Z1


The width of variation of the possible shapes of an object, a pattern or the like. (2020)

Video with sound 7:28 minutes by acta.

The video explores the spatial properties of the first built mechanical computer Z1 designed by the German engineer Konrad Zuse in Berlin from 1935-37. The Z1 is an example of early computer technology integrating control units, memory, micro sequences, floating-point-logic and input–output devices. In the film the camera registers the machine’s spatial construction by moving slowly through the assembly, like an eye moves through new space - back and forth, observant, flickering and in search, while a woman’s voice sequentially reports related acts of perception. Terminological pairs are build between two entities, indifferent to their class of structure, materiality, origin and information. The acoustic of synthesised drones, mechanical-cooling systems and low frequency resonance converge with the filmic procession of the optical eye .

Konrad Zuse (Berlin 1910–1995) developed his first machine after studies in mechancal engineering, architecture and civil engineering at the Technical University of Berlin. The Z1 is the first program-controlled and fully operational mechanical computer. Z1 was financed by Zuse´s family and built in the parent’s apartment in Kreuzberg. The budget for Zuse’s second computer Z2 came from the german military and the NSDAP. Improving on the basic Z2 machine, Z3 was built in 1941 as a highly secretive project of the German government.

In 1941 Zuse started the company Zuse Apparatebau to manufacture his machines, the firm was located as well in Kreuzberg. The building of Zuse Apparatebau and neighbouring buildings were destroyed in January 1944 during a British air raid and Z1 and its original technical drawings were lost.  Almost fifty years later, between 1987 and 1989, Zuse recreated the Z1, a project financially supported by Siemens.

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During World War II it became clear that computer technology could be adapted for warfare. Hereby computer science advanced to a key technology, central for defence and combat, making the military the spearheads of technological progress.

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In Konrad Zuse´s late book “Rechnender Raum” from 1969, the engineer developed a concept of a computation-based universe. In there he explored the relationsship between digital models and physical processes, the book is a result of his substantial interest in comparative perspectives on scientific systems. Zuse writes in his book: “Is nature analog, digital or hybrid? Or rather: to formulate the physical laws better, what is suitable —  an analog, a digital or a hybrid model?”