[-empyre-] glitch device/divide

Curt Cloninger curt at lab404.com
Thu Dec 8 21:34:05 EST 2011

Hi Julian,

It seems like you are wanting to limit the discussion of glitches to 
occurrences that happen at the hardware and software level, within 
machines. But humans can (and frequently do) glitch as well, 
particularly in response to media which their bodies receive as 
glitched. In one sense, phenomenological sculpture, op art, and 
structural film are all about trying to get a human body to have a 
glitched experience. I don't have to read binary to have a glitched 
experience. I don't have to be a programmer (although I myself 
occasionally program) to receive an affective, bodily or linguistic 
glitch effect from media sent to me via a machine. I don't have to 
understand compression schemes at the binary level in order to 
affectively eperience the phenomenological differences between 
various compression schemes as my body is exposed to them.

It's a bit like talking about a Rothko painting in terms of whether 
he used horsehair or synthetic brushes. Such discussions are always 
possible, but they  are only obliquely related to the things which 
are most interesting about art, and they usually dead-end fairly 
quickly. He either did or he didn't use horsehair brushes. It either 
is or isn't a true glitch.

Mez Breeze's new book is called "Human Readable Messages." So perhaps 
a distinction needs to be made between human-readable glitches and 
machine-readable glitches. Human-readable glitches are media glitches 
-- they occur when humans are communicating to humans through 
machines which mediate this communication. Human-readable glitches 
don't freak machines out. But neither do machine-readable glitches. 
Machine-readable glitches may crash machines, but that doesn't freak 
machines out, because machines have no sentient expectation of 
"normal." Machines lack the ability to have an uncanny experience. So 
to limit the discussion of glitches to events that only happen within 
machinic systems, glitches which never run on or involve human 
bodies, is to talk about something quite limited. Because a machine 
can't know or experience a glitch. Only a human can.

You imply that true, machine/code-level glitch-event ruptures have 
radical, political, Latourean-entangled impact on human cultures. I 
am curious how this happens without them also intersecting networks 
and scales of human bodies, human-readable forms, and human 
aesthetics. Does this radical impact happen metaphorically (machinic 
glitch as a mere symbol for actant agency) or directly (glitches in 
stock market networks crashing third world economies)?

You assert that, "some of the most potent and transformative glitches 
in technological history are quite boring to behold. To most, they'd 
probably go unnoticed." It would help me to better understand what 
you are claiming if you would list some of these historically 
transformative glitches specifically.

Also, I'm curious to hear your response to Jon Cates' previous post 
regarding John Cage's prepared systems. Can prepared aleatoric 
systems, oulipian (constraint-based) systems, and other 
human-orchestrated systems still lead to uncanny outcomes? It seems 
to me they can, for humans. Perhaps the outcomes are not uncanny to 
the systems themselves; but again, a system can't experience itself 
as normal or uncanny.

"a face, a voice / an overdub has no choice, an image cannot 
rejoice." - Carole King



>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 
>history are quite boring to behold. To most, they'd probably go unnoticed.

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