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Glitch or Not (MP3s)

Some recent constructive back’n’forths on Twitter about the meaning of “glitch” suggested that looking at how the tag is used on various sound communities might provide some insight into the term’s evolution. For many, the word has its root in the music of Oval, aka Markus Popp, who used the sounds of malfunctioning compact discs as his inspiration. The question is whether glitch, the sound of error, the aesthetic of error, is intrinsically digital, intrinsically CD-related — is it an aesthetic, a sound, a school? Much early video art involved system feedback and bad signals, but it wasn’t called glitch then, nor does it necessarily feel like “glitch” now. There’s something about the hard fact-ness of “glitch” that suggests a digital on/off-ness, a harsh binary, a binary that seems entirely apart from audio tape and vinyl and cathode ray tubes.

Over at the Internet Archive, Paolo Ribo‘s Bent Interlocutor set is tagged, among other things, “glitch.” It’s also referenced as “8bit” and “experimental.” Just because someone’s work is tagged with a particular word isn’t necessarily meaningful in regard to the word’s status, but it does speak to how musicians see the word. On Bent Interlocutor, the glitch is hard to find, but it is there. The opening “Intro” has some artfully masticated vocals snippets, shriveling behind sci-fi-soundtrack oscillators and layers of static, shuffled like the words are coming off a busted production line (MP3).

Perhaps the album’s strongest glitch moment is the title cut (MP3), which has a retro sci-fi feel, yet its dated-ness, which is purposefully exaggerated thanks to effects that make the material feel quite worn, lends it a glitchy quality — it’s the sound of, as Caleb Kelly titled his book on the subject, cracked media. And even if it was digitally produced, it isn’t inherently digital. Glitch is the siren song of decaying media.

[audio:|titles=”Intro”|artists=Pablo Ribot] [audio:|titles=”Bent interlocutor”|artists=Pablo Ribot]

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By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comments: 4 ]


  1. papernoise
    [ Posted November 26, 2010, at 11:03 am ]

    The connections between words and object is always a pretty complex one, especially when the object is not a material one, but something more symbolic, or abstract. As far as I see the whole glitch thing turned into something like a movement, and can probably be associated with the digital media, but of course it’s got pretty vague borders. People who define their music as glitch are probably part of a broader group, which works with the idea of decay and malfunctioning of modern media and (sonic) technology. If one analyses the phenomenon closely connections to other movements like circuit bending or chiptune. Anyway… I really like your final sentence: Glitch is the siren song of decaying media.

  2. gurdonark
    [ Posted November 27, 2010, at 5:25 am ]

    I believe that glitch is not wedded to one technology such as the CD but instead refers to the use of the sounds of mechanical discord or arhythmic segments to create an aesthetically pleasing effect. This is not to take away from the “historical” basis for the glitch sound–as in jazz, it’s original setting has been transcended, and that’s a good thing.

  3. Alan Lockett
    [ Posted November 29, 2010, at 10:54 am ]

    Not sure if you’re familiar with it, Marc, but a reasonably authoritative source I’ve seen referred to frequently is a paper by Kim Cascone, entitled ‘The Aesthetics of Failure,’ first published in Computer Music Journal. It contains a useful historical overview of ‘Glitch’:

    Worth a read if you haven’t.

  4. DVNT
    [ Posted December 3, 2010, at 5:12 pm ]

    Cheers for the headups on Pablo’s release.

    As far as “glitch” goes I think it’s generally an all encompassing term, similar to “IDM” and has different connotations to different demographics. I know what glitch means to me as well as what IDM means, but it’s not going to mean similar to someone else as they are such wide ranging descriptors of sound.

    Genre classifications are OK for filing stuff and being able to search for new stuff, but I take them with a pinch of salt. What you call techno I might not and vice versa.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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