Glitching Audio

Hi friends! I hope everyone is hanging in there during these unprecedented times. Please be sure to check in with yourself and your mental health, practice all the good hygiene, get plenty of rest, and stay informed/vigilant. I am so disappointed that we will not be finishing the semester together; however, I look forward to communicating with all of you via this blog. Please stay in touch and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need somebody to talk to/are having a rough day. See below some excellent advice–from a former teacher of mine–about coping with COVID-19-induced stress/anxiety:

We could all use some Baby Yoda in our lives right now, am I right? Please begin by viewing the below video I put together–a Baby Yoda-inspired song will make an appearance! The video is intended to mirror our normal practicum experience in-class: it introduces the practice of glitching audio and provides a brief tutorial for the novice glitcher. (Please let me know in the comments if you have problems accessing the video!)

LINK TO PRACTICUM VIDEO

A quick recap from the video, as I rambled on a bit longer than intended:

  • Glitching is inherently against the grain–it is a practice that embraces imperfection, encourages degradation, and fundamentally alters a digital object purposefully.
  • Glitching necessitates listening to/looking at a digital object in a way that challenges its creator’s intentions.
  • Glitching audio is time-consuming. I could see myself spending hours upon hours on this stuff. Is there a sufficient return on the time it takes to glitch audio? Can we justify it as practice of the digital humanities?

I conjunction with the assigned readings for this week, one could make a fairly strong argument in the affirmative. Kirschenbaum argues that the “black box” of digital media is storage and the interplay between forensic and formal materiality. In glitching, we see storage as a primary determinant; capacious hard drives allow us to glitch and experiment with a variety of file types–MP3, RAW, and TXT to name a few. Indeed, materiality applies to glitching too: imperfect audio adds to a landscape of idiosyncratic digital objects, and glitching challenges the notion of screen essentialism. In other words, when we glitch, we embrace the iterative nature of our field. We embrace the notion that digital objects can be interpreted against the grain; degraded and recreated to create new meanings.

The readings address other questions too: what, exactly, is a digital object? How do contending notions of the term analog portend how digital media histories will be written? What and who decides that some digital formats are of a higher quality, thus deeming them sustainable and functional going forward? In all of these questions, we see a common theme: the digital humanities–public history included–are an iterative field. Many scholars–whether theorists or practioners–are going beyond the face value of digital objects to reconfigure meaning and draw the field toward new directions.

As emerging historians, public historians, and/or college graduates in general who will soon tackle the real world, we can all learn something from glitchers. In theory, glitching is intimately connected with materiality, file formatting, and going against the grain of surface level interpretation. In practice, glitchers welcome imperfection and failure.

I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Am I reading too far into the practical applications of glitching? For those of you enrolled in practicum (I know, even mentioning it makes me stressed too), does the iterative/imperfect nature of glitching mirror how we should be interacting with our communities? How might museums, historic sites, digital media blogs, etc. utilize glitching to engage the public? Does glitching as a pretty popular sub-genre of electronic music provide interdisciplinary/popular culture opportunities for historians?

Until next time:

AND

6 Replies to “Glitching Audio”

  1. First of all, I loved your post. Your gifs made me giggle and I really appreciate it.

    Secondly, I don’t think you are reading too far into the applications. When I was working on my practicum post for glitching images I kept on thinking about the importance and function of language. The images in Trevor’s post are a fascinating way to think about audio. In some ways, we are able to hear the garbled image we know as a .jpg. When we look at audio as .txt we are able to gain important information from the code. Sure, most of it is nonsense, but when we apply the concept of looking at the text of audio to more complex sets of data we find loads of information. I was totally blown away by the Criminal Code article and how there is a tendency to promote or erase history in the code of video games. This is why understanding the language of code is important! We have to understand what we are working with not only to have a grasp on how it functions, but why and what it’s motivators are.

    I went down The Art of Glitch rabbit hole and couldn’t help but notice how beautiful (and seizure inducing…) the art was! I think the existential questioning of what IS data and what IS an image. Personally, it’s all language. (OMG. Am I a code person now….?)

    I guess I could also go on a tangent about how people think differently. Perhaps thinking about language and sound in this way allows us to take a peek into how people with Autism may perceive the world around them. It is all the same information, just presented in a different format! We just need to be able to translate it into a format each individual can interpret.

  2. Jack,

    You honestly went above and beyond with your post! I really appreciated the video tutorial especially since we got to hear from you and Baby Yoda of course. I also agree with what Ani said about you not reading too much into the usefulness of glitching. I think when we hear the word glitching it’s seen as a negative term falling into the same types of categories as words like “corrupting” images. But I think with your video and your post you showed that glitching can be used as a helpful tool, especially with audio, to help historians. Maybe it could function as increasing audio quality of oral histories or speeches? By “glitching” them you could add effects to the file and ultimately make them more accessible files in making them clearer or more easily understood.

  3. Hi Jack, thank you so much for your truly impressive practicum! It was incredibly entertaining, but also encouraged me to think about your question of whether “glitching as a pretty popular sub-genre of electronic music provide[s] interdisciplinary/popular culture opportunities for historians?” Because glitching is intended to be imperfect or counter to the standard, it seems that this process could be usefully analyzed with a cultural lens. In the same way countercultures have developed throughout history in response to what is seen as the contemporary dominant culture–i.e., the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 70s in an effort to move away from cities, away from capitalist society, etc–glitching was developed (or rather, leveraged) as a tool for going against dominant music culture. Indeed, such a bold move had to be grounded in some sort of commentary on the culture at large and why it needed to be upended. And for the artists who have made their careers off of glitched music, was the decision to adopt these methods one of aesthetic interest? Social activism? Coming to terms with the late-20th century world? All of this is to say that the ways in which digital tools or “errors” like glitching are used by the broader society offers insight into the people and broader culture of the time.

  4. Thanks for such an informative, uplifting post, Jack! I have to admit, when I first heard we’d be reading and learning about glitching I thought… what’s the point? (And not just because I’m thinking that about everything these days.) But, your post and its deep questions have gotten me to thinking about how glitching can be important for historians and just PEOPLE trying to embrace imperfection and failure. As Carmen said, and as you bring up at the end of your post, from a historical standpoint I think it’s interesting to see how people are using glitching to create counter cultures and counter narratives. But, larger than that, I think we can all learn from glitching (especially in these difficult times) that imperfection and failure are okay and, actually, quite valuable.

  5. Way to raise the bar with a video in your post! Also, great to hear your voice. Really missing the chance to see everybody. Y’all are such a great class.

    Great walk through of glitching. Also great to draw in that broader context of the history of glitch as a movement.

    Also great to see you drawing connections out to Mechanisms. I think a big part of what glitch shows us is the central point he is getting at in talking about screen essentialism. All you need to do to escape screen essentialism is start to break your files and see what you learn about them. It’s really important to see that when you changed that file to have a .txt extension and opened it you saw that metadata up at the top. Significantly, you didn’t edit the file, you edited it’s extension which functions as instructions for what viewer your operating system should use. So it tried a text editor and it looked like a mess, but inside that file there was encoded text, so the text editor could render that for you to view. This is not fundamentally different from what Matt does in Mechanisms with the Hex editor and Mystery House.

    Thanks for this post!

  6. Jack! Great, great, great post. I really appreciate the work you put in, especially taking the time to create the video. There really is something helpful about watching somebody interact with the platform while explaining it.

    Glitching audio in this way creates a whole new way for people to assert their agency in fact creation. Obviously, this is a dangerous and useful thing, but it is interesting nonetheless. How can glitching empower people to create their own narratives? What do these exercises tell us about the people who created them? What do they tell us about the environment they were created?

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