Glitching the document

Provocation by Caleb Kelly


Pia Van Gelder, Synchresizer, 2011

Glitch, an unexpected occurrence, unintended result, or break or disruption in a system, cannot be singularly codified, which is precisely its conceptual strength and dynamical contribution to media theory. (Rosa Menkman)

The glitch is the digital tick caused by lost or incorrect binary code. This error in the transmission of data has proven to be a positive generative moment, the accident, the failure is here understood as a positive outcome. If the modernist dream of utopia is to be taken at face value then the end point of mediation is the perfect transparent and clear media object. The glitch in media art, however, is a valorisation of the lost belief in this goal as artists turn their backs on the dream of seamless data flow and instead force digital accidents that proceed to become core components of digital production.

Glitch flourished in the mid-1990s within experimental music. In part this was spurred by the then new access to computers and new media production tools. A surge of experimentation occurred with these new tools and the glitch developed as a process that opened up the clean and structure digital studio to chance, the accident and noise. Central to these practices is the documentation of failure, and of the accident. Certain types of failure where seen as productive and generative, (while others where not quite right) and thus were exploited for future use through recording and sequencing techniques. Interestingly the glitch was quickly assimilated into formal modes of production and its initial power to provide a political rebuttal of official modes of communication was rapidly lessened. The glitch became just another tool in the digital paint-box.

Glitch as an aesthetic interest has resurfaced in recent years. This renewed focus is not without issue and raises questions about why this is happening now and questions of there being any remaining power to the process – is this just digital eye-candy?

In addition to the digital glitch there has also been an overt reuse of analogue tools such as synthesizers for sound and image production. A local example is Pia Van Gelder whose work fuses sound and image in a grainy and brightly coloured array of error patterns. The use of these analogue tools raises the question, Why when we have a computer would one wish to return to old technologies such as synthesizers? Patch based synths cost more than computers to purchase and require specialist knowledge to run. The final output seems little more than feedback and could be very simply achieved in digital production.

Recently a virulent debate was sparked around a visual research blog entitled ‘The New Aesthetic’. The New Aesthetic sought to frame an emergent aesthetic that captures a blurring of digital workspaces and ‘real-life’ – mental and algorithmic universes are entangled through disturbances and bugs. Software infrastructure was seen to merge with our real life, opening a fertile ground for the transgression of the digital glitch into the everyday. In part this may be generated using locative media (mobile phones for example) as the computer left the office space a long time ago.

LoVid, ‘iParade’,

This raises wide reaching questions around the accident and the document. The blurring of the digital and mediated realism has long been discussed (think photoshop and pro-tools) but this has most often been an issue with the representation of reality. The New Aesthetic further blurs this with an incursion of the digital directly onto and into the everyday. The accident then becomes an aesthetic and a new way of thinking within and beyond mobile and social medias.

One thought on “Glitching the document

  1. Pingback: New documentary forms as self-documentation | Etienne Deleflie on Art and Technology

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