“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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  • marsanyi says:

    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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