Click to glitch

March 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Steven Ball

What was a glitch 10 years ago is not a glitch anymore. This ambiguous contingency of glitch depends on its constantly mutating materiality; the glitch exists as an unstable assemblage in which the materiality is influenced by on the one hand the construction, operation and content of the apparatus (the medium) and on the other hand the work, the writer, and the interpretation by the reader and/or user (the meaning) influence its materiality. Thus, the materiality of the glitch art is not (just) the machine the work appears on, but a constantly changing construct that depends on the interactions between text, social, aesthetical and economic dynamics and of course the point of view from which the different actors are involved and create meaning.

Rosa Menkman – Glitch Studies Manifesto

The Glitch Studies Manifesto is both timely and anachronistic; while it’s tempting to think that we’ve been here before, the Manifesto simultaneously represents a return to and a development of the glitch phenomenon bringing it new relevance. As Rosa Menkman suggests, what a glitch is now, is not what it was then; glitch as practice has begat glitch as a genre, genre relies on practice in context.

In the Manifesto Menkman declares that the “beautiful creation of a glitch is uncanny and sublime”, which she infers is an accident, the result of machine failure, contrasting this with the process of “the creation of a formally new design, either by creating a final product or by developing a new way to re-create or simulate the latest glitch-archetype” which she characterizes

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as a domesticated “conservative glitch art”.

While the glitch aesthetic has been mutating and hybridizing, as a genre it has traveled some way from its origins. By example the name of the Soundcloud glitch group seems anomalous, the music tends to be variations on drum n bass or dubstep and there is little of the dynamic abrasion one might associate with glitch. I recently saw a performance by ‘pioneer’ glitch musician Markus Popp/Oval,

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and while he still employs clicks and whirs, it has become slick, sophisticated and rhythmically complex, the glitchy rawness of the sound which once gave his music its striated melodic tentativeness has become smoothed and controlled. The direct effect of the broken technological tool that reveals its own materiality through malfunction made visible as glitch artefact, seems to have undergone a kind of aesthetic remediation.

Has the glitch phenomenon become nostalgic aesthetic materialism, renowned as much for the distinction of introducing the aesthetics of digital materiality to a Kanye West video

 

as a post-digital dystopian apocalypse effect? Perhaps some future image software will have a button to click to glitch (perhaps it already exists, let me know in the comments if it does), the sort of remediative emulation that once drove the design of Adobe After Effects filters that reproduce ‘realistic’ film scratches and the grain of legacy film stocks, or the Hipstamatic iPhone app which creates digital photographic images that look like seventies snapshots.

If glitch has to some extent become redefined as an effect does it matter? Must glitch be solely conceived of as the result of the specificity and mutability of digital media? In analogue technology the sound of the scratched record, whether this be produced by an accidental nudge, or as a trope in recorded music as an innovative rhythmic force transforming the recording into a sampling instrument in the hands of Grandmaster Flash

 

or as post- analogue nostalgia for the surface noise of recorded music

 

is still emblematic of the indexical and media specific materiality, the stylus in the groove, the materiality of the sound object in itself retains its agency, intentionally or otherwise. Does glitch-as-effect, glitch producing software, maintain an aesthetic symbolic link to the materiality of the hardware, retaining the trace of mutability and digital materialism? Which is to say that if the glitch effect is not physical, then effect as the index of digital malfunction can just as just as validly be considered to be symbolic and significatory.

However if glitch as practice or genre is not to be totally pensioned off as retro kitsch remediation, where is its renewed critical currency and efficacy to be found? If we are thinking in terms of the materiality of digital media, then what of the materiality of the digital post-medium? Post-medium in that, as is well known, in the past ten or so years widely accessible increased network bandwidth, coupled with more powerful domestic computing, has made the internet a viable context for social and media based activity. After years of promise convergence has become a reality as text, moving and still image, and sound increasingly circulate on the same global network of computers on a number of complementary platforms and applications, each dedicated to variations in mode and reception of dissemination across a range of forms.

Critical Artware were formed from a collaborative group of artist-programmers-hackers based in Chicago, interested in the connections, ruptures and dislocations between early moments of Artware or Software Art and other instruction set oriented approaches to conceptual and code-based practices such as Fluxus, Conceptualism, and early Video Art. As can be seen from the video on their website

 

which partly documents their activities including their participation in Blockparty, their activities are both critically subversive and productive. The video online processes documentation through glitch techniques, echoing the fragmentary logic of glitch aesthetics, documenting both real time and space events, shot through with a fast montage of projections of material on Vimeo, flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Ustream, as well as hacked software, media and signal manipulation, games, networks, etc. The crucial activity is social, but crucially through both real-world and online meet ups, each permeates the other to the point where they becomes indistinguishable. The website itself becomes part of the expanded milieu as it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish the video documentation itself from the images of the meet-ups and events from the web within the documentation from the browser window from the website itself, perhaps ultimately from the very desktop and screen of your computer.

This undifferentiated mash-up of objects into a kind of synergistic entropy, in which the glitch is not simply a reified materiality but also fragments and disrupts communication, accelerates the fragmentary logic of multitasking social situations on and off line, both a glitch transmission and a real world symbolic representation of the glitch logic of fragmentation as anarchic mischiefness becomes a mobilising force

While the work of Critical Artware uses social networks as both a platform and an object of critique, the potential for online video means that Rosa Menkman’s Noise Artifacts Vimeo group can approach a critical mass of its own. At the time of writing the group numbered 339 members who had posted 512 videos. The materiality of discrete media objects operate within the complex materiality of the hyperobject of the world wide web, the glitch operates within the ontology of both.

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