This is a personal blog, please observe Think Hour for ad hoc quasi-diary writings and Big Ideas for my ratified longform items. I will see you there.


2020-09-07


Winamp

Llama Lore // Nullsoft

There’s been a big unveiling recently, of a beautiful endeavour that preserves the community creations that were product of huge millenium era free music application “Winamp”. Some will remember using it, some might remember parents using it and almost everyone who remembers it at all will be aware of the vast array of user designed skins available for it. There was a diverse range of styles and design directives shaping the skin trade, from making the program flush with different operating systems, trying to fashion the player to look like a real hi-fi set or even (sometimes in an official capacity, I think) creating themes that tie-in with new movie releases or other media.

Winamp Newer Version

Acknowledgement and celebration of the Winamp skin community’s exceptionalism isn’t new, and to this day there are many websites and online institutions (I’ve been following this mediocre Twitter bot for a long time) offering a window into the library of works. Of course the power of this community wasn’t restricted to skins, with many plug-ins available, and while I’m not interested enough to research, I would assume development of such things continues to this day. The guys who made Winamp did it to utilize, and exploit the growing popularity of, the mp3 format. They soon sold it to AOL, and it’s interesting in retrospect that the community flourished in spite of the big sale, which is stereotypically a wholly bad omen for such things. I think we’d be living in a different timeline if AOL monetized Winamp more, to hedge against their more audacious ventures.

Winamp Skin

I remember Winamp being at the forefront of my media player mind as recently as 2010, when I decided for some reason that my music app of choice for my android phone could be Winamp. Sure enough an app existed, and I did use it, though I don’t recall the customization options ever allowing for any crossover from the established and vast desktop realm. I even have a sneaking suspicion that it might have been a knock-off app. Regardless of this, Winamp was taking hit after hit from new players coming to market with their fancy new features and attached ecosystems (iTunes (iPod) through Spotify (Streaming)) and I’m pretty sure for a time Foobar2000 was its spiritual successor, it was for me anyway. Foobar was much more minimal and immediately/fundamentally customizable, the comparison almost being analogous to the increasingly gaudy (soulful) and experimental web design of the early web compared to the more flat, accessible and efficient design you see today now that the web is fully codified and not some cool new thing to play with for its own sake.

Winamp Skin

Finally, the unveiling in question. The Winamp Skin Museum. What an array, a vivid contact sheet of individualized multifaceted experiments in the nature and sensory impressionism of user interface and design. You will notice that these skins (mostly) conform to the default layout of the Winamp program, and as we all know it’s such restrictions that lead to true creation and innovation. There has to be a box. I’m seeing ghosts. I see wanton weaboory, manic maximalism and cyber cubism. Mostly a lot of minimal designs that are very of-the-era, you know like stuff we’d call “y2k”. The site itself takes a few novel design cues from Winamp, and displays ping images of each theme in an un-spaced endless array. They even utilized Webamp (AMP, for web, rather than win-dows) so you can try them out completely in-browser, unfortunately there’s not much more to see beyond the fascia. Really, when compared to other Winamp skin sites, this is just a neater and more novel approach to displaying this wealth of creation, and more widely heralded on social media and thus tech blog sites.

Winamp Skin

Let me be posting some favourites.

Winamp Skin

Winamp Skin

Winamp Skin

Winamp Skin

Winamp Skin

MetaCreations // Kai Krause

The Monacube

On the subject, that seems to be continuing through my recent Think Hour posts, of early web gaudiness and computing revolution visual spectacle, I have been reading about a particular man. He is called Kai, and he and the company he founded made a series of innovative creativity tools in the 90’s, the cores of which became part of the modern artists default tool-kit in some form or another across many software suites. The softwares fit topically into the space of early web and computer interface design not only for their use, but for the interfaces they have themselves too. While Kai directed and envisioned much of what they worked on, he had many talented colleagues and business partners working alongside him, despite much of the following most famously being attached to him in a Jobs-esque way. I don’t really want to regurgitate generally about the man Kai Krause and the story behind all the software named after him, this great article provides a lot of insight, I just want to appreciate the softwares themselves.

KK: Recursive fun, yes. Nice that you caught that. We did indeed often render the entirety of a new interface with our own products, and sometimes in the one we were actually designing at the time. This is not just an intellectually tickling concept, it is a basic part of pushing the envelope, much like machines making machines: what we’re doing simply has not been done anywhere else, since we’re inventing how to do it as we do it. Some of our powerful forthcoming tools have interface elements executed with our old Kai’s Power Tools and even with the low-cost consumer-oriented Kai’s Power Goo.

Poster

In the MetaCreations reliquary we have “Photo Soap”, a photograph retouching toolkit which some people still swear by. There’s “Bryce” a 3D suite specifically for generating landscapes, replete with many options for sky/lighting. The most sensational item is “Power Goo”, which seems to have been very popular across demographics, allowing even kids to easily play with digital images (most often faces) like they were goop. I guess it’s hard to think of a standalone analog for this “Goo” today, the only thing functionally that comes to mind is the distortion or smearing tools contained in the vastly more complex Photoshop and its clones. I suppose many social media features could be compared to this, getting a competent face swap out of Snapchat by doing absolutely nothing might feel as impressive/novel as seeing one of these distorted portraits come out of a cheap home computer in the days “Goo” was around. Goo also comes with a plethora of stock head shots of cultural and political figures that were temporally relevant, including President Clinton and his VP Al Gore.

Goo's repository of stock portraiture.

Bill Clinton true form revealed

Now we have the main event “Kai’s Power Tools”, which serves as an extension to the functionality of popular suites Photoshop and Corel’s Photo-Paint. Frankly it looks absurd nowadays, but I’ve no doubt that it helped attenuate and intrigue the ever increasing computer first-timers to what they could do with their PC beyond e-mail and spreadsheets. Look at the “Spheroid designer” interface from KPT3, it’s unreal. It’s a section of the suite dedicated to creating orbs, and it still looks really cool. You can even do some material design, utilizing bump maps and more to give images texture and light them with respect to this applied normal.

The Spheroid designer

Another interface shot.

The man Kai Krause (his website/blog has a dot blue domain like the one I tried to buy from a Chinese squatter), who left the MetaCreations company not long after he part-founded it, owns a castle in Germany, and according to Wikipedia this is where he currently lives and works. Even more shots of the softwares here.