Back in 2012, our fearless leader Professor Owens wrote this cool blog post explaining why glitching digital objects can give us a deeper understanding of their value and how to break them down.
As he observed, digital objects are encoded bits of information on some sort of medium designed for a software that can read it. But, if we play with those bits of information and break those digital objects down a bit, we can grasp a better understanding of the objects internal structure, how the computer understands it, and what the original object was meant for.
There are three ways to break down and alter digital files to give us a more multidimensional, ‘non-essentialist’ read of digital objects.
First you can alter an mp3. or wav. file that you either previously had on your computer or downloaded online and alter its file extension to .txt. I did this with both a mp3. of an Oral History audio I have from a few years back and then I tried it with the track “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” from Hamilton the Musical.
You can then try and alter the same file from a .txt to a .raw file which should give you a pixelated image of what the audio looks like. If you do this for .wav and mp3 files you should see a noticeable difference and get a feel for patterns in the data. However, my Macbook for some unexplainable reason can not read these files once I change them to the .raw format. No matter what files I altered to this format I got the same error notice.
I used both the Preview application and IPhoto apps on my Mac and got the same notice both times. I’m not sure if it’s just an issue with my Mac or Mac in general, but I’m hoping one of my co-practicum bloggers can give you a better idea of what this looks like. If not you can get a glimpse of it in Prof. Owens blog here.
My Mac did however allow me to try out the third glitching technique, which is to take a digital image in .jpg format and change its file extension to .txt remove some of the info, revert it back to .jpg and open it back up to see how your changes altered the image.
The images below are the original and two glitched versions of a photo of the narrator I interviewed a few years ago.
By looking at these glitched files we can see how the original file was damaged by removing or altering its original data. We can also see how the image was intended to be viewed and how the data works to produce it and what happens when some of it is taken away.
In conclusion, glitching is really cool because it helps us read objects “against the grain” if you will– to see the digital object from multiple dimensions and perspectives to better understand it. It’s also just kind of fun and has led to some new pathways in the creation of digital art.
But to all my digital humanitarians out there, what do you think we can stand to learn from glitching digital artifacts and how might we use this technique in our work?