Practicum: Glitching Files

Glitch Text and Audio Practicum

Hi everyone 🙂 I hope you all had a nice spring break! This practicum project made me realize how little I actually understand about computers. I went into this practicum thinking it would be easy, but it was in fact more difficult than I expected and I fully had to watch a YouTube tutorial on how to change a file extension which was the first step of glitching. Anyways if I can figure it out, so can you!

         Okay so, the main takeaway from Trevor’s article was that knowing and understanding the functional structures and tools can help you better understand how your computer works and what is going on that you can’t necessarily see. Basically, that by glitching image or audio files you can begin to understand the structures and tools in your computer. Digital objects are made up of bits with encoded information that software is designed to read. By breaking down these digital objects we can see how the computer understands the objects and what the tools were designed to do and not do. Pretty neat!  

         With images, the data files are meant to be viewed in a certain way. When you download an image, it is saved in a .jpeg format. For example, it would look like this

a picture of my sister Molly and my friend Emily eating subway in Budapest.

If you edit the file extension from .jpeg to .txt you can see the text data of the photo, but it looks like complete nonsense to me.

Once you open the text in TextEdit on a Mac or Notepad on a PC you can edit the text or delete the text to change the output/visual image. Also, here is the YouTube link for the tutorial on how to change a file extension

Once I changed the file to a .txt file I started deleting text. I had to delete a lot of text to make a difference though! After you make the edits/delete the text the last thing you have to do is convert the .txt file back into a .jpeg file and it’s all done! It’s kind of fun too! The photo below is the glitched photo.

         Another way to do this is with an mp3 file. The process is very similar to image glitching. Once the audio file is downloaded it will show up as an .mp3 file and you can change it to a .txt file he same way you would change a ,jpeg to a .txt file.

When you open the file in TextEdit you can delete some text the same way you would for images and convert the file back into a .mp3 after and you have a glitched file! There is less to show in this process but I glitched “For the Sake of the Song” by Townes van Zandt and will play the original and the glitched file in class on Wednesday so you can hear it!

I hope this was helpful 🙂 – Emma

7 Replies to “Practicum: Glitching Files”

  1. Emma, thanks for the great introduction into glitching. I’m excited to hear more about it in class on Wednesday. I am admittedly computer-naïve, so all of this is very new to me. What exactly is the point of glitching? Why is it something that we should know how to do, and what purposes does it serve?

    1. Hi Molly! thank you for the questions! From my understanding, glitching is one way to learn more about the systems and tools in computers. Essentially learning why computers do certain things certain ways. By breaking down tools and codes we can learn how to better use and create on computers. At least that’s what I understood from the reading! It has also grown into an art form that puts out some really interesting and cool pieces. The last section of Trevor’s article, “Essentialism?” provides a good example of how historians can use glitching as a tool. Glitching in one way can be used to read digital materials against the grain!

      Here are two quotes that I found particularly helpful and can probably explain it better than I can. They are long though!
      1. “In the video, artist Scott Fitzgerald  gives the following concise argument for the value of glitching, or breaking copies of digital files on purpose.“Part of the process is empowering people to understand the tools and underlying structures, you know what is going on in the computer. As soon as you understand the system enough to know why you’re breaking it then you have a better understanding of what the tool was built for.”
      2. “The heart of the critique is that digital objects aren’t just what they appear to be when they are rendered by a particular piece of software in a particular configuration. They are, at their core, bits of encoded information on media. While that encoded information may have one particular intended kind of software to read or present the information we can learn about the encoded information in the object by ignoring how we are supposed to read it. We can change a file extension and read against the intended way of viewing the object. This might seem like a rather academic point, however, I think it suggests the value of understanding the integrity of digital objects not simply as “looking right” in one particular reading out to the screen. In many cases, the integrity of the objects is something that can be expressed through a range of software enabled readings of it.”

  2. Hi Emma! Thank you for this very helpful guide to glitching. I had never heard of it and am also kind of confused about the point of why this should be done. Also, the fact that this can happen kind of scares the historian in me because what happens if the glitched photo is the only version saved in an archive and the original is never retrieved? It could leave out huge context clues about a source. Do you know if there was a way to revert these files? Thanks!!

    1. Hi McKenna! So I’m going to answer part of your question in another comment below, but here I will answer you question about reverting and retrieving files. So in my very very limited experience glitching files the files I glitched were new files. So the original was saved and a new one is created that is glitched. So I have access to both the original and glitched. I’m not sure if this is the case with everything though! I think the question about a glitched file being the only saved in an archive is a really good question, and honestly I don’t have a good answer. I think it’s definitely possible for a glitched file to be separated from its original file and lose its context there but I don’t know how often it would/will happen in an archival setting. I think for art purposes that probably happens a lot and is less problematic from a history standpoint. I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer for you but I’m curious if anyone else has more thoughts!

  3. Emma, very nice tutorial! I also have the same questions everyone else has on glitching: what is the purpose? The only purpose I can think of is “for the aesthetic,” but I am not sure historians would want distorted photos to analyze or put on display in museums.

  4. Thanks for the great explanation about glitching files. Is there a particular reason why someone would want to glitch visual or audio files? I guess the only reason I can think of is for artistic purposes. I also had a thought about the legal aspects of this. If someone takes an image that does not belong to them and then glitches it to create a new image, at what point does the new picture created legally become theirs? Are there any examples of this?

  5. Hi Emma! This is a great guide on how to glitch files! I knew about glitching photo files before but had never heard of glitching audio files. Other than for aesthetic purposes, I was wondering if you knew any other reason why one would want to glitch their files? I think that it is super interesting that computers even allow for files to be edited in this way, especially because it seems like an easy way for important data to be lost.

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