7/22/2009

From enchanting to the default cultivation of artifacts

From software art to generic manipulation
Technicians and engineers (the ‘debuggers’) within the digital realm, often occupy themselves with the task to control erratic reactions and behaviors of files and softwares. Complex compression algorithms for mobile phones, DVDs and MP3s for instance, must minimize the amount of artifacts and make the medium as transparent as possible. In glitch art, some of these technicians and engineers (the “rebuggers”) engage themselves in a completely opposite practice. They often seek to prompt and amplify artifacts (like glitches) on purpose and even write software that only functions to (re)create these artifacts.
The standardization of glitch-sound has been an ongoing development within the realm of music for over 10 years. In the visual realm we can detect a younger but similar growth of glitch generation tools. One starting point of this trend can be found in the popular Glitchbrowser. The Glitchbrowser (Lima, Dimitre, Iman Moradi, and Ant Scott. 02.12.2005 – 18.03.2009) is an internet based browser that encodes web pages and returns them to the user with 'damaged’ pictures; it mimics transmission errors.
The Glitchbrowser itself was (in my opinion) an autonomous work of software art, but the browser also made it possible for anyone to download the generated images and to present them independently. In this sense it was often used as a ‘glitch-image generation tool’. The Glitchbrowser was an example of a still growing amount of glitch-image generation softwares and plugins like for instance Corrupt™ (2006), GlitchMonkey (2007) and Bytemolester (2008). These scripts and plugins all generate results similar to the Glitchbrowsers, but are applied in different ways and environments (they work for instance as a plugin or as an executable).

Video (art)effects
From 2008 the field of video glitch softwares also underwent major developments. As became obvious in my how to datamosh (ecology) post, many people work on particular glitch effects at the same time. In March Andrew Benson even released a MAX patch that VJs can use to trigger the glitch/compression-video effects [no longer artifacts, but maybe (art)effects?] in real time.
Many of these plugins generate images that are far from the ‘true’ glitch; they just imitate the look of artifacts that were already explored within older conceptual art projects. Vades Glitch File Reader (2009) for Quartz Composer plugin for instance, is an almost complete translation of the DataDada software by August Black (2003). But whereas the ‘original’ DataDada was mostly politically engaged, in the Glitch File Reader we can recognize an emphasis on software aesthetics and design.
Every technology that is being glitched leaves a specific aesthetic or fingerprint on the final result. Today we can recognize a trend in which these designs of ‘original’ glitch art are used to model generic effects. With the help of these effects any user can handle a broad range of data types in predetermined ways and create what can best be described as a caricature, or mimic of the original imperfect fingerprint.
For instance, since 2001 NoteNdo has been performing his live visuals generated with a circuit bent NES console. He has played at many big festivals and the fingerprint of his console has inspired many people to also start circuitbending. Because circuitbending involves a certain threshold (you need a basic understanding of electronics and the right tools), it wasn’t a big surprise to me to see (at the beginning of 2009) that programmers started writing softwares that imitate (emulate) the same effect, but that didn’t involve actual hardware bending. A recent example created by no-carrier is the GlitchNES, a software that “causes graphical glitches similar to hardware circuit-bending.” [btw! I am looking forward to seeing him playing with his software live this weekend at Blip Europe - I will post some photos]
Another NES-glitch opportunity presented itself in the (more complex) Quartz Composer plugin Open Emu. With the help of this plugin, “you can now software 'bend' a virtual NES, in realtime.”
I think that whereas the original NoteNdo console is more politically engaged (the opening up of a closed technology to create alternative possibilities), the derivative GlitchNES and Open Emu put an emphasis on software aesthetics and design and the recreation (or emulation) of a fingerprint.

Software art vs. Generative art?
To differentiate between the two apparent categories, the differentiation between Software art and Generative art could be helpful. In 2003, Florian Cramer wrote that while all digital art is software-based, it can be relevant to discuss what role software plays in the creative processes. Cramer argues that in software art the semantics of software itself are of vital importance to both the creation and the execution of the art piece. “What is crucial here is not the result but the process triggered in the computer by the program code.”
In generative art, software is mostly used as an external aid. It is one possibility amongst others to create a process from which a final work of art follows. Generative art “refers to any art practice where the artist creates a process, such as a set of natural language rules, which is set into motion, creating a complete work.” While the programs used to create works that focus on syntax and aesthetics, the images created by these programs are often autonomous.
This leads to a distinction between two types of artifacts: ideal and designed. Very few artifacts are completely unintentional (ideal) and artifacts are not per se completely manipulatable (designable) since they still have to resemble the artifact in question. Nevertheless, this distinction enables us to discuss the degree of human control or agency over the artifact. The type of glitch that is manufactured under complete human control, (often) doesn’t involve the questioning of protocols, genre, expectations, interface and/or frames of reference. It could be argued that its politics are (mostly) gone in favor of aesthetics and style. An example of this is for instance no-carriers GlitchNES, who’s technique I would prefer to call conservative or moderated glitching or, following Moradi, the 'glitch-alike'.
We can voice an obvious critique; to design an artifact means to domesticate it. When an artifact or glitch becomes domesticated, controllable by a tool and spread out for a wider audience to use, it loses (at least part of) its enchantment and becomes a lot more predictable. Then it is no longer a glitch, but a filter that consists of presets and/or a default settings. It is no longer a break from a flow within a technology, or a method to open up the political discourse but instead a cultivation, another norm.
A striking result of cultivated glitches can be seen during credits of America’s Next Top Model (Banks, Tyra. US: 2009), a television program in which a number of young women train and compete to obtain the title of America’s Next Top Model. The credits of the 2009 series are broken by different glitches that produce a new, perfect model. In these credits, the glitch has become a metaphor for imperfect (not yet perfectly accepted) aesthetics, instead of a break from the norm.

Amerika, Mark. "Cultivated Glitches."
Professor VJ: March 1, 2006.
Betancourt, Michael. “Technesthesia and Synaesthesia.”
Vague Terrain: February 9, 2009.

/////////////////////A list of glitch software tools
/// [suggestions are welcome!]/////////
Video / Image /
Browser /Hardware bending tutorial / Music
Vade: Glitch (alike) for VJs
Sven Konig: Appropirate! / Download finished!
Dan Winkler and Anton Marini: Open Emu
no-carrier: GlitchNES
Benjamin Gaulon: Corrupt™
Károly Kiripolszky: ByteMolester 0.9
Iman Moradi, Ant Scott and Dimitre Lima: glitchbrowser
Youpy: Glitchmonkey
August Black: Datadada
Cementimental: nes bending
Notendo: nes bending
Karl Klomp: videomixer bending
Illformed VST
Glitch NintendoDS
Mp3 fuckups
Gleetchlab
Noiser

6 comments:

Kyle said...

"When an artifact or glitch becomes domesticated, controlled by a tool or technology (a human craft) it loses its enchantment and becomes predictable."

I think "enchantment" is less tied to domestication, and more directly to predictability. If you know a certain combination of programs always creates window trails... knowing how this glitch can be recreated can turn it into an annoying bug. Or, if you take time to study a compressed file format and its decoder, you will eventually be able to predict a large number of glitches that will result from noisy/rearranged/missing data. In both of these cases, the glitch hasn't become "domesticated", just better understood.

There's a kind of paradox here: if you love glitches, and want to share them, you are forced to understand them (you have to stop seeing it as a glitch in order to share it). You can't really sit around hoping for something to break. Even if you did, you would eventually tailor your actions so that they produce more glitches (you would develop a sort of intuitive understanding that guides your glitch-expectations).

roos said...

Hey Kyle! I liked your link from the last blogpost, I checked it this morning, but have to get a bit more attention to really 'grasp' it. - I will get back to that later.

There is definitely a paradox in glitch art. I think this paradox lies within: 1. 'glitch as a formal happening' - this is when a technological flow unintentionally and unexpectedly breaks and when there is no agency for the user whatsoever. 2. 'glitch art' - where the artist has or takes (some form of) agency in the process of breaking a flow of expectations (of creator or viewer).

This taking of agency can take place after the glitch, during the glitch (when the artist knows what to trigger) or during the entire glitch (when there is not really a flow broken, but a process running perfectly well).

Anyway, with domestication of a glitch I meant the providing of a software tool by an artist or programmer (software art or generative art) for other users to create the (formally) same glitch. This is when a particular glitch becomes commodified and 'domesticated' -> then it has lost its 'wild, unpredictable and misunderstood side'.
Within this software, the glitch is supposed to happen this way, it has an expected behavior / pattern.

Kyle said...

I'm glad you liked the link! Like I said, it's something I'm still thinking about the project lot/it's not "finished".

I understand you better when you phrase it like this: "taking agency in the process of breaking a flow of expectations". I agree that tools for creating formally equivalent glitches effectively domesticates the glitch. If the tool/technique is widespread, it loses its enchantment for everyone (for example, optical flow video compression artifacts/"datamosh"). If the tool is localized -- perhaps created by an artist for personal use -- then enchantment may be sacrificed by the artist in order to share it with an audience.

I was simply adding to your conditions for disenchantment :) Besides tool creation, there is a more general possibility of simply understanding glitches better (making them more predictable). You don't necessarily need a tool to become disenchanted.

I find your animated GIFs incredibly ironic for this reason. They're normally 2-4 frames of weird glitched visual content, but it's on an (incredibly predictable) loop :)

roos said...

yeayea about the animated gif: I was just using it as a bumper because the video I wanted to use wouldn't upload (the upload speed in Denmark is not what i am used to : )

I also think that there are many ways to 'disenchant' an artifact (in particular a glitch), but I wanted to stress this way of commodification/normalization in particular.

t.davis said...

Great article, but I would argue that the domestication of a glitch is a good thing + can continue to result in a wild output. When there are system in place [image encoding/decoding] and you evoke them with change, you will cause a glitch. As you develop a way of controlling the input that will be decoded, you not only learn about the system itself [transparency to the medium] but you learn how it can be exploited [err- utilized] for the creation of additional modes of visual expression + communication.

I have my own hangups regarding what the definition of a glitch should be.. I am cautious to call the 'natural' occurring glitch an ideal one, thus placing it higher than its designed counterpart. Rather I prefer to focus on the end result, of which I believe the definition fades away, when employing the term 'glitch aesthetic' or 'glitch art' for both modes of creation.

As you opened up the floor for glitch software suggestions, I have a few of my own which have been a work in process for my own thesis over the past year:

text2image

header_remix

Cheers!

roos said...

Hey t Davis
Thank you for your reaction and sorry I respond only now, I am on a hectic tour and don't have all the access to internet that I need.
I am not sure what you mean with: "When there are system in place [image encoding/decoding] and you evoke them with change, you will cause a glitch." So I will leave that for now. To clarify though I would like to state that I don't think that the 'domestication of glitch' is a bad thing but I do have my doubts about it. The reason why I critique this domestication is because I think the many new glitch plugins, softwares and applications are not very transparent or open - they dont really give us new insights into our usual hard and softwares usage.

I like to use the word 'wild' because to me it is a paradoxical analogy/metaphor/reference to nature. When you for instance think of the domestication of a cat, these animals will always be able to behave wild, but are trained to behave in a certain, normal way (of course you can never take out the wild completely, I think that fits since also the glitch is always a possibility even in glitch production software).

I think glitch art and glitch in general are 2 different things and they should be defined independently. Then the 'natural' glitch sometimes becomes a model for a glitch art (when there is an emphasis on design).
Maybe ideal is not an ideal choice of words, but to me a glitch is when the system is broken open and so to me the 'natural' glitch is an ideal. But I guess this could be a personal opinion/preference.

Thanks for the links!