“A glitch is a singular dysfunctional event that allows insight beyond the customary, omnipresent, and alien computer aesthetics. A glitch is a mess that is a moment, a possibility to glance at software’s inner structure, whether it is a mechanism of data compression or HTML code. Although a glitch does not reveal the true functionality of the computer, it shows the ghostly conventionality of the forms by which digital spaces are organized.” (Fuller 2008; 114)
The second session focused mainly on the paradox in definitions of the glitch, providing food for debate. We reviewed glitches from a variety of media-perspectives and applied the technical and the artistic definition of glitch. The undefined area of overlap featured most in the ensuing discussions. The tension between the glitch as a concept and the glitch as a (visual) aesthetic resonates in the proposed dichotomy of ‘Glitch Art’ versus ‘Glitchy Design’. Glitch art can be seen as more involved with the concept of the glitch, and critical theory reflecting on its techno-cultural position that is very much true to its artistic roots of emphasizing the process through experimentation and breaking with conventions, whereas Glitch design is more about aesthetics, products and (proprietary) digital compression technology.
Is it possible to locate predecessors of the glitch in modernist art practices? Can modernist experimentation and breaking with the conventions of realist painting, breaking with the medium and foregrounding the materiality of the painted surface, be seen as metaphorical engagement with glitches inherent to the medium of painting or sculpture? Of course there are no glitches disrupting a mediated flow of electronic or digital information in painting. Perhaps the bigger picture does show disruptions in the flows of signification and art history; whereby the disruptions that produce the most prescient noise have had the most impact on the surrounding context. For instance, Pollock’s abstract expressionist action-painting takes the accidental coincidence of paint splatters as structural elements for his personal deconstructing metaphors; the fleeting moments of expression, when the paint is mid-air, are ceased by gravity and the canvas, taken back into the medium and into the idiom of art. Not all is glitch, however it is important to recognize the de(con)structive and simultaneously creative nature of the accident (or plain sabotage) as a driving force of experimentation and innovation in the arts, science and technology.
Sonic Youth formed in the early 1980s in New York. The noise band fit into the No Wave art and music scene. Combining the DIY spirit from punk/hardcore bands such as the Stooges and Minor Threat with other influences ranging from William Gibson to John Cage, Sonic Youth quickly became a household name for avant-garde indie/alternative post-rock. The Silver Sessions for Jason Knuth is a study in feedback. Recordings of all their instruments plugged in and amped up in a soundproof studio. The final production is a minimally mixed collection of noise, looped pulses, and other distorted patterns of randomness generated out of thin air. More on this album here.
In the late eighties of the last century, the only 14-year-old Richard D. James has begun squatting next to the synthesizer, experimenting and creating psychedelic atmospheric music. Simultaneously, other high-tech artists remain stuck in the cracks of public criticism, uncertain whether the prospects of electronic music market are indeed a thankless chore or not.
The way Aphex Twin produces music is unthinkable, or, unconceptualized. In our curatorial statement, we deployed his Windowlicker EP to scrutinize if there are any glitchy facets involved in his unique process of music making. “Windowlicker” not only consists of Aphex’s voice modulated on computer, but a digital image of a devilish face, which is secretly encoded in the actual sound waves of the music. This spooky face will be revealed when the song is played on a computer through special software that visualizes sound waves. This discovery is starting to make the rounds on the Internet, and is fast becoming part of the folklore surrounding hidden messages in pop music.
Alva Noto is the pseudonym of the audio-visual artist Carsten Nicolai. Nicolai first studied architecture and landscape design before engaging an interest in the theoretical properties of sound and space. Nicolai, who established the experimental music label as a platform for his conceptual and experimental musical concerns, uses art and music as complementary tools to create microscopic view of the creative process. Nicolai transforms sound waves and audio files by looping oscillator and tone generator. Electronic information transmission sounds such as fax tones, modem sounds, telephone pops and clicks are frequently sampled and organized by him.
Due to the Sample madnesS, the collectives of Eboman’s works which is processed through investigating the possibilities opened up by the medium of sampling, proposes another grey area: is this glitch or remix? The way Eboman is able to include video of the audience – recorded live during the performance – by cutting up, modifying and mixing the images and sound is unique. This leads to a great leap of not only the advanced software packages in his studio, but also clarifies the conceptual fleeting feeling of the glitch, both acoustically and visually.
Cory Arcangel was one of the first to work with hacked video game cartridges, his masterpiece being Super Mario Clouds, a Super Mario cartridge wiped clean of everything but its slowly drifting, pixelated clouds. Gone is the main character, Super Mario, who the player had to guide through a labyrinth in the original jump and run game, just like the obstacles, landscapes and opponents that lend the game its narrative structure. Those people who are familiar with the game can imagine them on the empty background; everyone else will just see the cartoon-like display of a sky. The work was created on the basis of a manipulation of the hardware and software. Cory Arcangel had to open the cartridge, on which the game was stored, and replace the Nintendo graphics chip with a chip on which he had burned a program he had written himself.
These videos show screencasts of the Xbox 360 videogame: Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare. In the first video a gamer encounters a faulty programmed bot. This bot has all the physical features of a regular woman apart from the evil donkey head sticking out of her face. The behavioral code is completely donkey and with it forms an unintended and unexpected entity of its own; Donkey Lady. Donkey Lady can be used as transportation, comic relief and virtual love interest.
The second video has more of a machinima feel to it, with some rough editing, color correction, camera movements and the choice of music all adding layers of expectation and suspense, building up to the reveal of the psychotic undead unicorn (note the undead unicorn is a normal feature of the game, as are the butterflies surrounding this mythical zombie-warhorse). Throw a bunch of tomahawks at your unicorn and it starts soaring through the sky aimlessly. Again the combination of editing and music add poetry and hilarity to this glitch. However poorly produced as these videos might be, they show how much glitches inspire and are spreading throughout the gaming and youtube vernacular.
Destroy It Yourself
During the presentation we tried to show thematic videos that were connected to glitch. These videos covered different moments in time and different types of media. Starting from expressionist Jackson Pollock to the Silver Sessions by Sonic Youth and Cory Archangel’s Super Mario Clouds and ending with the (very) wrongly programmed bot named Donkey-Lady.
Our aim was to show the audience different types of media that were glitched (or not) and through discussion we wanted to debate what glitch is and where glitch can be found. During the discussion it was clear that glitch is a difficult phenomenon to work with and the samples shown all displayed room for error but were difficult to describe as purely glitch or no-glitch.
The presentation ended with a glitch of our own and we showed a just made video of the students using YouGlitch, a piece of software that generates continuous glitches of the desktop. As Menkman points out in her presentation: “A broader perspective provides ground for thinking about the political and social uses of the glitch, within the field of digital and new media art”, the field of glitch is still very small compared to others but interestingly covers all forms of media as was shown in the videos.
Serres, Michel. “Genesis”. The University of Michigan Press, 1982
Fuller, Matthew. “Software Studies A Lexicon”. The MIT Press, 2008
Cramer, Florian. “Nettime”. 2002