by my helping hand there, resulting in many projects, videos, media-performances and -installations.
For example the “Nur schrec!” Medienguerilla project at the Ars electronica 1995, where we custom-built some IRC-boxes with special software to communicate with each other over an ad-hoc packet radio network and put them at selected locations in the city to demonstrate what can be done to sustain communication in face of network availability issues, internet censorship or breakdown. It was amazing to see when soon after going live guests, using amplifiers and repeaters from as far as two countries away, started to join our wireless ad-hoc network to chat with festival-visitors.
… to be continued …