Kicking off our ongoing series of artist, musician, homeless vagrant, fictional character, etc. interviews is an influential figure in the “Glitch-Art” scene and a fascinating artist with a lot of equally interesting views on piracy, open-source, Intellectual Property, and the aesthetics and logistics of glitched artwork. I met Nick at the awesome Gli.tc/h festival, which I wrote up and posted here!He also gives a quick tutorial on how you can easily glitch images on your computer, which is equally awesome.
Interview by Sam “Shardstyle” Rolfes
I didn’t see one of those personal biography I-wrote-this-but-pretend-someone-else-did things on your site haha, let’s have one of those professional-artist type introductions!
I am a new media artist living and working in Chicago IL. I have an associate degree from Florida State University in cinema studies, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida in film and video production, and a [coming] master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in film, video, new media, and animation. I am co-organizer and moderator of Upgrade! Chicago and have curated and organized a number of new media art events, including most recently GLI.TC/H, [JTS write-up here] an International noise and new media conference. As an educator, I focus on digital art and culture, having created and taught classes for summer camps, after school programs, and at the college level. My own work has been exhibited at various national and international galleries and festivals, such as the FILE Media Arts Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Sydney Underground Film Festival, the European Media Arts Festival in Osnabruek, Germany, and the Images Festival in Toronto, Canada. My work is distributed through Video Out Distribution in Vancouver, Canada as well as openly and freely on the web.
So what’s this glitch-art thing anyways??
K, I’ll try to do that justice in as short an answer as possible…
Glitch art is what results from either the intentional instigation of a glitch and/or the conscious capturing/collecting/domestication of an unintentionally occurring glitch. The “what results”part can take many forms: digital images, analog photos, video, film, performance, process,software, hardware, sculpture, text, data, garbage, etc.
This of course implies we have a definition for the word glitch, which within the contxt of glitchart has proven very difficult concept to codify. However, in the interest of keeping it short, we’ll say a glitch is a break in a system, an unexpected occurrence (or output) which by catching us off guard reveals the system[s] at play.
…glitch art is about considering the this occurrence.
Is there a big learning curve to glitch art and music for those with only cursory knowledge of theframework of technology (with hardly any clue what a video codec is for example)? I mean to the majority of the uneducated audience, the work is reduced to pure aesthetics without insightinto the processes occurring right?
Well, for some seasoned glitch artists with plenty of technical know-how it’s also purely about the aesthetics. There was a time when glitch art was much more niche or “underground” but I think today this position (the purely aesthetic one) is less of an uninformed default and more ofan ideological stance, with very interesting points worth considering. For example, if you can’t whether or not something is a “real” glitch or faked in photoshop does it make a difference to the receiver?
Personally, I’m much more interested in the process and the politics that lie within it. While the aesthetics are extremely important, playing multiple roles, they work in tandem with the technology and the (multiple) process[es]. But I don’t think there’s a steep learning curve or rather I think the learning is an integral part of the glitch process. One of my favorite things to do is introduce someone entirely foreign to glitch art by teaching them a simple txt-edit databend. It’s extremely easy:
step 1: right mouse (ctrl+click) your image and “Open-With” TextEdit/Notepad;
step 2: type some random gibberish into the center of the document;
step 3: File> Save;
step 4: double click to pen your newly glitched image in your default image viewer.
People get blown away when they do this for the first time, it’s a powerful, albeit simple, act which can call into question notions of the interface, intention, [mis]use, subversion, hacking, failure, chance, digital politics, etc, in an aesthetically engaging way… glitch art 101.
Granted, glitching can get exponentially more complicated (technically and conceptually) this iswhat keeps us interested in working with it, but the curve isn’t so steep — it’s very manageable.
It seems that a big idea in glitch the breaking down of the notion that many of us have that our technology and digital information in general is this pure, functional thing and reminds us instead of the imperfect digital foundation we seldom get glimpses of. How important is this to glitch-think and is it really necessary to be aware of the usually invisible elements of technology?
Well like I said before, many glitch enthusiasts are less concerned with this, but for many of us I think it is definitely important. Grinding up against the sleek/sterile image propagated by special interests has been the impetus (at least in part) behind a lot of glitch work. Rosa Menkman has a great quote in her Glitch Studies Manifesto where she says, “The dominant, continuing search for a noiselss channel has been — and will always be — no more than a regrettable, ill fateddogma.” This becomes an issue in practice, even for glitch artists that are less politically minded, when operating systems update their error checking protocols or when software one exploits for a glitchy end gets “upgraded” and the desired/undesired effect is no longer there.Glitch artists intentionally and unintentionally work against industry notions of “perfection.”It’s a relationship which will continue to be an inseparable part of glitch art so long as we livein an “upgrade-culture.” We can have plenty of interesting conversations along this train of thought, planned obsolescence is one, virus/anti-viruses is another.
Is all the old-school 8-bit aesthetic that comes up a bit in glitch stuff just pleasant nostalgia orsomething more?
Digital artifacting is just the nature of the beast — at least at the moment. So long as digital images/videos are made up of pixels, i.e. so long as we algorithmically organize and display data in a certain way it’ll continue to break a certain way. The way it breaks/glitches happens to look a lot like early 8bit imagery because of this, but often times that connection is more in our minds then in the technology (which are generations apart). That being said, the embrace of that 8bit-connection has definitely been intentional for a lot of glitch enthusiasts. A lot of earlier work (noteNdo, the Beige Collective, etc.) is definitely all about this, and work continues to bemade that directly references the 8bit aesthetic. This may have something to do with nostalgia. A lot of glitch enthusiasts are of the generation that grew up with the first 8bit systems… so it only makes sense I guess.
Your glitch web essay was really interesting, how you can open up elaborative quotes and ideas and move them around at will. It seems crazy when you think about the capabilities of our technology that more interactive text isn’t more widely used. What was the impetus for that concept?
Right, so I took this class with Dan Eisenberg called the Moving Image Essay which examines films within the cinematic-essay-film genre through the lens of a lot of critical theory like GuyDebord, Barthes, Benjamin, Lukacs, de Certeau, Adorno, etc. The glitch web essay, Thoughts on Glitch[Art]v1.0, was totally inspired by this class, in particular Adorno’s The Essay as Form. Despite what Adorno would say about it, I do think the hypertext-essay is a form that really embodies some of his ideas.Glitch art, as a subject for theoretical/academic discourse, has been really tricky for me, I getreally scared of over-codifying this art/activity/approach which in many ways denies codification in its form. Additionally, when I get really deep in theoretical thought about it I start to feel really overwhelmed. This web essay adopted these obstacles as formal elements. All the quotes are inside their own modules which you can organize and move around the web page in a nonhierarchical manner… similarly to the way I organize my (mental) thoughts. You form different narratives as you click the links within the modules and open new modules which form different (sometimes contradicting) “constellations” of thoughts (as Adrono put it). If you open up to many modules it becomes impossible to make sense of, and you’re forced to refresh your page and/or brain, which is exactly how I feel sometimes.This kind of web essay or hypertext-essay is definitely something I’m looking to tackle other subjects with.
Kanye’s datamoshed video, “Welcome to Hearbreak”, stirred up a bit of criticism aboutjust arbitrarily utilizing some glitch processes to appeal to a young demographic without innovating in any way. Now I enjoy messing around with glitch plug-ins and programs like http://www.ffd8.org/header_remix/ , but isn’t this eagerness to make the methods of glitching easily accessible just fueling the fire and typecasting the scene a bit?
Kanye West is to glitch art what Al Gore is to the Internet. He didn’t invent it, despite what he and others may think. But he did play a major role in commercializing it, which brought it to a much larger audience. In both West’s and Gore’s cases, this commercialization had positive and negative effects.I think Header Remix and Ted Davis’ other projects are really great. As “digital objects” I think applications like this (the glitch browser, the Satromizer, etc.) are often more interesting then glitch videos, music, and/or images. As for the glitch “experience” one has when using these tools versus data-bending, or partaking in some other form of first-hand hackery, I think both are just as valid. It’s true that they’re different, but I don’t think making glitch accessible is fueling any kind of negative fire or typecasting any scene. Like I said before, one of my favorite things to do is teach people how to data-bend, and this kind of introduction is all about making glitch art accessible.
That being said, personally, I’m more interested in software hacking than I am in using these kinds of tools. I’ve spent hours hacking codecs — far longer than I ever spent on the glitch browser (RIP), but the glitch browser did inform my thoughts on the subject of glitch art a good deal.
Where do you predict the future of glitch-art to be? We’re only going to get more and more integrated with our devices so the digital “mistakes” are going to become more and more important right?
I have no idea… but it’s an exciting thing to think about. In terms of integration, or convergence, there’s a lot of writing of the opinion that we’re becoming more and more cyborgs. So maybe in the future glitch art won’t be externally located, but rather inside of us? Maybe we’ll start to see augmented reality glitching? I’ve seen a couple videos in the vimeo artifacts group utilizing the Microsoft Kinect controller/camera/sensor.
I do think it’s safe to say that as long as we have technology, and as long as it’s “imperfect”,we’ll have glitch art. So there will be plenty to explore until the singularity.
You’re a seemingly big proponent of open source, “piracy”, and you just started teaching a class at SAIC called Piratical Practices: Appropriation and Remix Culture in our Technological Times;could you briefly fill us in on your position with regards to these subjects?
First, I should make clear these are different (though overlapping) subjects. I am a big fan (and participant) of open-source software communities. I appreciate not just the software and hardware that comes out of these communities but their politics and ideologies which I’ve appropriated into my art practice (as many new-media artists have, especially here in [ɔ]hicago)
The course I’m teaching at SAIC explores remix culture and other contemporary remix-based art practices by examining the histories associated with these practices as well as the political and technological factors at play. So we cover everything from dub music to Disney, from musique concrète to mash-ups, from Lichtenstein to LOLcats all the while taking into account the way these things are influenced and effected by emerging technologies and changing intellectual property and digital policy laws.
As for my position on “piracy”, it’s a phenomenon which is at the center of my (and many others’) artistic practice, what I’ve been calling piratical practices, a phrase I stole/borrowed/appropriated from Adrian Johns. If you look up the definition for piracy you’re likely to get some variation on the same theme: the unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrightedor patented material. This of course gets history backwards, because copyright law was a response to piracy, which existed long before the notion of intellectual property was invented. This misunderstanding is symptomatic of the troublingly complex relationship we have to knowledge and culture today. It’s been these kinds of misunderstandings that’s made possible the existence of intellectual property regimes, which have stifled creativity, placed unnecessary limits on technological progress, and encouraged the monopolization of culture.
So my position on piracy is an in[sub]version of the status quo. While the MPAA and the RIAA would have you believe that piracy is hurting culture, I propose that piracy is our cultural duty. Defining piracy as a refusal to comply with the culture industry’s forced scarcity agenda. Those are the cliff notes, my position on piracy is much more nuanced, burrowed from a multitude of sources, contextual, and contingent.
Continuing with the open-source train of thought, in some of your essays you rail on Intellectual Property a bit. Is it more the misuse and overuse of copyright law and patenting that irks you orthe entire concept? Without some form of IP, what’s the artist’s incentive to innovate? Shouldall artists be hobbyists then to avoid commoditization of their work?
So like I said, my position is contextual and contingent. I’m a huge advocate of the creative commons licence, which is a copy-middle (a term I think is more appropriate here than copy-left) alternative to copyright. It works within copyright law while allowing for certain creative freedoms (like the freedom to remix for non-commercial use) while maintaining (and emphasizing) attribution.
Other times I take a much more copy-left stance, and am opposed to the idea of intellectual property all together. Of course I think artists would create without financial incentive, don’t you? Don’t we all? The question is could art exist solely within a gift economy—the same way marriage, parenthood, Alcoholics Anonymous, blood banks, and Wikipedia do—and outside of the market? The idealist in me would like to think so. Lewis Hyde makes some pretty encouraging points in his book the Gift about these issues.
So what if I decided to adopt the alias D-J Nicky//Breeze and just rehosted all of your work and claimed it for myself, is that all good as long as I don’t make money off of it?
That would be pretty awesome.
One more multi-sentence question about intellectual property, haha. You mentioned in an essay with F News that you wouldn’t pay for marriage or Alcoholics Anonymous because that would cheapen the relationship, but we pay for it in some manner don’t we? Whether through taxes or taking your spouse to an expensive tapas restaurant or even just investing personal time there’s still a transfer of value. A good example of artists distributing their work for free to the masses and making a living off it is the recent avalanche of hip-hop mixtapes that in some cases net the musician millions from paid shows and sponsorships. They still get paid, just not directly; how is a direct payment to experience an artistic work different from this manner of roundabout payment?
I feel like I’ve rambled on about this, but it’s an important subject and I don’t want to dodge the question… so I’ll try to do it justice in as few words as possible by specifically referencing two of the writers I’ve appropriated these ideas from.
Just because gift economies and market economies exist simultaneously does not mean they are the same thing. This can be confusing (especially in such a market minded culture) because we are constantly participating in both and things like “art” can simultaneously exist within both. An example is when we say, “this album has been a huge influence on me, it’s priceless” yet you paid $14 for it at Best Buy. This highlights one of the key differences between a gift and a commodity. The gift has “worth”, this is what we mean when we say a thing is pricesless but means the world to us. A commodity has “value”, which is why we paid $14 at Best Buy for it and can trade it in for another CD at our local record store. Lewis Hyde also explains that a gift establishes a bond, a connection/relationship, between the gifter and the recipient. This bond can only be formed when the gift is transferred. Additionally this bond becomes compromised the minute money enters the picture. A commodity on the other hand passes from hand to hand leaving no such trace.
Furthermore Yochai Benkler explains in his book the Wealth of Networks that knowledge and culture (and similarly digital files) are information goods. Information is whats known as a non-rivalrous good. This means, as opposed to a traditional good, it can be consumed by any number of people at any given time and has a marginal cost of zero (the marginal cost is how much it costs to make an additional unit of a good). Economically, we understand that any time we place the cost of a good above it’s marginal cost we create an inefficient market (even when the reason is to provide incentive). Benkler elaborated in an interview, “information is both an input and output of its own production, you create new stories from old stories, new pieces of music from recombination of prior pieces of music, new pieces software from older pieces software, and the higher the price is of an information good, so as to create incentives for the past, the more expensive and inefficient it is for a second generation innovator to use the first generation.”
Net neutrality; are we doomed?
Sometimes I can feel pretty disheartened and powerless regarding digital rights issues, but this time I’ll say no, we’re not doomed yet. I think the recent events over seas has proven that the will of the Internet is stronger than that of totalitarian special interests. These are a roller coaster of issues and we’ve got to keep a vigilant eye on our government and corporations (eff.org, publicknowledge.org, etc.)
You’ve had some sweet collaborations with bands on glitch-music, what kind of dynamic occurs when a relatively conventional band line-up collabs with an experimental glitcher?
Interesting things happen. Squarepusher has a great quote where he describes his music as intentionally landing somewhere between a cliche and a monkey. And to be honest, in terms of musical collaborations, I’m usually the cliche to someone else’s monkey. I used to be in a band (with some incredibly talented people) where I played mostly funk bass riffs over a wall of noisy synths and squealing guitars.
Your DIY drum triggers were sweet, mind if we repost?
Got anything more to tell the teeming masses?
Nope, this is the longest interview I’ve ever responded to—these where some great questions,but my brain is fried and my fingers hurt. Thanks Sam