The Wire

News

A History of Bell Labs early computer animation published online

Laurie Spiegel and others have contributed to a history of early digital art and animation as produced in experiments at Bell Laboratories in the 1960s and 1970s, which extended to the use of early digital computer music software. The journal article, titled "First Hand: Early Digital Art At Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc" is by Michael Noll. It's published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and is online for free here.

Comments

This history was removed from the above-linked web page, which now forwards to a truncated version. The full original is now available here:

https://web.archive.org/web/20131016162841/http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/First-Hand:Early_Digital_Art_At_Bell_Telephone_Laboratories,_inc

Laurie visited the Labs as a musician. She was made into a pioneer artist in the IEEE article by Noll by printing a simplistic Fortran image. She tried to compose for computer art, animation, effects pioneer Lillian F. Schwartz but could not complete the work on time. Decades passed and Laurie emailed Lillian about doing a score for her. By then, Lillian's status was unquestioned: Emmy, Oscar nomination, honorary doctorate,exhibited and/or owned by every major museum, invented 2D/3D without pixel shifting in 1970, former USIA American goodwill ambassador lecturing on computer imagery worldwide, etc. Suddenly, Laurie became extremely vicious for she had been caught in the web of Mike Noll's and Ken Knowlton's 'we did everything first.' They set their sites on Lillian who had won praise from Arno Penzias, Nobel Prize Winner and VP Research, Bell Labs, as the person who brought together the disparate elements of the computer and made it into a tool for artists and scientists. Max Mathews, the father of digital music,wrote in 1972 that Lillian was 'one of those rarest of geniuses.' Max also noted how she had helped numerous famous scientists and as a side-note mentions how she tried to train Knowlton. The article Laurie so desperately wants you to read was revised four times due to letters from a lawyer; the above links lead to nothing. The reason was defamation per se, false light, tortious interference,copyright infringement (Knowlton actually contributed Lillian's copyrighted images as his own and added credits about how he produced each one using words lifted from her writings). The current IEEE issue, February, 2014, is also replete with revisionist history, but two men in dotage want to die famous at the expense of those who earned the right to be famous. Who uses any of Knowlton's programs? Not for decades; compare to UNIX and C. Who views Noll's algoristic creations? No one. (As for algorism being the true computer art movement, it was short-lived and illogical; why stop at a kernel? Why not build your own computer from transistor design and production to assemblage; write extensions/drivers to hand-constructed output devices? And what if you can code an elegant algorithm but produce no art?) I feel sorry for Laurie, Mike, and Ken. But that will not prevent necessary actions.

Comments are closed for this article