The duo of Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans, known as YACHT, returned last month with their fifth album, I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler, promoting their multifaceted artistic experience through fax machines, billboards, and an innovative mash-up of tech, transportation, and media. The group’s perspective has long been informed by an interest in science and consumer technology – Evans has written as a science journalist for ScienceBlogs and served as Futures
Editor for Vice‘s Motherboard, and Yacht has recently debuted 5 Every Day, an app that tells you five interesting things to do in Los Angeles…every day.
Their interest in the near and far future has inevitably led them to dive deep into the dusty and esoteric archives of the past. Here, they surface a few of the strangest (and silliest) vintage tech videos originally meant to educate the uninformed masses as to what the future might hold:
Bell Labs, “Incredible Machine”
This is a film produced by Bell Labs in 1968 to showcase some of the more experimental research being done at the time in computer graphics, music, and text-to-speech. It is absolutely mind-blowing for so many reasons, not least because all the titles and animations were also produced on computers in the late 60s. They look unlike anything we could make today, even if we tried. The first time we watched this video, we thought it was a very sophisticated prank—a fake product from an alternate timeline.
John Cleese Sony CD Ad
When we released Where Does This Disco last year—a conceptual EP all about the obsolescence of compact discs, which we released on CD, naturally—we did lots of research on the origins of the compact disc. There are a wealth of promotional materials and advertisements on YouTube from when the technology was first released. Some are wildly retro-futuristic, emphasizing the laser playhead of the CD player as something that would provide “pure, perfect sound forever.” Others are just funny—like this Sony ad where John Cleese plays a robot.
We recently fell into a deep internet wormhole of industrial films—internal videos produced by aerospace/tech companies or governmental agencies to demonstrate technologies within their departments. There are hundreds from throughout history on this YouTube channel, deep dive recommended. This one demonstrates the “Robonaut,” a teleoperated manipulator robot that NASA was experimenting with in the early 2000s for use on the International Space Station. There are so many long, sensuous shots of the robot hand grasping, moving, stroking things that you can tell this video was not made for public view.
Animusic, “Pipe Dream”
Animusic is a form of computer-animated music produced by a company of the same name. While most music visualizers—the kind bundled into your iTunes, for example—just generate imagery synchronized with the music being played back, Animusic begins with computer-animated models which programmatically “perform” each MIDI instrument in each song. “Virtual instruments with precision timing,” that’s what they call it. Animusic videos, which come out on DVD once in a blue moon, are ugly in a really satisfying 90s CD-ROM game kind of way, but they’re also amazing because all the music is performed by speculative / imaginary instruments. Intel actually tried to build the instrument from “Pipe Dream” once. It looks even weirder IRL.
YACHT, “I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler”
After these incredible machines, grabby robot hands, retro-futuristic CD player robots, and CGI music-machines, we hope you can understand why we thought the future might be cooler—or at least more interesting. Presented without comment.