A debased descendent in a spectatorship of death.

Essays and musings on Glitch including writings from an Exegesis submitted by Lindsay Cox April 2009 as a component of a  Master of Arts by Research Project (Animation and Interactive Media), School of Creative Media, RMIT in Melbourne. NB: Footnotes have not been preserved in this version.

This investigation of the glitch in electronic media, previously disregarded as errors in the medium and therefore often begrudgingly tolerated by viewers rather than considered a form of artistic gesture, will discuss the role and function of mistakes and imperfections in the evolution of digital and analogue electronic screen media aesthetics. The formal tendencies of artists who incorporate glitch, sometimes as a side effect of their activity, in assisting the cultural acceptance of these ‘artefacts’, will be discussed. I’ll briefly discuss a history of the word glitch from its early uses in the aerospace industry in the 1960s, as a music genre in the 1990s to slang in the gaming world of the 2000s. A discussion on the nature and differences between digital and analogue media, associated formats and glitches is undertaken from a historical perspective. Historical breakthroughs where the glitch has played a major role in the creative and scientific fields are also profiled.

Introduction

Each new generation of media brings with it new modes of recording, display and dissemination and thus new potentialities for mistakes and errors. If the ‘eclectic medium’ that is the computer (Le Grice, 2001), stores audio and visuals as digital media and contains ‘previous media within it’ (McLuhan, 1967), it will also therefore contain all signs and reproductions of the mistakes and glitches common to each media generation that preceded it. In ideal situations digital media offers the perfect copy with definitive information to the pixel, in contrast to the ‘debased descendent’ (Mitchell, 1992) of lower quality that unavoidably results from copying in the analogue realm. In reality the rapid pace of development in the image production world ensures that changing standards lead to problems in reading, copying and translating digital files. In addition, the quality of the image is dependent on the quality of the input device (scanners, cameras and other visual capture devices) and the prevailing capture standard of the era. The ephemeral ‘discrete nature’ (Mitchell, 1992) of the immaterial – supposedly ageless – digital file in transit, is counterbalanced by obsolete and decayed storage media, hardware specific codecs, out of date and corrupted operating system protocols and other issues that place in peril the integrity of the original data.

While the inevitable decay of the physical substance of film and analogue video tape leads us, the audience, into a “spectatorship of death” (Rodowick, 2007) where each film scratch is a memento mori, each tape dropout a permanent scar, in a spiral toward complete loss of the image, the prognosis for digital media seems, perhaps surprisingly, even more grim. From an archival and storage point of view we might consider the “questionable benefits of digital media” (Cherchi Usai, 2001). While the devices such as video monitors and printers on which imagery is displayed may wear out or fail the image is still intact as data. However this numerical data that makes up digital media image information could, through the errors described above, become entombed and leave old stores of ones and zeroes forever encrypted. If a file thus becomes unreadable the image is lost, and to the consumer ‘trash and reformat’ would seem to be the only option. More recently however, as consumer level technology has become more sophisticated, the harsh schism of read/not read has muxed to create an uncertain territory of data recovery. This is a space colonised, inhabited and expanded by the glitch.

A growing reliance on digital delivery systems such as broadband, telephone and satellite requires that built-in error correction systems attempt to prevent loss of image and sound, and software designed to rescue data will allow the opening of incomplete files. In this mechanical attempt to maintain continuity these files and data streams may be affected by this recovery and may be ‘glitched’. Images in virtual, immaterial form, digital and analogue media and their glitches are, we are told, crystallised in a precise, repeatable format. This infinitely replicable form nevertheless gives the artist potential for lossless overlay, composition and collage – and in itself is also subject to ‘glitching’ through some of the events mentioned above as well as deliberate, accidental or even serendipitous occurrences during the production of visual art.

With its hitherto unsurpassed replicating capabilities, digital media allows a meeting of glitch past, present and future. All previous media and associated signs can be encased within it, and as a matter of course, are stamped with digital media’s own signs. In his essay ‘The Abject Romance of Low resolution’ David Humphreys notes that the progressive development of moving image technology creates a hierarchy of image and equipment quality giving “lower and budget reproductions an increasing potential for affective or critical treatments by artists.” Live video as created by VJs creates unpredictable and unrepeatable imagery. Much of this live video was, for a time (and still is) generated using analogue video devices. The VJ culture, more than any other, sees an overlap of technologies with rigs assembled from found and discarded video equipment. The freedom to create works in real time using analogue video signals often allows the real time manipulation of effects beyond the parameters of the manufacturers intentions and also avoids the need for long hours of pre-rendering video works as illustrated by this quote from VJ John Power: “I found I was able to generate material of a particular type in the space of two hours, which would not have arisen from months of using conventional desktop software. Variation of approach at all times created respite from video image production problems centered on software.”

Glitch rides on our innate need to explore and experiment with our cultural environs. It embeds itself into its originating medium and hybrids thereof in what Roland Barthes calls “contortions of technique”. If “failure in art”, as Paul Virillio says, is a “profane miracle” then the immortality that digital media promises is humanised by the act of harnessing the creative potential of the glitch. This act broadens and multiplies the contemporary visual aesthetic palette with what Sean Cubitt, with a more Zen leaning, calls “aleatoric art which drives toward the dialogue of human and machine that lies at the heart of contemporary society.”

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The material and the immaterial Glitch.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921)

In 1896, when a film camera jammed mid-way through a static camera shot, Theatre owner and magician George Melies discovered ‘stop substitution’ trick photography. This discovery would go on to be a key principle of many special effects devised by Melies in his short trick films.

The photographs by war photographer Robert Capa of the Omaha beach landings of 6th June 1944 are iconic images of WWII. Capa’s gritty photographs are regarded by some as among the best war photographs of all time yet the ghostly images actually resulted from a darkroom accident. In the rush to get the images to a courier for delivery to the main office of Life Magazine a darkroom technician dried the film too quickly and the extreme heat melted the film. The emulsion was distorted beyond recovery on all but 10 of the frames from the 4 rolls processed. Those 10 frames yielded definitive images of an era of warfare.

In 1963, his first year of film making, Andy Warhol fogged one frame of film in the 16mm Bolex camera he was shooting on by not closing the viewfinder, thus allowing light to leak onto the film through the reflex prism linking the viewfinder to the lens. The one frame flash between edits, a kind of full stop for each scene, was a resultant signature ‘effect’ that he went on to allow to happen in many of his subsequent films of the 1960’s. The effect is still repeatedly used today, most notably as a divider between fast edits in Hollywood film trailers to add drama and excitement.

In 1967 when the proof of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Massage’ came back from the printer the intended title ‘The Medium is the Message’ had suffered a typographical error. McLuhan was excited by this mistake is said to have exclaimed ‘Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!’ Now there are possible four readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message and Mess Age, Massage and Mass Age.”

In 1982, DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore was practicing at home when he put his hand onto the record to stop its playing so he could hear what his mother was saying. In doing so he noticed the ‘scratching’ sound produced by moving the vinyl record backwards and forwards under the needle. His accidental discovery of ‘scratching’ would rapidly develop and become an important textural instrument in hip-hop music in the 1980’s.

These examples of errors are those that were discovered as a result of a direct working and tactile relationship of humans with machines. Machines, which like their media and the consequences of their mistakes, belong firmly in the material world through their analogical nature. Machines that, in most cases, require knowledgeable co-ordinated operation in often-complex sequences virtually guarantee ‘errors’. The complexity and physicality of these processes multiply the chance for human caused error. For instance, correct exposure on the HR16mm Bolex 16mm film camera requires the film to be loaded correctly, the film gate closed, the correct aperture to be set, the correct exposure to be set, and a string of other procedures to be followed for correct exposure and shooting. Despite using a light meter to help gauge the exposure the user still has no definite indication that the exposure has been successful until the film is developed. Photographic film is a physically based analogue medium. Light streams through a lens onto an emulsion of photosensitive material on a transparent substrate which upon being chemically processed produces a physical record that can be held up to the light for viewing by one person or projected by a strong light source for viewing by many. This “isomorphic transformation” of the original image based on physics and chemistry delivers a record by using material based processes at every stage of its production. The lens, the film, the exposure, the chemical processing and the projector all offer chances for error or ‘effect’. While the machines and processes given as examples here are built for precise use, the designer and manufacturer can never fully account for human error or negligence (or the failure to read the manufacturers instructions!). It is statistical probability then that users everywhere, through the mere process of operating equipment could become the unwitting generators and possibly discoverers of new ‘special effects’. Discovery through error is, of course, not the only way in which film, or any technology or science has advanced. The experimental film genre has done much to widen the frontiers of what cinema is, and isn’t. As mentioned elsewhere in this document the materialist experimental film movement of the London Film Makers Co-operative acted on many of these constraints as starting points to investigate the boundaries of the film medium in an experimental project that eventually became a film genre known as ‘Expanded cinema’. The aims of this experiment were to try to create some sort of language with which to discuss the medium in terms of ‘film as film’. Artists carried an awareness of the material aspects of the media in their works, and sought to make audiences experience a cinema that was fully aware of its own ‘body’. To not so much look through the frame as look at the frame itself. As Malcolm Le Grice says, to work within the medium of ‘Film as Film’ meant an alignment

“…to the modernist view that the meaning and aesthetic base of a work derives from its material rather than from an illusionist representation….Meaning is formed in and by the work as it moves dynamically from the acts of making into its passage through the world.”

The process of investigation involved assuming there were no limits on the path which artists could take – with projector, film and screen all being manipulated in creative ways. The deliberate abuse of the ‘principles’ of filmmaking, which Amos Vogel calls “an international canon of regulations scrupulously obeyed by filmmakers and editors, immortalised in text books and further vulgarised by film schools” and Sean Cubitt a willingness to include “exigencies like misty eye pieces…in contrast to the commercial cinema, where the material support is effaced so that they don’t disturb the unity of the world of the movie”

Malcolm Le Grice, a principal artist in the London Filmmakers Co-op and author of several regarded books on Experimental film says of his own expanded cinema work, ‘Horror film’ (1971):

“I didn’t call it expanded cinema in fact I didn’t know what I was doing, I was working like a primitive. I wanted to get something that was something more to do with the condition of the work – the condition of the presence (of film), and something that I saw was working more with ideas that related much more to the contemporary world, and so in that way I wasn’t just interested in making films inside the frame, I was interested in the way they came out into the space.”

Guy Sherwin, another prominent experimental film artist from the LFMC explains;

“there was a strong tendency to explore every part of the film equipment and that meant the structure of the grain, the film, the way it passes through the projector, the projected light, the screen, the audience. Everything was up for exploration and became part of the dynamic of the film.”

The materialist’s line of investigation then, could be interpreted as an extreme attempt to create glitch not only in film, but cinema, the environment in which the audience is watching the film. However a question arises as to the veracity of a glitch that is intentionally created. In other words, can an accident be deliberate? In the materialist investigations where no stone is left unturned the glitch itself is undermined. Little room is left for error – as their intent is absolutely clear – they seek to control all aspects of the illusion, to the point that there is no illusion. As mentioned, a glitch is essentially an effect in embryo and the materialists in their search for truth in representation sought to sterilize the illusory power of the medium. In his 2006 dissertation on Glitch, Iman Moradi differentiates between intentionally produced glitches and “unpremeditated glitches” as ‘glitch-alikes’ and ‘real glitches’ “Glitch-alikes are a collection of digital artefacts that resemble visual aspects of real glitches found in their original habitat.“ His clarification stands only briefly however, as he settles, for the sake of convenience, on the term “glitch” as “an all encompassing term to signify mutual qualities of both areas.” This would appear to imply a control over glitch by artists who invite the unknown element of the glitch into the texture of their visual art. However, my own definition of glitch as “an error or undesired artefact in audio visual media arising from software or hardware manipulation” implies a ‘real time’ experiment where the conditions for glitch are created yet little more than a small degree of control is achieved. The essential nature of the glitch is that it is not controllable and at the point the glitch becomes a repeatable experiment, or an operator becomes a virtuoso in the methods of production of any specific glitch it has become something else – an ‘effect’.

In the digital visual arts to apply an effect is to apply a transformation of the image. By the examples listed above – cases where the mistake has ultimately become an effect, the medium of film would appear to be capable only of analogical effects determined by physics and chemistry. This “privileged indexical relationship to prefilmic reality” enjoyed by film, ensures a direct causal relationship that is empirically definable, and so, repeatable. The generated effects and artefacts all relate indexically to their sources – the causal nature of analogue film cannot be denied. A medium, as defined by the OED is “any raw material or mode of expression used in an artistic or creative activity.” The artist who works with film maintains that “privileged indexical relationship” however the introduction of the analogue electronic era, the age of magnetic tape media perhaps, saw a paradigm shift in the approach to experimentation with the ‘medium’. According to Spielman, the medium of analogue video is changed with each new pulse of creativity passing through its form or “as soon as it becomes the content of something new”. The medium of video exhibits metamorphic change that breaks direct links with the initial input. U.S. pioneer video artist Nam Jun Paik recognised the electromagnetic nature of video with his in situ manipulation of a pure television signal. A large magnet, placed on the top of a television set, distorted the flow of electrons within the cathode ray tube creating abstract patterns of light on the screen’s surface. (‘Magnet TV’, 1965). His application of magnetic force to the television recognised the need for artists working with new media forms to select tools that were native to that media.

Paik’s ‘Magnet TV’ marks an important transition from the physical to the electronic, or ephemeral. His work explores the real-time interactive potential of the creative manipulation of the video signal. It has been argued that film, or more precisely, cinema,is also able to present the immaterial by the use of juxtaposition in montage. According to Lev Manovich the Kuleshov effect allows film to “overcome its indexical nature through montage by presenting the viewer with objects that never existed in reality.” Those disembodied ‘objects’ are more in the realm of imagination and illusion, however, and could not be said to exist in the same way for all viewers. The disconnection of the artist from the material, of disembodiment of the artwork from a medium begins with ‘Magnet TV’. An appreciation of the aesthetics of visual glitch, its rebirth as an electronic signal, begins at this point.

Video feedback, a pure glitch produced by filming the output monitor of a camera to create a closed loop, is another example of a format-less state. Steina Vasulka, pioneer video artist said, “Feedback was the first true image not related to pinhole.” As a medium based in a processual signal video has no substance and feedback is the purest form of that signal in glitch, an abstract image folding in on itself in real time. Its organic textures ebb and pulse and allow a direct interactive manipulation of glitch. In an early 1970’s leaflet on creating video feedback artist Bill Gwin comments: “Feedback…has two necessary elements for making art – a reasonable amount of flexibility and a reasonable amount of predictability”. However the ease with which complex imagery can be produced with video feedback ultimately leaves a “falsely aesthetic oneirism” a label that Bazin applied to over effected Hollywood movies without substance, sheer ‘eye candy’. A glitch that exists solely as a glitch is a garish paint without a canvas, an effect without a context.

The feedback effect described above was created using a tube camera. Vacuum tube technology disappeared from the domestic scene in the late 1980’s. The last VHS decks were manufactured in 2003 and in 2009, the time of this writing, with analogue signal broadcast being discontinued in 2011 and the sale of analogue receivers dwindling, analogue video is a ‘dead media’. Video feedback exists as a sign that is resurrected in digital technology through digital emulation software. Programmer artists such as Vade54 who code emulations and filters that reproduce the analogue video glitch are conducting a kind of electronic archaeology. The effects and devices exploited early in the history of video art by pioneering video artists such as the Vasulkas are artefacts locked away in dead media. The rarity of the hardware capable of reproducing these glitches ensures the rarity of its glitches. In addition to allowing these glitches new life this nostalgia for and re-discovery of effects is a starting point for further experimentation, this time in a digital realm. The challenge to reproduce and enact image processing sees the glitch exposed to the possibility of hybrid growth – digital code enables tweaking, adjustment and recombination in a way previously unavailable in an analogue format. With this rebirth in digital form it has transcended media.

Digital emulations aside, the rarity of dead media enable the visual artist to produce a unique style. If a product is only briefly available on the market, for whatever reason, the obscurity of that product in years to come is ensured. This could also mean the item will gain a ‘cult status’. The Fisher Price Pixel Vision PXL2000, produced in 1987, was a toy video camera system that recorded low-resolution black and white CCD video onto standard audio C90 cassettes. Sadie Benning’s 1989 film ‘A New Year’ (5:57, black & white video/ Pixelvision) is one of the more famous works made using the Pixelvision camera. Benning’s highly personal works, which predate Youtube video blogging by 20 years, gain credo from the gritty low resolution CCD technology that the pixelvision camera shares with surveillance cameras. Benning’s is an example of video art that carries just one; the low resolution image stamps the work with a ‘pure’ glitch.

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The Economies of Analogue and Digital Glitch hiking.

“In the achievement of economy, we have lost the permanence of the form cut into stone, the monument: in the architecture of light, like the pillars Albert Speer erected out of searchlight beams for the Zeppelin Field at Nuremberg, the greatest virtue of high technology is the economy of means. It is too feeble a signal to maintain itself for long: archives fade into the radio snow of universal magnetic fields.” Sean Cubitt

Faster: Editing a student Television show in 1987 on U-matic format required the use of hulking, noisy, mechanical devices. The room is hot with heat from cathode ray tube monitors and the U-matic edit suite. A preview of each edit decision requires the machines to rewind for a 10 second tape pre-roll time, and committing to an edit is an undoable action. Less than a decade later the process of digital video editing will be silent and screen based. The editing process will be non-linear and have instant playback.

Clearer: It’s 1996 and I’m speaking on a mobile phone, on a network that uses analogue technology. The signal is weak and I need to shout to make myself heard. Finally the signal drops out and the call ends. Forward a decade to 2006: I’m on a digital mobile phone. The signal is again; weak, and digital distortions are making me ask the caller to repeat himself. No use in shouting. I hear metallic syllables as the system digitally stretches sounds to fill gaps in transmission. The caller’s voice either takes on a robotic timbre or there are gaps of total silence. Finally, the gaps are becoming too big and the automated error correction system relinquishes the call.

Smaller: An international DJ of two decades experience speaks of the growing popularity of digital deejaying equipment in which the vinyl turntable and vinyl record no longer feature. “We have gone into an age where sound quality is secondary to expense, a shame, but an understandable progression.” His playing of ‘dub plates’ (very limited edition 12” record sides cut from metal instead of vinyl used in the industry as test disks) extends the dynamic range of the music into the bass frequencies. This, he says, is due to the deeper groove you can cut on a dub plate. “You can actually push the levels of any track harder when cutting into metal due to being able to cut deeper grooves, thereby getting a louder, bossier cut [than digital equipment can reproduce].”

A simple analogy for the comparison of analogue and digital technology compares a set of steps to a smooth, bell shaped hill. The analogue device uses a signal measured as a curve on a logarithmic scale. The digital signal represents the incline of the hill in fine, even steps, the smaller the step, the closer to the analogue curve that digital technology offers. The greater the resolution, or ‘sample rate’ of a digital file, the closer it is to reproducing a continuous curve. In comparison to analogue technology digital technology offers a more efficient and exact reproduction of a signal. However, while the fidelity, efficiency and the reliability of a digital signal can readily surpass that of its analogue equivalent, the market forces that govern the development of certain standards tend to limit, to a great extent the potential for quality. In the above examples relating to telephony, video and sound, where the envelope of digital media is stretched to it’s thinnest by capitalist concerns the consumer invariably shoulders the burden of a lowest-common-denominator solution as a consequential loss in quality. As noted by Sean Cubitt (1993), near the end of the VHS era,

“Capitalism does not, cannot understand the delivery of quality as a central motivation: the profit motive alone provides its drive. In consequence, most domestic playback is poor, and the sound in particular execrable. We have paid for domestic convenience with a major drop in standards from the clarity and scale of sound and image in the heyday of the cinema.”

A similar comparison of quality between television and cinema was voiced four decades earlier in 1953 when Bazin doubted that television, (its drastic effect on the movie industry closed 5,000 cinemas across the U.S. in that year alone) which was “irremediably cruder than the cinema”16 would ever reach the aesthetic heights of film and was perhaps more suited to the documentary form than narrative fiction. The popularity of live broadcast variety shows (which could be said to be ‘radio with pictures’) and the advertising opportunities within them gave television an undoubtable advantage over film. The relative immediacy of television suited the needs of commercialism. Though the crude technical specifications of early television could not match the cinema, market forces brought about the enculturation and acceptance of a lower quality image.

In order to maximize sales and marketability the designers and engineers of every new generation of media aim to produce media higher in quality. Higher quality means higher resolution, greater brightness, greater colour depth and more efficient means of transport and dissemination with the goal of a denser more seamless reproduction of the image and sound. Despite this relentless evolution in picture and sound quality the glitch remains a potent force that constantly asserts itself in each new media. Each time the glitch appears it is in a way that is unique to each media form or format. Such signs of error, malfunction and low quality image such as the examples given above lower the value of a product as they are seen as highly undesirable, if not totally abject by both the maker and the consumer. It could be assumed that in the formulation and development of new media developed for the marketplace and – dependent on sales through popular uptake that it is the express aim of designers and engineers to eliminate glitches altogether. The reality is that the device, at the cheaper end of the scale especially, usually delivers less than ideal performance.

Any attempt to wholly establish market control of a medium generally fosters circumstances in which the glitch may exist. Piracy and home copying has long been a concern for the motion picture industry and manufacturers of domestic video equipment – often one and the same corporation. The ability to create good quality copies at home is contrary to the market place exclusivity of a product and various hardware and software encryption systems have been devised in an attempt to prevent this practice. However, consumers and pirate marketeers invariably find ways to circumvent copy protection systems. In cracking a copy protection system, or making a copy, image quality may be noticeably degraded. At the time of writing, due to the relatively high expense of DVD media capable of holding the 6-7 GB of an average Hollywood film, pirates compress the content to suit the much cheaper 4 GB size DVD media available to the consumer. In order to view movie files over the internet – through sites such as Youtube, or to transfer whole movie files between peer to peer clients such as Bittorrent or Kazaa a compression codec (Flash codec in the case of Youtube or usually DIVx codec for peer to peer transfer) illegal copiers compress the file to suit bandwidth limitations. The resulting degradation, a glitch produced through clandestine media production, manifests as rougher texture and quality of the image and ensures the enculturation of those signs of tampering as a cursor of cheap and even clandestine media. In the Hollywood feature film ‘Syriana’ (2005) set in the present day, a Lebanese terrorist demand delivered to American government officials on VHS video is seen playing from a video tape recorder. As stated, analogue media, unlike digital media cannot produce exact copies. Professional analogue systems worked on a hierarchy that still allowed a product of high quality for the end user. However the VHS system’s main deterrent against copying was the obvious loss in quality that happened in just one copy generation. In the terrorist video message in ‘Syriana’, VHS video is represented in a de-saturated image with rolling video tape dropouts. This ‘3rd world’ context reinforces the low, shoddy value of VHS (and vice versa) and serves to reinforce Hollywood’s own domination of the media. In the words of David Humphrey “outmoded technologies linger as an abject support to the high self-esteem of “state of the art”.17

As still and motion picture technology has developed there has been a constant reference to the high quality of professional work, with the ultimate goal being the emulation of a professional product – be it Hollywood or Vanity Fair. In response to a growing sophistication among consumers, and a rise in the general level of technology a sales niche created by manufacturers for those who wish for more manual control over the medium than the ‘amateur’ has come to prominence. The so-called ‘prosumer’ product promises higher quality for budget productions yet terms such as ‘broadcast quality’ and ‘prosumer’ are a more sophisticated version of the hegemony that media corporations have held since the 1930’s. From the Box Brownie still camera (sold in its millions from 1900 through to the 1960s), and 16mm film (initially aimed at the amateur market from 1923 but gaining a foothold in education and news through its portability and economy) through to VHS Video (launched 1977) the consumer has been prevented from producing an image of an ‘industrial’ quality approaching that of the motion picture goliaths.

The history of the motion picture industry has many examples of control and suppression that outline Bazin’s description of the art and industry of film as more like an “industrial art that is likely to vanish into thin air as soon as the industry’s profits disappear.”18 The motion picture colour system, ‘Technicolor’, was an attempt by big business to monopolise the whole process of motion picture production. Much like the Kodak Box Brownie era of the 1920’s (‘You push the button, we do the rest’) the studios sought to control all aspects of Technicolor film cinematography, processing and projection. Though complex and cumbersome and expensive, Technicolor persisted.

“The controlled way in which it was used constituted a very effective barrier against outsiders…this was an industry which had already totally retooled for sound. It was happy to contain the potential disruption of colour by continuing to use an antiquated and complicated technology.”

Colour film was available only on ‘amateur’ 16mm stock, for at least two decades before becoming a professional standard. The continued sale of Black and White film for 35mm motion picture format (as what could be said to be an outmoded product) Brian Winston argues, suited industry profitability. Winston’s ‘Law of Radical Suppression’ states that when a new communications technology is released, its growth is suppressed through the constrictive economic influence of already prevailing institutions and other mechanisms.20 There is evidence that this suppression existed from the very early days of cinema. The unexpected surge in popularity of film as an entertainment medium ensured that economic forces held power over the destiny of the film industry from the very beginning. Edison and other individuals involved in the birth of cinema endlessly pursued control over all methods for creating cinema through the purchase of patents and through lawsuits. A stream of lawsuits and patents eventuated in the demise of many other gauges and film playback systems and finally ensured that 35mm became the standard.21

Over 100 years later the situation has changed little. In 2008, the independent post- production firm ‘Company 3’, who offer all-digital post-production color correction encountered “tremendous opposition in Hollywood” to their services. Digital onlyprocesses manipulated on licensed software systems, threatened studio control over the product. The mutable nature of the ‘image as data’ and the decreasing cost of digital systems enabled an escape from the restrictive in-house systems of the large players. “There were people who literally said, ‘We will never let you do this,’ ” Steven Sonnenfeld, founder of ‘Company 3’ says. ” ‘We want to have total control, and this gives filmmakers too much flexibility.’ “The capitalistic drive to control all aspects of media production and broadcast foregrounds the aesthetics intrinsic in the lower cost equipment that artists with limited economic means are compelled to work with. These ‘dead’ media, considered of lower quality, no longer economically viable or to have failed commercially are often the toolset and the aesthetic domain of artists generally constrained by budget and opportunity. Their creative use in unlikely combinations of media and altered technology, aided by digital media as a unifying medium can allow a glitch or glitches exclusively native to discarded media to return to mainstream media or even to move sideways through concurrent generations of media, and also medium. To re-deploy the technological detritus left in capitalism’s wake is to adopt a polemic stance subversive to corporate hegemony. By refusing or being economically unable to work within defined ‘industrial quality’ zones, the artist is seeking a mode of expression that is contrary to capitalist forces. To re-use and recycle the cast-off technology, the video mulch, the detritus of previous generations of media, is to adopt a stance against a commercially led culture ever seeking seamlessness and pristine beauty. As Rhodes states “low budget sound technology – referred to as ‘lo-fi’ – is seen by some as a politicised expression of limited economic resources”. The DIY aesthetic of the mid 1970’s punk era saw the self-production of music, magazines and film in a similarly politically motivated movement against a media environment where corporations that appeared to hold total control over those media markets. Artist’s early use of video – in the 1960’s and 1970’s – was mainly in response to the tight reign the few networks could hold on content and “in many countries artists video often deliberately took up a position critical of broadcast television and sought alternative strategies for production and distribution” Early video art was confined mostly to consumer level cheap systems bought by collectives and individuals. Artist Steve Partridge commented about video at the time of its introduction to the market in the mid 1960’s:

“Everything about the nature of half inch video seems to make it ideally suited to individuality and creativity. Artists are able to use video equipment either completely alone or in small groups. No specialised professional skills are needed to operate the equipment, and tape costs far less than film. All of this seems to make video a truly human sized medium”

The ability to post-produce video art works of a professional level without the aid of a corporation however couldn’t happen until the early 1980’s when broadcast technology filtered down through the economy to the educational institutions, as a replacement for the medium of film. High band U-matic format allowed editing and copying on a par with broadcast standards of the time. The availability of such broadcast level equipment in educational institutions allowed a movement called ‘scratch video’ to flourish in Thatcher’s Britain. The ‘scratch’ label came from the frequent use of the jog shuttle function on a U-matic video deck. Video could be played forward and backward at will, and these manipulations could be recorded on to a second machine. The scratch video movement re-appropriated and re-contextualised propaganda footage from file as well as taped television broadcast footage. By creating a fast cutting repetitive montage with juxtaposed imagery a new era in video manipulation was born. MTV style broadcasting (which fore grounded production with a seemingly slip shod fast paced format) and the newly born music video would run with this punk take on television. Rik Landers of legendary scratch duo ‘The Duvet Brothers’ defines the scratch aesthetic;

“Scratch was about raw critique of the meaning given to the footage we plundered. The lies on TV news were so blatant and the scratch technique enabled us to expose the lie and reveal the true meaning within by repetition and juxtaposition.”

In the early days of video art, works were referred to as ‘tapes’, as a pointed differentiation from ‘films’. Currently digital works maintain a physical presence on DVD disks and digital videotapes but the digital image, immaterial in transit, is increasingly a format-less medium, one that permanently exists doubly as an archived and directly playable file. Digital media in particular, with this format-less state and its encryption algorithms, appears especially capable of locking out creative manipulation of the ‘medium’. When John Cage said, “The methods of industrialism displace the handicrafts” he couldn’t have predicted the extent to which video, and later digital media could displace the ability of the artisan to change and manipulate media on a handcrafted level.

According to Nicky Hamlyn the ‘revenge of technocracy’ has limited creative physical intervention. True media specific deconstruction such as the workmanlike investigations of film that personified such structuralist movements as the London Film Makers Co-op and the manipulation of analogue video signals by video artists through custom electronic devices have been supplanted to a large degree by those who are able to manipulate the digital medium through code and software, those artist/scientists whom Paul Virillio hopes will fight the good fight for aesthetic control over the machine.

“Here we are in a domain which is wonderful, but only provided that we fight against it. It’s Jacobs wrestling match against the angel. We must not lie down before the machine, we have to fight….This is an anti-idolatry fight. …I am waiting on those Jacobs who will wrestle with the machines, who will explode the software. But not in order to destroy the software”

According to Virillio these are the people who can “dismantle the system to appropriate it” in the struggle to not be dominated by what Sean Cubitt calls embedded “patterns of textural production which the medium seems to demand”. In other words a particular medium and its mode of recording and playback subjects each user to the same limitations and so defines characteristics of the imagery. Rodowick calls this stamp “a historically and culturally determined aesthetic purpose that is relatively independent of individual intentions.”31 The digital realm threatens a total control over a medium, and the lure of glitch shows that the mistake, the error, is attractive on one level as a sign that the machine can be manipulated and coerced creatively. The wall of code and codec leaves many outside but the speed of information flow via the internet ensures that techniques and artworks are shared at a rate never before equalled or imagined. However Virillio’s utopian vision of a noble stand against the digital machine too easily glosses over the lingering traces of previous media concomitant with current technology, as well as recording devices that sacrifice image quality for convenience of portability. Second hand and aged technology considered below current standards and defined ‘industrial quality’ zones co-exist with compact personal devices capable of recording low-resolution video. A recent news report relayed how it was almost automatic for plane passengers to record any in-flight drama. The unreality of the situation, the report seemed to suggest, somehow needed reinforcement by the action of recording video, as if video itself offered some legitimacy to the experience. Jean Baudrillard notes that Benjamin, in “The Work of Art in the Mechanical Age”, already strongly pointed out this “modern revolution in the order of production (of reality, of meaning) by the precession, the anticipation of its reproduction”. In June 2005 dominant media channels displayed, in very low resolution, mobile phone video footage of the dramatic events of the London Tube Bombings. The jagged edges of the highly compressed video defined the raw immediacy of the images taken seconds after bombs exploded. This raw effect would be labelled as ‘glitch’ by video broadcast engineers, and the inability to shoot high quality video on a camera phone could be viewed as a design limitation enforced by the manufacturer. Of course, a camera phone is never intended for the shooting of video for broadcast yet the aesthetic leakage, the enculturation, of this imagery into visual cultures, especially that of broadcast news, via such dramatic events where TV audiences crave any image above none, creates an acceptance of the personal as ‘professional’ and an ownership of the ‘professional’ by the consumer.

Sean Cubitt notes that lower quality and older media gain new life in cultural institutions such as community centres and public media organizations. Conversely, Lovejoy notes the tendency for government funding agencies to support ‘new’ art created by new technologies often beyond the finances of artists without funding, noting that in this situation “Through coercion, or cooptation the art work might be used as a toll to maintain institutional values rather than as a means of questioning them.” This obviously creates a barrier to artists and art forms whose work uses recycled media – a dynamic perhaps of artist against institutional forces. These associations with grass roots community, artist-led enquiry and inflation of personal-media-as-public-broadcast contribute greatly to an appraisal of the low-resolution, lower quality image as, at some level, a currency of honesty. David Humphrey notes this “crudity is understood as directness”. Low-resolution imagery and low quality imagery – i.e. those inflected with glitch, has great currency in digital media as signifiers of the real.

Yvonne Spielmann sees the major power of digital media as one of transformation. The ability to manipulate complex imagery in realtime greater defines video as a medium and creates “an openness toward systems, co-creative interaction with machines and the convergence of media forms on a level of higher complexity”. The digital realm, then, doesn’t swallow whole all that has come before but exists in a symbiotic relationship – feeding and being fed by other forms of media with the glitch as mulch and saliva, where eventually the recognisable technical limits of previous media become organs in the body of digital aesthetics. The convergence of media from many eras of motion pictures are made possible by digital technology and the technical archaeology that many artists undertake whether intentionally or not, is one that is reclaiming and re-contextualising media from the relentless forces of capitalist development. The glitch certainly maintains a constant presence, a continually reminder of the power of the new, existing as a by-product and a discovery as a result of these forces.

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A History of the Glitch

Each generation of electronic visual media technology brings new modes of recording, delivery and display and each of these modes offer extensions of the language of aesthetic expression available to the artist. Media artists often experiment by modifying hardware and software, creating new combinations of technological components and often creating imagery under conditions never imagined by the designers and makers of these components through deliberate error and misuse, pushing devices and media to record, translate and playback in ways engineers and designers had never intended them to. By placing part of the creative process outside of their control artists seek to involve an element of chance and ‘the happy accident’ or ‘glitch’ in their works. ‘Glitch’, meaning malfunction or error was first used in writing in ‘Into Orbit’ (1962) by American Astronaut John Glenn to describe technical problems during space missions. In his words “a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit which takes place when the circuit suddenly has a new load put on it…A glitch is such a minute change in voltage that no fuse could protect against” (OED Online8) Initially a technical term, glitch then went on to being a catchall term for an error or malfunction in equipment and a hitch in processes. The OED9 indicates the word may also appear to have origins in the German word ‘glitschen’ (to slide or slip) and so it is possible that the large number of German scientists and technicians recruited by the U.S. military in the post war period and subsequently working at NASA introduced this word to the aerospace vernacular. The word entered the lexicon through media coverage of the American space program. Time Magazine’s need to define the word no doubt indicated that use of the word was by 1965 becoming more commonplace either in print or in television sound bites out of NASA mission control. The brief, clipped militaristic nature of NASA communications perhaps also contributed to the use of ‘glitch’ in Astronaut communications. Transmissions so often marred by dropouts in transmission strength and static used many shortened and abbreviated words that for strict clarity also avoided synonyms and homonyms. The numerals 5 and 9 were made less alike in sound by adding an ‘er’ sound to create ‘niner’, for example. Subsequent appropriation in the early 1990’s as a title for an experimental music genre simply called ‘Glitch’ could further emphasise the distinct connection between the onomatopoeic properties of the word itself and the clipped sounds generated by digital noise and other sonic artefacts native to digital media. As a music genre, “Glitch is characterized by a preoccupation with the sonic artefacts that can result from malfunctioning digital technology, such as those produced by bugs, crashes, system errors, hardware noise, CD skipping, and digital distortion.”10 In the last 15 years the term ‘glitch’ has come to mean as much a malfunction or error in proceedings, perhaps because many public services (including audio and/or visual media and

7 Time Magazine citation initially sighted in Modra, Iman (2004) Glitsch Aesthetics, University of Huddersfield 8 http://www.oedonline.com Oxford English Dictionary Online 9 Oxford English Dictionary (2006) Oxford University Press, UK 10 Gascone, Kim (2004) Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music pp393

6communications) are provided and managed by digital hardware. In terms of the production of visual media ‘Glitch’ has come to mean “an error or undesired artefact in audio visual media arising from software or hardware manipulation”. The practice of ‘Glitching’ in the video gaming world involves exploiting a loophole or a programming error for gain within a game world. These glitches in game construction also often allow the player to move or see beyond the structures intended for game play.

As the popularity and ubiquity of the Internet and bandwidth continues to expand the ease and economy of displaying short personal video works through visual databases of audiovisual material such as vimeo.com and youtube.com becomes increasingly familiar to more people. The revolution that Walter Benjamin recognised in the ability to reproduce artworks in print (“Artists could now contemplate and study the works of their international contemporaries at close range, in the comfort of their studios”11) has intensified incredibly through rapidly increasing means of electronic data transfer. This global accessibility of video has made possible a vast growing online presence of people creating works through the use of filters and hardware in such a way as to deliberately manipulate and experiment with the aesthetics of the glitch. The instantaneous sharing and appreciation of these works, the “unprecedented plastic universe” that Felix Guattari in 1992 foresaw could result in a post- media reawakening through “a reappropriation and resingularisation of the use of media”12 can only serve to intensify the use of glitch by visual artists and thus the enculturation of errors as ultimately humanising effects and signs.

A search on ‘glitch’ in these online visual databases shows an appreciation in underground video culture of the glitch in digital and analogue video media. Filters, patches and plugins that emulate analogue video glitches, VJs whose work consists entirely of glitched video signal only, music videos that appropriate experimental techniques and a continued use in main stream screen media of the glitch as a signifier of the era, and even as a narrative prop are all aspects of the continuing birth and rebirth of the glitch.

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The Glitch as readymade: Bricolage

“A digital artwork may be part scanned photograph, part computer synthesized shaded perspective and part electronic “painting” – all smoothly melded into an apparently coherent whole. It may be fabricated from found files, disk litter and the detritus of cyberspace. Digital images give meaning and value to computational ready-mades by appropriation, transformation, reprocessing, and recombination: we have entered the age of electrobricolage” William Mitchell

In 1915 at the Armory Gallery New York exhibition Marcel Duchamp, using the pseudonym ‘R. Mutt’, anonymously entered a urinal renamed ‘fountain’, for entry into an open exhibition. Though not allowed to be a part of the show (although Duchamp, as part of the selection committee, argued for the inclusion of ‘Mutt’s’ work) the work caused a storm, many arguments arose and the definition of art was altered forever. Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades’ represented a pointed argumentative question – if a mass-produced urinal, selected but not crafted by the artist, could be art then could not art be anything, any object at anytime?

John Cage’s Avant-garde work ‘4’33”’ is a work in three movements, each comprising complete silence. The piece, composed for any instrument, was first performed on piano in 1953 in Woodstock, NY. The pianist sat in silence, acknowledging the movements by opening and closing the lid of the piano. During the performance the ‘readymade’ sounds of the ambient environment, wind, rain and chatter of the Music Hall that the work was performed in delighted Cage. In the flowering of experimentation throughout the 20th Century, Cage’s composition was as significant an event in music as was Duchamp’s ‘Urinal’ in visual art. Both artists made it clear that the traditions of art, previously limited to the gesture or singular genius of a skilled artisan, were being eroded by the noise and light of wide spread industrialization in the modern world.

If Cage’s appreciation of the minutiae of the concert hall’s ambience was a lesson in ‘sound as music’ then the hiss and pop of low ambient static native to the recording studio and the internal workings of its machines is now re-defined as an analogous but nonetheless new space inside a computer. Glitch music is a sub-genre of electro acoustic music that grew popular as the Internet became accessible to artists. The relatively small size of sound files enabled file swapping, sharing and broadcasting and assisted the “post modern inclination to mix styles and genre including historically disparate styles”. The ability to sample and sequence sounds means that the newly discovered glitch always has potential as an instrument – a loud induced “Pop!” as a drum sound, or a hiss of distorted static for a cymbal, for example. The advent of digital sampling has its roots partly in the manual sampling of so-called drum ‘breaks’ on vinyl records that turntablists of the late 1970s and 1980s used: isolating and repeating these short sections of a song on a turntable and simultaneously blending them with other records to create hitherto unheard tracks. Playing only certain sections of a record “Many of the ideas and methods from early vinyl sampling were reconfigured into digital sampling once that technology became available, especially at affordable prices.”

Born at the advent of digital sound editing, Glitch music has its cultural and theoretical roots in musique concrete; a form of music that uses sound that is abstracted from its source as a compositional resource mostly using recording and playback manipulation techniques. In common with musique concrete, source material and instrumentation used is not restricted to the sound produced by musical instruments or voices and can include manipulated recordings. Time-stretching vocals and reducing drum loops to grainy 8 bit fidelity to induce distortion were some of the first techniques used to create artefacts for their timbrel qualities. The experiments and works of Musique Concrete composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Edgar Varese, Pierre Schaeffer and John Cage made use of the electronic instruments and technologies that were available to them in their era. In addition to the idea that “noise is music” as expounded by Luigi Russolo in his ‘Art of Noises’ manifesto in 1917 (which saw the sounds of the industrial era as a new phenomena, of sound as music) was later expanded by Cage to include all sound, even the relative silence of a performance hall (4’33”). So the error, or sounds that signify error or even the intrinsic trace artifacts of media have an enormous popularity for experimentation.

The contemporary composer is nowadays surrounded by electronic hardware capable of manipulation of sonic nuances and characteristics on a micro level. The sounds produced by malfunctioning devices, the pops and distortions produced as sound gear is turning on, the crackle in a signal as voltage fades or fluctuates, the sound of a needle dropping into a groove, digital files corrupted by misuse or damaged storage are all sources for glitch music.

The current development of video glitch culture through direct sharing of knowledge and aesthetics can be compared to that of the Glitch music culture in the early 1990s when sound files were swapped and sampled over the Internet. The increase in bandwidth has allowed video sampling, sharing and exhibition over the last 3 years to increase rapidly. Sampling often involves the collection of media from different generations of video technology. In the process of collecting the glitched aspects of the media are able to hitch hike as an appealing texture for the palette of an artist.

‘The Gleaners and I’ (2000) is a documentary by French filmmaker Agnes Varda that covers in detail a personal view of the history and nature of gleaning. Historically, gleaning was a practice occurring in 18th century France when the poor would meticulously comb recently harvested fields for left over turnips, potatoes or stems of wheat. Varda interviews various contemporary individuals in rural and urban France as they work with discarded objects and ideas and the political and moral implications of using something considered by most as trash or discarded as out-of-date. Her own practices as a film maker and documentary maker are revealed in the film – a sort of meta-documentation of what it means to be a bricoluer – a term given to one whose artistic practise derives mainly from tinkering, meddling and modifying available technology and discards to suit their own needs. In examining her own practise Varda brings to light the very personal nature that bricolage takes on for each bricoluer. The very act of cobbling together items of technology that are specifically available to each artist in a personal way is perhaps the first step in ensuring that each artist will create unique works. Each piece of hardware and each set of software implies a mode of production (and a specific mode of glitch) – and that effect is lessened when an eccentric array of production tools and processes are assembled, patched, cobbled together, in a variety of ways as to subvert any over arching effect on the outcome by any particular tool. Many video artists, however, do have a tendency to work with more than one item of equipment – especially those whose practice is based more in textures than in the figurative image. The practice of adding pieces of equipment and various modes of image production together, which William Mitchell, calls ‘electrobricolage’, means that the possibilities for the glitch to exist are multiplied. Electrobricolage creates a present tense in which multiple modes of technologies may co-exist and overlap in chronology. By cobbling together new image producing ‘machines’ the artist creates new combinations of uncertainty – the conditions in which glitch thrives. Creative improvisation with available objects allows what Carl Rhodes calls a “transfer across cultural domains of objects and artefacts as part of identity formation processes” The disembodied piecemeal nature of open source software allows a greater speed of transfer of ideas. The readymade nature of the glitch – the glitch as instant art, is investigated with a sense of irony in the work of programmer/artist Sven Koenig – his instant video art P2P (peer to peer) website82 neatly automates the repurposing of found footage (Koenig classifies video downloaded from p2p websites as found footage). The error correction softwares built into many digital communications systems become fertile ground for many artists and Koenig recognised a trend in digital codec error – largely created by errors in motion compensated prediction systems used in mpeg video.

Motion compensated prediction uses motion estimation to predict the content of parts of the current image by attempting to find, in a reference picture the image fragments that correspond to image fragments in the picture currently being encoded. Koenig’s ‘Download- completed’ requires the user to upload a digital video file in an mpeg codec associated with video files transferred online (DivX, MPEG2, H264 and others). The video file is then processed and filtered through Koenig’s custom software to simulate the image degradation that occurs during the playback of mpeg files that are partially corrupted by incomplete or incorrect copying or download. Here Koenig is subverting the sign of glitch as communication that has been broken – a ‘lost signal’. Koenig’s technique creates a ready made temporal collage through digital automatism. By alluding to the way that double exposure created superimposition in film Koenig is reminding us of the fragile nature of the image as code. The artefacts produced by this process take on the signs attributed to nitrate film decay and the artefact itself ‘stars’ in the film, a virus-like by product of Hollywood’s obsession with copy protection.

The feature film ‘Decasia’ (2002) showcases rotting and decaying nitrate-based films from the early years of motion picture production. An unsettling mesmeric score sets the tone for a sequence of shots with no apparent binding narrative. A slow pan through a motion picture film manufacturing plant is capped with a hand dipping into a vat to touch the film. A Sufi dancer twirls in slow motion. Traffic bustles through a nameless metropolis. Soon, however, the intrusion of decay looms as a filmic element and the long dead unknown actors often seem to interact with, and be affected by, fluttering and boiling textures that make us very aware of film’s mortality. ‘Film Ist 7-12’ (2002) travels a similar aesthetic path, especially in the chapter entitled ‘Magic’ where the alchemy of nitrate film decomposition melds with trick photography. The elevation to high art of these undead artefacts from the wake of media development illustrates an appreciation for the physical nature of film-image as lost world, the image as mortal, the image as reality.

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Nostalgia and Kitsch: The Glitch as ugly duckling

‘The History of Art is simply a history of getting rid of the ugly, by entering into it, and using it. John Cage

Taiwan is a fast changing country, one of Asia’s so called ‘Tiger economies’. At the time of my first visit to Taiwan in 1997 there was a large problem with theft of scooters and bicycles. Many owners would resort to ‘theft proofing’ their bike with the application of an ugly polka dot paint job, hastily splashed on, that drastically reduced the attractiveness of their rides to would-be thieves. On a later trip in 2006 I noted an absence of this anti-theft device and locals confirmed that this paintwork was now in fact a rare sight. While shopping for a bicycle I saw a designer’s homage to this era of DIY protection – a 2007 model with a blotchy polka dot paint job carefully rendered in high gloss. I’m unable to definitively state what the designer’s intention was but it appeared an effect previously regarded as ugly was appropriated and recycled as a ‘cool’ design.

‘Kitsch’ had its early beginnings as a term used to describe trite and crass, mass-produced art heavy in melodrama and emotion, ‘art characterised by worthless pretentiousness’. Prominent art theorist Clement Greenberg saw kitsch as a result of the machine age and the era of mass production. Ease of production and a disconnection from cultural sources had produced an empty art form, an “ersatz culture”, one that overstates themes with nauseous superficiality and containing no profound meaning. In order for ‘kitsch’ to exist, says Greenberg there must exist a “fully matured cultural tradition” from which signs and technique can be plundered, usually in low quality mass-produced knock offs. Kitsch reproduces the most obvious signs to deliver “vicarious experience and faked sensations”. In other words Kitsch promises cheap thrills as a hollow shell of “genuine art”. While not Greenberg’s ‘genuine art’ the original splatter paintwork, like many styles of street art and graffiti, enters public consciousness. As a signifier of a particular era in Taiwan’s history – when rustic pragmatism overruled concerns of fashion and appearance, the reproduction splatter paintwork is, like most kitsch, loaded with nostalgia.

The cultures of ‘Punk’, ‘Street’ and ‘Grunge’ are heavily imbued with a DIY aesthetic. When blended with nostalgia through marketing, they are signs that give the consumer access to cultural cache involving ‘rebellion’, ‘individualism’ and ‘risk-taking’ without having to actually engage in any such real action. The glossy splattered-painted scooter is presented as a sign (which may well trigger nostalgic associations) that the consumer is buying as well as a mode of transport.

To Celeste Olalquiaga, kitsch represents the “decayed crystallization of an imaginary experience”. As a residual aspect of cultures gone by, the experience of kitsch is one of a vicarious venture into a mythical world that nonetheless resonates in the present.

From the time of the French revolution until the late 19th century, ‘follies’ – elaborately constructed garden settings in which ruins were simulated – were a popular attempt to grasp onto previous greatness in the face of rapid technological and societal change. The ‘follie’ was a sign of “historical transformation at a moment when the speed of events disabled such temporal perception”.

In terms of ‘Moore’s Law’ of computer development the 8-bit technology of the 1980’s is now ancient history for many of the artist/programmers who literally grew up with those games. Home video games produced in the 1980’s, for platforms such as the Atari 2600 or Commodore 64, operated on ‘8 bit’ graphics systems. The limited processing power of the computer chips within the games led designers to work with a low resolution and the crudity of the sprites in these early home video games was far removed from the seductive airbrushed artwork on their box covers. The 8-bit graphics memory limited palettes to a maximum of 256 on-screen colours at any time and led to a sometimes noticeably heavy stepping between tones and colours.

Aside from the more heavy handed DIY aspects of circuit bending – where hardware is rewired or permanently altered to produce a real time visual instrument, the coding knowledge within 8 bit games system, ‘as they are’ has become available to the wider community. The current level of knowledge in online communities and forums means that the technology within these games is one that is available for deconstruction and experimentation a practice also known as ‘glitching’. A virtual simulation of the process of circuit bending allows technology from the 1980’s to blend effortlessly with current day creative tendencies. The Blip Festival in New York, 2008;

“…aims to showcase emerging creative niches involving the use of legacy video game & home computer hardware as modern artistic instrumentation. Devices such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Nintendo Game Boy and others are repurposed into the service of original, low-res, high-impact electronic music and visuals — sidestepping game culture and instead exploring the technology’s untapped potential and distinctive intrinsic character.”

The “distinctive intrinsic character” and apparent nostalgia for video games of the 1980’s means that the beautiful simulated ruins of dead media are respectfully resurrected. These ‘glitchers’ engage in a playful interaction with and mastery of early consumer-level technology and control over machine language.

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