Glitch art is the practice of using digital or analog errors for aesthetic purposes by either corrupting digital data or physically manipulating electronic devices.
In a technical sense, a glitch is the unexpected result of a malfunction, especially occurring in software, video games, images, videos, audio, and other digital artefacts.
Glitches appear in visual art such as the film A Colour Box (1935) by Len Lye, the video sculpture TV Magnet (1965) by Nam June Paik and more comtemporary work such as Panasonic TH-42PWD8UK Plasma Screen Burn (2007) by Cory Arcangel.
For the first time the concept of “glitch” was used in 1962 by the first US astronaut John Glenn to describe problems in connection during an orbital space flight. Glenn said: “In a literal sense,” glitch “is a jump or a change in voltage in an electric current” .
Early examples of glitches used in media art include Digital TV Dinner (1978) created by Jamie Fenton and Raul Zaritsky, with glitch audio done by Dick Ainsworth. This video was created in this way: the user inserted a game cartridge into the Bally video game console and hit the console while loading the game, the cartridge jumped out, and the game’s image on the screen became distorted .
The term glitch came to be associated with music in the mid 90s to describe a genre of experimental/noise/electronica (see glitch music). Shortly after, as VJs and other visual artist began to embrace the glitch as an aesthetic of the digital age, glitch art came to refer to a whole assembly of visual arts.
In January 2002, Motherboard, a tech-art collective, held a glitch symposium in Oslo, Norway, to “bring together international artists, academics and other Glitch practitioners for a short space of time to share their work and ideas with the public and with each other.”
On September 29 thru October 3, 2010, Chicago played host to the first GLI.TC/H, a five-day conference in Chicago organized by Nick Briz, Evan Meaney, Rosa Menkman and Jon Satrom that included workshops, lectures, performances, installations and screenings. In November 2011, the second GLI.TC/H event traveled from Chicago to Amsterdam and lastly to Birmingham, UK. It included workshops, screenings, lectures, performance, panel discussions and a gallery show over the course of seven days at the three cities.
Thanks to the spread of computerization, this trend in art began to spread widely and received many followers in different countries . The world of hindrances and mistakes is portrayed in their works by such artists as Rosa Menkman from the Netherlands, Rachel White from the UK, Daniel Voicu from Romania .
Glitch art also became the object of research by scientists and theorists. Imond Moradi, the first to propose a classification of glitch, divided it into two types: “Clean Glitch” and “Glitch-like.” The first type is characterized as unintentional, random, found, appropriated, real; respectively, the second type – planned, intentional, premeditated, artificial.
Researchers of the phenomenon of glitch art agree that the main task of this direction in art is “the creation, detection, capture of errors, failures, interference resulting from accident, misuse, deliberate abuse and / or experimentation with hardware or software” 6].
Glitch art extends to different types of art. So, under his influence, Australian sculptor Paul Kaptein creates wooden sculptures, which combine traditional work with wood and digital style of glitch art . In the style of “computer errors”, various objects are created. For example, an American, Philippe Stearns, makes plaids and carpets with a glitch texture . Separate furniture designers began to develop glitch furniture .
Discussion around glitch art is associated primarily with the difficulty of defining its framework as one of the types of web art. Serbian digital artist Andrei Tishma writes: “… This makes web.art incredibly diverse and dynamic, and therefore, problematic for definition. Nevertheless, there are parameters common to all forms of this art, known denominators, through which we can still determine the nature of web.art, especially in connection with such far-reaching forms of artistic expression “.
The glitch is interpreted as a critique of capitalism. Glitch can also be seen as a way of revisiting a pre-existing work by modifying its original form, thus bringing a reflection on the modular aspect of any digital information.
What is called “glitch art” typically means visual glitches, either in a still or moving image. It is made by either “capturing” an image of a glitch as it randomly happens, or more often by artists/designers manipulating their digital files, software or hardware to produce these “errors.” Artists have posted a variety of tutorials online explaining how to make glitch art. There are many approaches to making these glitches happen on demand, ranging from physical changes to the hardware to direct alternations of the digital files themselves. Artist Michael Betancourt identified five areas of manipulation that are used to create “glitchart.” Betancourt notes that “glitch art” is defined by a broad range of technical approaches that can be identified with changes made to the digital file, its generative display, or the technologies used to show it (such as a video screen). He includes within this range changes made to analog technologies such as television (in video art) or the physical film strip in motion pictures:
Data manipulation (aka databending) changes the information inside the digital file to create glitches. Databending involves editing and changing the file data. There are a variety of tutorials explaining how to make these changes using programs such as HexFiend. Adam Woodall explains in his tutorial
Like all files, image files (.jpg .bmp .gif etc) are all made up of text. Unlike some other files, like .svg (vectors) or .html (web pages), when an image is opened in a text editor all that comes up is gobbldygook!
Related processes such as datamoshing changes the data in a video or picture file. Datamoshing with software such as Avidemux is a common method for creating glitch art by manipulating different frame types in compressed digital video:
“Datamoshing involves the removal of an encoded video’s I-frames (intra-coded picture, also known as key frames—a frame that does not require any information regarding another frame to be decoded), leaving only the P- (predicted picture) or B- (bi-predictive picture) frames. P-frames contain information predicting the changes in the image between the current frame and the previous one, and B-frames contain information predicting the image differences between the previous, current and subsequent frames. Because P- and B-frames use data from previous and forward frames, they are more compressed than I-Frames.”
This process of direct manipulation of the digital data is not restricted to files that only appear on digital screens. “3D model glitching” refers to the purposeful corruption of the code in 3D animation programs resulting in distorted and abstract images of 3D virtual worlds, models and even 3D printed objects
Misalignment glitches are produced by opening a digital file of one type with a program designed for a different type of file, such as opening a video file as a sound file, or using the wrong codec to decompress a file. Tools commonly used to create glitches of this type include Audacity and WordPad. Artist Jamie Boulton explains the process and the glitches it produces, noting that these glitches depend on how Audacity handles files, even when they are not audio-encoded:
The easiest way to manipulate a file in Audacity is to select a section of the file and apply one of the built in sound effects to it. Now I’m no computing whizz kid but the way I see it when you apply a sound effect to a sound file, the program takes that file and alters the file data in the manner which it’s been told will achieve that effect. So, for example, if you were to apply an echo effect then it would repeat parts of the file, diminishing the repetition after each iteration. The wonderful thing is that it will do this regardless of what the file actually is. Audacity doesn’t know or care whether the file is a sound or not, it will alter it in the manner instructed.
Hardware failure happens by altering the physical wiring or other internal connections of the machine itself, such as a short-circuit, in a process called “circuit bending” causes the machine to create glitches that produce new sounds and visuals. For example, by damaging internal pieces of something like a VHS player, one can achieve different colorful visual images. Video artist Tom DeFanti explained the role of hardware failure in a voice-over for Jamie Fenton’s early glitch video Digital TV Dinner that used the Bally video game console system:
This piece represents the absolute cheapest one can go in home computer art. This involves taking a $300 video game system, pounding it with your fist so the cartridge pops out while its trying to write the menu. The music here is done by Dick Ainsworth using the same system, but pounding it with your fingers instead of your fist.
Physically beating the case of the game system would cause the game cartridge to pop out, interrupting the computer’s operation. The glitches that resulted from this failure were a result of how the machine was set-up:
There was ROM memory in the cartridge and ROM memory built into the console. Popping out the cartridge while executing code in the console ROM created garbage references in the stack frames and invalid pointers, which caused the strange patterns to be drawn. The Bally Astrocade was unique among cartridge games in that it was designed to allow users to change game cartridges with power-on. When pressing the reset button, it was possible to remove the cartridge from the system and induce various memory dump pattern sequences. Digital TV Dinner is a collection of these curious states of silicon epilepsy set to music composed and generated upon this same platform.
Misregistration is produced by the physical noise of historically analog media such as motion picture film. It includes dirt, scratches, smudges and markings that can distort physical media also impact the playback of digital recordings on media such as CDs and DVDs, as electronic music composer Kim Cascone explained in 2002:
“There are many types of digital audio ‘failure.’ Sometimes, it results in horrible noise, while other times it can produce wondrous tapestries of sound. (To more adventurous ears, these are quite often the same.) When the German sound experimenters known as Oval started creating music in the early 1990s by painting small images on the underside of CDs to make them skip, they were using an aspect of ‘failure’ in their work that revealed a subtextual layer embedded in the compact disc.
Oval’s investigation of ‘failure’ is not new. Much work had previously been done in this area such as the optical soundtrack work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Fischinger, as well as the vinyl record manipulations of John Cage and Christian Marclay, to name a few. What is new is that ideas now travel at the speed of light and can spawn entire musical genres in a relatively short period of time.”
Distortion was one of the earliest types of glitch art to be produced, such as in the work of video artist Nam June Paik, who created video distortions by placing powerful magnets in close proximity to the television screen, resulting in the appearance of abstract patterns. Paik’s addition of physical interference to a TV set created new kinds of imagery that changed how the broadcast image was displayed:
The magnetic field interferes with the television’s electronic signals, distorting the broadcast image into an abstract form that changes when the magnet is moved.
By recording the resulting distortions with a camera, they can then be shown without the need for the magnet.
Audacity – Designed as audio editing software, Audacity can be used to create glitch art. By importing and exporting raw image data as “U-Law” or “A-Law,” one can use Audacity to manipulate an image by applying various filters and effects. The best image file types to use for this method are “.TIF” and “.RAW”, as these are uncompressed formats. Other file types normally contain data which acts as a specifier, letting the computer program know what the file is. If this data becomes corrupted the image will no longer be able to be read by the computer. If the artist wishes to use a protected file type such as “.BMP” one method to circumvent file corruption is to skip about halfway through the data and only add effects to areas past this point since protective code is always found at the beginning of the files data. The audacity method of glitching is considered to be “organic” glitching, which means the effects generate random visuals within the image. Since this is still something that is fairly unexplored, it is hard to say for sure if there is any way to control the effects but there is some aspect to it which can be controlled. For example, adding reverb will always produce color changes and using a “wah wah” effect will create a wavy visual within the image.
WordPad – The WordPad method is a Microsoft Windows specific form of glitching that uses Microsoft WordPad as a tool for creating visual artistic images by corrupting the code of an image file. Similarly to the Audacity method, the effects are for the most part random, yet a user with knowledge of binary coding would have advantage when using this method. In order to perform this glitch, first convert any image file into a Bitmap (.BMP) format. Then open the .BMP file in WordPad and randomly change sections of the code. Open the image back up in any photo viewer to view the changes. Keep in mind that since some files contain protective coding, the file type of the selected image does matter. Skip through about half of the binary code to avoid altering this part of the code and rendering the file unreadable.
Avidemux – Avidemux is a free video editing application for both Macintosh and Microsoft Windows which can be used to datamosh video by compression to create colorful and abstract visuals. This method of glitch requires removing most of the I-frames from a video, leaving only mostly P-frames. The result will cause the original image of the initial I-frame to be displayed over all the other P-frames in the video which control the pixel movement in the visuals.