[-empyre-] glitch device/divide

Rosa Menkman rosa_menkman at hotmail.com
Thu Dec 8 16:47:25 EST 2011

Maybe at this point this long text is appropriate.
the footnotes won't copy, but if you are interested you can find them here

From Passive Appropriation Or ‘Pure Glitch Art’ To Active, ‘Post-procedural Glitch Art’

When all is said, what remains to be said is the disaster. Ruin of words, demise of writing, faintness faintly murmuring: what remains without remains (the fragmentary).
Maurice Blanchot 

At a most basic level, glitch artists can challenge the standard mode of operation of a system by appropriating glitches that are spawned (partially or completely) by production processes. Typically, these glitches are encountered accidentally and often unstable (both in their process and in terms of results), which means that the artist has to somehow capture the glitch, in order to appropriate and present it to his audience. An example of this first kind of glitch art is an image by Greg J. Smith. The image shows a Mac interface going haywire for no understandable reason. Although the image can be described as compelling or titillating in terms of aesthetics, the work does not signify more than what was captured in the first place: a broken computer interface. It is a passive capture of failure, sent off to an audience.

Another form of glitch art relies on errors within the production system that the artist actively triggers. These purposively triggered breaks from the flow are at least partially understood and can often be debugged. In this case the artist chooses to exploit a production system (the protocols built into the machines’ hard- and software), or the input that makes a system’s protocols behave in a particular way, or both. An example of this second category of glitch art is 5VOLTCORE. During their live performances, the men of 5VOLTCORE attack the computer with power interruptions from an audio signal, which produces short circuits that generate unexpected signals. This process tortures the machine and makes it scream out shreds of powerfully colored images, until the computer eventually dies, which ends the performance. In their performances, 5VOLTCORE take issue with the governing charge of the computer. Working in direct opposition to the computer’s procedural flow, actively overturning it, their aggressive glitches lead always to one fatal endpoint, rather than breaking open the future; they are not so invested in the generative qualities of post-procedural glitch. 

Post-procedural Glitch Art Or the Intentional Faux Pas 

A less aggressive and more ‘positive’ example of an intervention in machinic flow can be found in Gijs Gieskes’ work. Gieskes takes machines apart and changes their circuitry. Through circuit bending, he redefines the technology and its contents, penetrating and exploring the machine from the inside. First, he dismantles the system and then he deconstructs and re-appropriates it. One of his circuit bent machines, the Circuitbend Sega Megadrive2.2 (2007), consists of a Sega console with a modified circuit, actively transforming the videogame console into an autonomous video synthesising machine. 

Gieskes did not add any code to the chips or the videogame; he only changed the circuitry of the console. This means that the glitches that appear on the television screen were already part of the videogame’s software (the ROM); the generated visuals are readymade, manipulated appropriations of mass-produced objects. The look and feel of these videographic utterances is dependent on the technology inside the original machine. This introduces questions around the built-in aesthetics and conventional usage of the Circuitbend Sega Megadrive2.2. Gieskes’ work perverts a classical sense of aura, which according to Walter Benjamin, would be built upon unicity and authenticity. Contrarily, the Circuitbend Sega Megadrive2.2 doesn’t posses one particular ‘here and now’ Instead, the artwork is generated every time the machine is activated. Therefore, the aura is situated within the interpretations and context of the user or viewer and the changed technology of the machine. 

Another example of the intentional faux-pas, or glitch art that is in violation with accepted social norms and rules, is Untitled Game (1996-2001), a combined series of 11 modifications of the first person shooter game (FPS) Quake 1 by the Dutch/Belgium art duo Jodi. Jodi makes subversive glitch art that battles against the hegemonic flows of proprietary media systems. They work to reframe users’ or consumers’ perception of these systems. The duo’s work is often simultaneously politically provocative and confusing. This is partly because Jodi originally never prioritized attaching explanations to their work, but also because of the way in which their practice itself overturns generic expectations. They challenge the ideological aspects of proprietary design by misrepresenting existing relationships between specific media functionalities and the aesthetic experiences normally associated with them. 

In an online interview in 2006 I encouraged Dirk (di from Jodi) to break the duo’s silence around the description of their art. About the work Untitled Game, Dirk said:

Our point was to erase and make this other version of Quake and then deny [the Quake game] the name. […] to call it Untitled Game (meant) that it was just a prototype of any of these games that (consists of) these kind of standard construction elements and things you can do as a user. 

In Untitled Game, Jodi critically exploited errors in the source code of the original game. The glitches created by these modifications destabilize and alter the normal laws of physics, so that steering and shooting becomes unpredictable and illogically geared, while the sounds and designs of the game itself are also modified to surprise. By changing the algorithms that define the videogame’s playability, the game becomes seemingly ‘unplayable’, at least, according to what is expected as normal game-play. The game itself is not totally ruined; it actually functions quite well, albeit in a wholly non-Newtonian, visually nonsensical way that the FPS-player is not trained to be aware of, or competent with. In E1M1AP for instance, one of the 11 mods making up Untitled Game, Jodi used the gravity algorithm to create unsettling vortex effects, while in Ctrl-F6 the collective exploited anti-aliasing to create cubes filled with beautifully evolving moiré patterns. 
Untitled Game is an intentionally ruined videogame that questions conventional and normative videogame goals, for example, the aspiration of ‘self-improvement’, ‘competition’, and ‘winning’, all of which are naturally embedded in the software design codes of the games that dominate the videogame battlefield. The modified algorithms, visuals and sounds of Untitled Game generate a new ensemble of conventions, aims and feelings, in which visual and dimensional experimentation takes hold over competitive logic, and the outcome of the game is no longer a score but a colorful, disconcerting experience.

In this way, Untitled Game rebels against the techno-social determinism of (game) technology and consumption, and frames this particular medium of ‘play’ as a ‘taken for granted technique of enculturation’. When read through McLuhan - who as early as the 1960s identified media technological developments as the most important (and at that time, under-acknowledged) sites of social cultivation – Jodi seem to indicate that not only media content and socially determining genres (game conventions), but also specific material forms (interfaces) and techne´ (the games operational elements) are important to interrogate as objects of study. Recall McLuhan’s own words here: 

"the medium is the message" because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the "content" of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.

In digital glitch art like Untitled Game, the medium is redefined as a platform that doesn’t follow its genre, form or technique. This triggers the user to reflect upon her conventional frames of reference for the particular game and perhaps even the commercial game in general. The work criticizes the flow of a specific medium, its interface and its inherent conventions, but does not necessarily break it (as opposed to 5VOLTCORE’s performance). The fact that the game still ‘works’ while being programmed to glitch, makes it all the more critically challenging as media experience. Jodi shows that software is more than just a preprogrammed tool: It is a materialization of social modalities, which can furthermore be endlessly re-modified to different interpretive or social conclusions. 

The irrational and conceptual glitches within Untitled Game, its voiding of original and received meanings, forces the viewer to make active sense of the work. The structures of original meaning are intentionally ruined. But in this case, 'ruin' is both a conceptual orientation and a technique that underlines the constructedness of media (art), forcing the viewer to consider the computer no longer just a device of standardization but instead as a technology that functions within a social reality. Only after reflecting on this new form of the work, can the user see that what the glitch does is not just destroy the old videogame, but in fact modify its existing denotations and exchanges, entangling it within new lines or architectures of meaning. The ‘techniques of the void’ - the systematic distortion of communication - helps to open media up for discussions of their internal politics. This is how, through the tactics used within these glitched games, users can re-territorialize these techniques.

The Concept And Technique Of Ruin

You cannot prohibit the catastrophe, you must surf it! 
- Paul Virilio 

Today news and current affairs is generated and spread not only through the rich and powerful press monopolies and infrastructures, but at the same time through the smaller, more independent and autonomous agents, that do not require a great capital outlay to contribute to the debate online. This is why social blogging softwares like Blogger are often described as democracy-enhancing tools; they are celebrated as an ideal medium supporting the political mythology of ‘freedom of speech’. 

During 2006 and 2007, Jodi made the work <$BlogTitle$>, based on the social publishing tool Blogger, from Google. <$BlogTitle$> looks like a Blogger page in a broken state. The pages generated by Jodi’s (mis)usage of the tool are either filled with gibberish or in ruins. It’s hard to say: perhaps you are looking at back-end code, broken on to the surface of the site, or perhaps it is just nonsense that was never part of any codified language system? 

In these works, Jodi indeed plays with different language systems, for instance the visual and the non-visual source (code) of the Blogger software. Template formats such as the title of the blog, the post headers and certain blog addresses in the link list appear all in ruins, while Blogger-specific images like comment-icons, dates and other functional visual elements are reduced to theatrical objects. What is normally invisible as the infrastructure of the blog - snippets of code and interface commands like “S = Publish, D = Draft»” or “Allow New Comments on This PostYes No” - are moved to the front of the site, where normally only a ‘human discourse’ would be visible. 

Jodi’s <$BlogTitle$> partially exposed the mythical factor of democracy enhancing social blogging tools, when Blogger blocked 7 of its 22 blog pages. In this case, the process of ‘free online publishing’ resulted in censorious destruction. This unforeseen eventuality made it clear that Blogger-users (any blog users) answer to a built-in (political) system and don’t operate completely under their own authority. Moreover, the system is governed by the belief (shared by both the creators of the technology, the conventional users, and the audience) that the software will be used to distribute only conventionally formatted knowledge. Bloggers that do not subscribe to the conventions risk the possibility of being blocked or having their blogs completely deleted.

<$BlogTitle$> stands apart as a purposeful artifact that captures what Deleuze and Guattari have described as a ‘line of flight’: an elusive, divergent, inherently political moment(um) through which axioms are questioned, genres are broken open and categories are created. Jodi uses the glitch to emphasize a rejection of what can be referred to as ‘software-determinism’ or in the case of blogger, ‘platform-determinism’. In an interview with Tilman Baumgartel, Jodi states: ‘It is obvious that our work fights against high tech. We also battle with the computer on a graphical level. […] We explore the computer from inside, and mirror this on the net’. <$BlogTitle$>, as an example of this working method, enacts this battle at the border between system and entropy, standardization and corruption, expression and code, meaning and non-meaning, thwarting the user and the viewer’s expectations and understandings. 

<$BlogTitle$> is generated within the system of Blogger, but does not follow the rules, the language or the syntax of that blogging system. On the one hand, the work can be understood as a social criticism towards Blogger and other celebrated ‘direct’ read/write web 2.0 platforms or as a blog that entails a (re-shuffled) sign system through which the viewer can navigate and glean her own select fragments of meaning. 

In <$BlogTitle$>, artistic negation has become a generative and creative force. In a seeming void of meaning, the spectator is forced to use his imagination while reflecting on the work. The glitch’s formal fragmentation signifies that the work is ‘open’ to interpretation and meaningful engagement. This new text is no longer a work that displays or retells conventions, but a writerly software where meaning can be actively (re)constructed. 
By ruining the Blogger medium, Jodi’s use of formal fragmentation opens the platform itself up to deconstruction, interpretation and further active engagement. As a result, the meaning of the ruined work is never finished, whole or complete. Instead of being static it differs from reading to reading, or with each fragmented element of the syntax. In this sense, the work has become a virtual space where the audience can actualize an infinite amount of potential meanings. However, for the reader to actually give meaning to the ruins, they must take the initiative of imposing (their own select) new constraints, new frameworks of analysis and limitations on other possibilities. The viewer becomes aware that every act of creating meaning is also just as strongly an act of destruction (of more infinite possibilities).

Moreover, in the case of <$BlogTitle$>, this openness also had a negative consequence: Blogger interpreted the blog as a malicious spamblog and consequently blocked it. This act could be described as a rather rigorous ‘death of the author’, in which the meaning of the work is not negotiated, but instead dismissed and deleted. In fact this could be understood as a second death. The author ‘dies’ in a Barthesian sense at the moment of (web) ‘publication’; when the viewer’s interpretation takes over from authorial intention, but also in a second and more violent way when the corrupted, ‘writerly’ text is totally eliminated from the blogosphere altogether.

<$BlogTitle$> opens up and intervenes into the normally inter-locked relations between conventional information, a possible message, and the back-end coding of Blogger, and treats these relation as a system that can be modified or expanded towards new possibilities through ‘glitching’. Here glitches articulate an alternative language that blends systems into a form that nobody can read (yet). The ‘voided’ <$BlogTitle$> shows the conventions by which the user/reader navigates online, and the norms that help him to operate these daily technologies transparently. The constructedness of such discourse, in terms of locked down proprietary software is not necessarily negative in itself, but sometimes (as <$BlogTitle$> suggests) leads to generalized assumptions and the under- or non-acknowledgement of invisible political forces in the form of underlying conventions. The glitch can help us uncover these obfuscated political dimensions as well as create strategies to see through them. In <$BlogTitle$>, Jodi shows that a glitch can be completely constructed (by the artist), but also that such constructs can in turn reveal the constructedness of software-generated knowledge and expression. Jodi’s investment in glitch shows that Blogger can, like Quake 1, be used in many more ways than users pacified by convention might assume.

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On Dec 7, 2011, at 7:28 PM, Julian Oliver wrote:

> ..on Wed, Dec 07, 2011 at 09:34:18AM -0500, Eduardo Navas wrote:
>> About what you write below,
>> Your observation is a summary of what informs contemporary art practice, no
>> matter the medium. The need for context that you point out is what makes all
>> art discourse, no matter the form of delivery.  This is also what allows
>> artists to worry about what they want to say rather than sticking to a
>> specific form.  This brought about the concept of ³interdisciplinarity.²
>> Duchamp figured this out a while back.
>> However, it is because glitches are the result of a material occurrence that
>> can be reproduced within a certain range of error once a person understands
>> the process why they need to be discussed with a specific understanding of
>> the context in which they take place, in direct relation to the material
>> elements that make glitches ³glitches.²  This enables glitch artists to
>> develop a field of aesthetics of their own.  I think that if we really
>> thinkg about the term ³intrinsic² it only functions once we accept a
>> specific context in which to discuss a thing to which an extra value based
>> on discourse is added.  Glitches have values that are material (before that
>> are recognized as glitches) and these values once recognized within the
>> field of glitch art allow people to add on their own interpretations and
>> develop a discourse.  This is what is relevant.
> Indeed it is what is relevant, as it is with any cultural trope. It's here
> however that software developers like myself find ourselves cynical about Glitch
> Art precisely because we know that what we're often looking at/listening to is
> not a glitch, rather an event designed to have the appearance of one. 
> A glitch-concert using Max MSP is not glitch, rather the application of digital
> synthesis to mimic sounds that sound like what we understand to be glitch,
> namely electrical sparks, servos breaking under load, etc.  Similarly, someone
> playing with GTK or Quartz Composer to manipulate a desktop interface such that
> it performs unexpectedly isn't glitch, it's UX/UI design.
> This leads us to the question "Can you design a glitch?". Perhaps you can only
> design /with/ glitches, not glitches themselves..
> If glitches are political at all it's in because they represent a possible
> entry-point within an otherwise closed system, a 'de-punctualisation' (from
> Latour) of the Black Box. What many call glitches are in fact just the beginning
> of what later becomes an exploit (whether that be jailbreaking a device or
> injecting malicious code into a process running on a server). In this way
> glitches signal the possibility of further action; an opening, they express
> freedom of movement.
> Purely aesthetic fetishising of glitch depreciates this potential, I think.
> After all, some of the most potent and transformative glitches in technological
> history are quite boring to behold. To most, they'd probably go unnoticed.
> Cheers,
> Julian
>> On 12/6/11 10:33 PM, "Evan Meaney" <emeaney1 at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> so, my point. 
>>> if glitches depend on specified contexts to function in the moment
>>> and if they are functions of re-presentation and curatorial (or
>>> curator-as-artist)
>>> intent, then any critical work about a glitch is really critiquing the context
>>> and
>>> the curator, and not the glitch itself.
>>> tl:dr - we appropriate glitches to our own purposes. let's stop pretending
>>> that they
>>> have intrinsic value when we classify them.
>>> xo. 
>>> evan
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> -- 
> Julian Oliver
> http://julianoliver.com
> http://criticalengineering.org
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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