|~newSaint's homage to Joshua's iconic line (from Wargames) | deviantart.com|
[A.I. in the 80s] -- The 60s and 70s saw computers intrude more and more in business and manufacturing. In fact, the floppy disk and microprocessor, both invented in the 70s, helped to usher in an age of practical computing. But it was the 80s that saw the home computer industry take off. As computers expanded their territory from labs and offices to homes and schools, they also started to occupy more mental real estate as well. In 1983, Time magazine chose the computer as its "Machine of the Year" for 1982 (bumping their long-standing tradition of naming a "Man of the Year"). And computers provided the plot devices for several movies, usually in morality tales of technology gone amok (or greedy humans misusing innocent devices). This week in the Flashback, we will look at three tunes, each one from an 80s film featuring a computer -- or at least a sub-system -- that is intelligent and can make decisions on its own. What songs did I decide upon? Read and hear more after the break.
Flashback #1: "No confusion, just wrong or right | You don't fool me with cynical lies | No problems, no compromise | Only solutions."
Disney's Tron (1982) was ground-breaking for its use of computer-generated imagery in a feature film. It also capitalized on several science fiction tropes: virtual reality (computer programmer Kevin Flynn is transported into the mainframe where he interacts with programs who have taken on a human likeness), artificial intelligence (the MCP -- or Master Control Program -- seeks control over other mainframes and actively seeks to eliminate obstacles to this goal), and stunning futuristic devices (Light Cycles, weaponized Identity Discs, and hovering Recognizers). And, of course, the triumph of human will over an evil machine. Tron received positive reviews -- mostly for its visuals -- and was a box office success. It is still something of a cult film with a lucrative franchise of games and toys (and even a 2010 sequel). The soundtrack was written by electronic musician Wendy Carlos (also known for her work on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining). The music featured a mix of synthesized sounds and performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Supertramp was supposed to contribute the obligatory commercial radio pieces, but they pulled out of the project. Journey stepped in, delivering two tracks on time and under budget. The first of their contributions, "Only Solutions," is our first Flashback of the day.
Flashback #2: "You were an achiever, such a busy beaver | Now we hear you've gone astray | And you're living in the shade of a video arcade."
WarGames (1983) taught us all that any kid with a TRS-80 and a modem (remember this sound?) could hack into highly secret military servers and launch a thermonuclear war. And all he really wanted to do was get a sneak peak at a new video game! If you recall the story of WarGames, NORAD had a supercomputer developed because they were concerned about that pesky annoyance of human error (er, actually, human conscience -- a human being was unwilling to push "the button," even during an exercise). The job of the supercomputer named WOPR (pronounced "Whopper" and an acronym for War Operation Plan Response) is to run military simulations on a continuous loop and learn from each scenario. Yep, WOPR (also known as Joshua) is intelligent enough learn how to play and win games, and it is teaching itself to be the ultimate spoilsport. But this spoilsport has control over America's vast nuclear arsenal. Of course, the only person who can save us all from certain armageddon is the same kid who launched it in the first place, working together with WOPR's developer to teach the computer the futility of nuclear war (STRANGE GAME ... ONLY WINNING MOVE IS ... NOT TO PLAY). WarGames cashed in at the box office, was roundly praised (Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars), and received three Academy Award nominations. It also made a star out of Matthew Broderick, the actor who portrayed the plucky young protagonist. Despite its numerous technical inaccuracies, WarGames remains one of my favorite films of the decade, and I forgive it for spawning numerous lesser techno-thrillers. I also love its soundtrack, composed and conducted by Arthur B. Rubinstein. Rubinstein also formed a band called The Beepers (Arthur B. Rubinstein, Brian Banks, Anthony Marinelli, and Cynthia Morrow) to perform on the soundtrack (The Beepers also did the music for Blue Thunder). Of the two tracks The Beepers cut for the WarGames soundtrack album, one was the single, "Video Fever."
Flashback #3: Instrumental
Our first Flashback of the day came from a film featuring an intelligent business machine. The second Flashback had a teen matching wits against a potentially trigger-happy military computer. The AI in our final Flashback of the day, however, is a home computer that becomes sentient. In the film Electric Dreams (1984), architect Miles Harding is developing a new brick that could help buildings withstand earthquakes. To help organize his thoughts and designs, he buys a home computer, made by the then-fictitious Pinecone Computers, and numerous other add-on gadgets -- because an architect needs computer control of his kitchen blender, right? Well, while Miles is working late one night, the computer overheats and he attempts to salvage the situation by pouring a bottle of champagne over the computer. (There's champagne just sitting nearby? I really had a warped impression of architects after this film). Apparently the combination of data, heat, and alcohol was miraculous rather than devastating. The computer, who identifies himself as Edgar later in the film, develops feelings for Miles' neighbor, the attractive Madeline (played by Virginia Madsen). Madeline is a cellist, and Edgar spontaneously composes music for her when he hears her practicing. A love triangle develops because Madeline believes Miles has composed the music and she falls for him. Edgar suffers fits of jealousy and targets Harding in a number of computer-record-based pranks. Eventually, Edgar succumbs to the idea of Miles and Madeline's romance and he sacrifices himself. His final song in tribute to the lovers is heard on radio stations around the country. That song, "Together in Electric Dreams" by Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder, was released as a single to international acclaim. It is pretty standard 80s fare, so I prefer to share "The Duel" with you as our final Flashback. Written by Giorgio Moroder, this piece is based on Minuet in G major. And the following video is the full scene of Edgar "performing" with Madeline in the film. Get a load of that monitor!
Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.
I'll see you in seven!