“Glitch” Artists Compose with Software Crashes and Corrupted Files

A theory: one of the drivers of our current wave of nostalgia—lo-fi analog hiss and pop in music and readymade vintage filters in digital photography—is the loss of imperfection. Increasingly powerful technologies render sound and vision too slickly pristine, glossy, hyperreal, and thus impersonal and alien. The latest episode of PBS Arts’ “Off Book” series (above) features a trend toward disrupting digital overproduction by deliberately exploiting the weaknesses in new technologies. Glitch artists makes use of “naturally occurring” (so to speak) corruptions of software, or create their own corruptions in a process called “databending”—opening images as text files, for example, and adding and/or deleting information from the image.

Unlike punk rock, to which glitch is compared by one of the artists above, some glitch art requires a fairly sophisticated understanding of digital technologies. For example, video artist Anton Marini describes how he writes his own software to produce glitch effects. But since virtually anyone can access a pc and standard text and image-editing software, it remains a fairly democratic aesthetic, similar to the bedroom technologies that enable almost anyone to produce and distribute their own musical compositions. There are sites offering tutorials on how to create your own glitch art and even a Flickr account called Glitchbot that will automatically generate glitch images for you, like Hipstamatic or Instagram will convert your careless snapshots into intriguing vintage artifacts. Sound too easy? Maybe, but so was Duchamp’s urinal. Context, as always, matters, and whether glitch art is “art” may ultimately become a historical question. At the moment, glitch images, video and music offer a way to humanize all-too-inhuman corporate products and technologies.

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.



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  1. marsanyi says . . . | August 16, 2012 / 9:53 am

    This is a great name for a long-standing tradition in the arts. When I was part of the SF Bay Area’s “experimental music” community, there was a lot of focus around subverting and exploiting border cases in the technology as it arrived. Synthesis engines from commercial speech chips, overdriving midi interfaces on commercial synths like the Yamaha DX7, reading vinyl record surfaces with lasers, … I think a lot of it is related to control: as the technology pushes the related culture in defined directions, there’s a subset of the art community that wants to push back. If synth X is built to make it easy to do a certain kind of sound or structure, there’s someone who wants to find out how to make it do something for which it’s not intended. The technology drives the artifacts, but not only by making particular things easy but by making other things hard and encouraging pushback. Of course, it’s a two-way conversation: the manufacturers then take note of what people are doing, and incorporate it into the next round. ‘Course, there’s also the constant re-valueing of what’s interesting based on what’s scarce: before desktop publishing, beautiful layout was interesting; afterward, beautiful hand-crafted layout, and funky lo-fi machine layout, was interesting.

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