Interview with Tribe Magazine

Back in December 2013 I did an interview with Emily Pickthall from Tribe Magazine. Sometime around May in 2014 it was finally published in issue 28 of the online magazine. Below is the full interview. Enjoy!

(images and links added by me)


Antonio Roberts first spliced a name for himself at the international GLI.TC/H festival which emerged in Chicago, expanding to include cities from Amsterdam to Birmingham, where Roberts is currently based. Screening his breakthrough video piece ‘I am Sitting in a Room’ at the 2010 festival, Roberts generated a significant profile for himself both online and in then emergent circles of hacktivism, dirty media and noise artists.

In his 2013 article for Libre Graphics Magazine, Roberts explains that “[g]litch art is the aesthetisation of digital or analogue errors…by either corrupting digital code and data or by physically manipulating electronic devices”. Signalling back to early information theory and the avant-garde, Roberts’ glitch work boldly demonstrates how the digital artist doesn’t just learn how technology works, in order to utter a language of code or craft an image mimicking the real. More frequently, the digital artist foregrounds process over product and allows unpredictable, external forces – chance and automata – to supersede the power of the artist. As though there really was a ‘ghost in the machine’.

For Roberts, glitch art is a creative and playful method of exploration which verges into the commercially and politically subversive. He has previously engaged in specific debates such as art and copyright, not to mention an outright user of open source software. Roberts has written on his blog on his ethical standpoint regarding open source software:

“For instance, opening an image file in an audio editing program (a process known as databending) has been done for many years using proprietary programs such as Adobe Audition. Whilst useful, users either have to spend a lot of money on the software or find an illegal copy.”

Antonio Roberts spans a wellspring of methods and media disciplines. To date, he has exhibited graphics and found items at locations such as the Furtherfield Gallery in London and TROVE in Birmingham. Some of the most enthralling exercises of his work include live glitch performances; full immersive, audio-visual displays that have been picked up on by hosts as unpredictable as the Birmingham Opera Company. Recently in late 2013, he worked with [RHP] CDRs, the record label organising 7 Days of Sound Festival in Leamington Spa, riffing on the relationship between experimental music and contemporary art.

In this exclusive interview with tribe, Antonio Roberts discusses the importance of viewer curiosity and open access tutorials, his hatred of the Comic Sans font, the ephemeral life of the machine along with his own ephemeral life in multimedia graphics before glitch was even a catchword.

Firstly, can you tell me where the pseudonym hellocatfood came from?

I just needed a new username about seven years ago and I was just sitting and thinking about this episode of The Simpsons where Ralph Wiggum says, ‘my cat’s breath smells like cat food‘ and for some reason that phrase popped into my head and then the word ‘hello’ just added itself to it and it has stuck for this long simply because no one else had the web address It was random enough to not really mean anything but has now become the focus of me, everyone always asks the question! There isn’t really a personality to go with it; most people just think that I’m a girl because of the association with Hello Kitty!

Can you tell me more about your background and training? I see that you have both a Bachelors and Masters in multimedia graphics and digital performance, but how self-taught would you consider yourself to be? Where did you your interests first emerge?

I started off doing drawings and paintings back when I was a young kid, but I’ve always been interested in computers and playing with them. Mainly because I wanted to know how it all worked; how everything worked, really. I’ve always been the one in the family who fixes things I’ve always been the one who wants to explore things. I guess when I did my degree it was more focused on web design than experimental work. It was all how to use Photoshop and how to design a page for ecommerce. It wasn’t until a year after my Bachelors that a friend of mine said, ‘have you tried any glitch art?’ By then I had started doing a little programming and using a little Linux which I started using in 2008. Linux really lends itself to exploration. With my Masters, which I did in 2010, it was very much an extension of everything that I’d been doing up until that point. It is very easy with digital art to focus on the technology and not produce a good artwork. That said, glitch is very much self-taught; they do teach this kind of stuff at universities now, but back then my professors had no interest. They just let me get on with stuff, because there were no courses in experimental art or my kind of circuit bending.

On your blog you post about associations with festivals like GLI.TC/H which emerged in Chicago and have expanded to include cities such as Amsterdam and Birmingham, where you’re based. The festival doesn’t just feature glitch and sound artists, but also internationally based performance artists, DIY enthusiasts and hacktivists. How do you feel about being filed among these ranks? How do you relate the work of performers and hackers, for instance?

By the very fact that I’m doing glitch art – which is as a form very subversive – I suppose that what I’m doing is quite political. I’m not anti-Microsoft or anti-Apple. This is not at the forefront of my art, I don’t rant at people who use a Mac but I would associate with the DIY crowd, who like to explore rather than take what is given to them. Usually when I meet up with these people they’ll be sat around a table, surrounded by all these pieces, working out how to break something and not how to use it. You may also see that I publish a lot of tutorials on my website, talking about what I do and the processes, which is mainly to encourage others to have the same line of thinking, not necessarily to ditch Microsoft and Apple but to make their own tools. Which means that yeah, you might spend a lot more time developing them. But once you’ve made them, you understand them and might even create things that even you didn’t imagine were possible.

Its certainly a very democratic form of art – but how would you classify glitch as an art form? Is it closer to a technology, an aesthetic or political subversion? Or is it just play?

Well, it depends where you want to go with that. I’m based in Birmingham and there a lot of traditional art galleries, hence it has been tough in relation to the things that I do. But it is creative. It might not be very physical and it sometimes isn’t perceived as art, but it is still creative. So even if there some people who focus on the technology, practitioners who just want to see how you can use and what you can do with the technology. Of course, there are lots of self-proclaimed ‘artists’ who really just mess around and put lots of GIFs on Tumblr. Interestingly, glitch has also become a craft. I mean, here’s one –(holds up pixelated glitch scarf) – this is a glitch scarf, from one of my friends, [Glitchhaus]. He takes screenshots from broken hardware and will make things out of them, scarves and objects, whatever. It can still be viewed as a tool, but there are lots of people making artwork out of it. The difficult part is going to be convincing the traditional institutions, but I see it happening more these days.

I first came across your work through the Furtherfield gallery web page and the Glitch Moment/ums exhibition which you were involved in during June this year. One of the corresponding essays that I read on the website discussed how glitch art “sits in the historical tradition of process art and chance art. Automatism and chance acts in Dada [and] Surrealism”, which avoid a specific intent for the artist in creating a work. What are your views on this – is the process or the product more important to you in glitching?

Glitch Moment/ums Opening Event - 08 June 2013

Both are important, for sure. The way that I create artwork, sometimes the process comes first and sometimes the product. Sometimes I’ve tried out a new script and I’ve gone, ‘oh, this is amazing!’ I still might now know what to do with it, however. I have the capacity to come back to it later, because most of what I do is ideas driven. I agree that the process is very important, because after all, these are computers. They have been built and people want to know how to make them, how to reproduce them and so on. Inherently, glitch is going to be heavily based around process. Most of the emails I get ask, ‘how can I do this?’

When it comes to chance and generative art, I like seeing when people give up the role of the artist to outside processes, such as a script they’ve written or even just in dripping paint, allowing gravity and every other force to take over. It can be liberating to know that and to create something which makes its own art. The focus is on the tool, so you get into questions like ‘am I the artist, or is the programme the artist? Do I make the programme, or does the programme make the artist?’ These are questions that we’re always looking to answer, so I can’t give you a definite answer.

What about issues such as artificial intelligence – for you, does glitch ever create moments where “the computer itself [will] suddenly appear unconventionally deep”, which seem to indicate that there is some level of unpredictability or uncanny free will in the digital medium?

Yeah, totally! Recently I’ve been messing around with hardware, especially hardware video synthesisers. In fact, here is one – (holds up volatile looking box of circuitry) – this is a 1994 model, you will have been able to use it in conferences and do different kinds of transitions and pitching and things. These I find quite unpredictable. It’s literally all circuits and I usually work in codes, although I don’t have a degree in computer science or anything. Yesterday I was messing around with some wires and plugging in different things and I was getting some really interesting sound and visuals, but I didn’t have a clue what was happening; it was just doing its thing, it seemed to have a life of its own. As long as there are no fires or electric sparks then I don’t really care what it does! I don’t press buttons the whole way through. My interaction usually stops once I turn it on and these objects make what they make of it.

How do you typically expect viewers/users with events that you are involved in to respond to your work and interact with it?

I expect them to be curious, really. I hope that they don’t go away thinking, ‘that was rubbish’ – I hope that they think, ‘that was rubbish, but I want to know more!’ Typically after every performance, people want to know how it’s been done. So I show them the software and give them a demo. It seems to me that more people than you would realise are very open to glitch art; people like the bright colours for one thing. I expect them at the very least to be curious about how it has all been made. I don’t want to cause too many headaches from the bright flashing lights and loud noises, although that has to be expected!

Lots of glitch art seems to be an exaggerated and ironic commentary on popular media and technology. Your recent project ‘Comic Sans Must Die‘ was a light hearted attack on the Comic Sans font and really made me aware of this.


It is true. The thing that I always ask when I’m describing glitch art is, ‘you remember those analogue TV sets that you used to go fuzzy and weird when you lost the connection?’ We try to recreate that. It’s a little bit of nostalgia too, of course. We have a few links with the 8bit music scene, although it’s not exclusively about that.

How important do you consider it to keep a running archive of your work?

Very important, mostly because you’re playing with hardware and most of the time when it is doing its thing, a glitch is short lived. It is just a moment in time and they cannot always be reproduced: once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s happened. Although one question is, ‘if I am controlling and reproducing my art is it really a glitch?’ I argue that yeah, it is. Because the glitches were a glitch in the first instance. It’s all ephemeral. Every performance that I do is unique in many ways. The results of what I will do will exist in a certain spectrum of results and within this spectrum, it could be anything. I wouldn’t recommend documenting every single thing or every single picture, but sometimes I just have to for structure. To know what I’m doing and keep a body of work.

What can you foresee in the future in terms of your work and ambitions?

I trained as a graphic designer and I’m hoping to do a little more of that again, really. I recently did a project, as you mentioned earlier, called ‘Comic Sans must Die’ – I really do hate Comic Sans – but what was happening there was that in destroying each different glyph, I was creating a new design. Not so much generative design, but degenerative design. Taking what exists and creating new designs in themselves, through destruction.

You can also see this in the ‘I am Sitting in a Room’ video, the one that got me ‘internet famous’. It’s a silent video, only a minute long but similar to ‘Comic Sans Must Die’ although this one came first, in 2010. Fonts are all just vectors, you see, so I just minimised the position of the lines and the font file and then I did a pastiche of text. Each frame of the video is a different font file and there are a thousand different iterations of this file, so if you wanted iteration 900, for instance, where the text is just bleeding all over the screen, you could use this font in a word processor. I really want to come back to this degenerative design and bring chance back into graphics. That’s my future, I guess. My contemporaries will be doing more in video and I should think I still will be doing performances, but my focus will return to graphic design and images.


The Thread of a Beaded Necklace – Silver Screen Changeable

The Are Here invited me to contribute an artwork for their onging piece, Thread of a Beaded Necklace. For this they asked me to respond to the previous artwork whilst focusing on themes of equivalence.


My piece uses Google Image Search to find similar images (of print quality). The poem that accompanied the previous artwork was then run through SAMEBUTDIFFERENT by Ted Davis that was developed as part of GLI.TC/H 2112 and then composed over the images. This tool (currently offline) reinterprets a sentence by replacing it with similar words from a thesaurus.

Go view my work!

Fierce Festival Board

I’m happy to announce that I recently joined the Board of Directors over at Fierce Festival


I’ve been attending their festival for much of the time that I’ve been in Birmingham and have worked with them on a couple of occasions, most recently presenting a lecture on internet culture at Fierce Festival 2013.

I’m happy to be joining the board to help them continue to exhibit challenging, exciting and, quite often, weird art!

Their next festival is coming up on 2nd October

Post-Modern Plant Life – A week at Jephson Gardens

From 9th-15th June I was one of the participating artists in residence at Jesphone Gardens in Leamington Spa for Post-Modern Plant Life: An [RHP] CDRs Artist Laboratory. This was a really great opportunity to do a lot of focussed work on some unfinished projects and also try out new things both on and off the screen. I also probably lost some weight due to how frikkin hot it was!

Post-Modern Plant Life: An [RHP] CDRs Artist Laboratory

I started off the week exploring the space and exactly what was available to me. It turns out this wasn’t much. Not even wifi was available! Initially this was a negative thing but it allowed me to *checks Facebook* do work without *checks Twitter* the constant interruptions *checks Tumblr* of social *checks e-mail* media and other distractions.

Feedback Plants

Continuing my theme of feedback loops that has been present in my latest works – especially in my VOID performance – I wanted to somehow feed the either the audio of visual aspect of the space back on itself. Some time ago I had bought these rather inexpensive sound recording modules from the internets. My idea was to use an array of these, connected to Pure Data by way of a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino and Pduino, to record and play back sounds within the space and random intervals.

Post-Modern Plant Life: An [RHP] CDRs Artist Laboratory

As with a lot of things in technology, this was easier said than done. I was able to successfully trigger the recording process on the module, but triggering the playback would work intermittently. I may have even destroyed a few of these modules in the process! After this frustration, which came after a few days of trying, I decided to move on. Maybe one day I’ll revisit it.

Digital Maps

Without provocation or any initial plans for using it, I brought with me on the first day my Game Boy Camera. I find there to be a certain charm to the way it produces incredibly low quality pictures in only eight shades of grey. Even its bulkyness and effort involved in transferring photos apepeals to me. I started my research by taking a bunch of photos of things in the space:

I then began to wonder how else I could pixelate/8-bit-ise not only Temperate House but the whole of Jephson Gardens. A friend pointed out to me that Codemasters have a base in Southam, just outside of Leamington Spa, and also that they made the awesome Micro Machines game. Rad!

Not sure where this is going yet? At the time neither did I.

Using the rather crudely named Tile Molester software I extracted the 8x8px tiles from the NES version of the game and used them to pixelate a map of Jephson Gardens obtained from OpenStreetMap. The technique I used relies on dithering using symbols in ImageMagick. Here are a few examples:




And one using the Game Boy Camera picture pixels as an input source:


Playing Pixels

To end my experiments, and the residency, I returned to my very recent studies of sonification of pixels. Using pictures of stuff within Temperate House as a source, I cropped a sqaure area from these photographs, reduced them down to 128x128px and then reduced them to 15 colours (or less, depending on how many unique colours there were in the cropped image). Here are a few examples, with the original, crop, and colours all composed into one image:

Jephson Gardens

Jephson Gardens

Jephson Gardens

If you’re curious how I overlayed the colours onto the image check out the code yourself.

Using a modified version of the Pixel Waves software I opened up to four of these images at a time and let them make lots of noise for around ten minutes. An excerpt from my performance:

The new software, called Pixel Player, is available on my Github account but is still being developed. Patches welcome!

Stuff grows

I learnt many things in this week. Among them rapid development was probably the most important skill that I developed. Having very limited internet access meant that time at home was spent downloadling libraries and software so that I could have a productive time the following days. Also, a week really isn’t a long time to develop anything substantial, and so I opted for projects that could be completed in hours and not days.

Thanks to Ryan Hughes/[RHP] CDRs for inviting me to participate!

Post-Modern Plant Life: An [RHP] CDRs Artist Laboratory – 9th – 15th June

From 9th – 15th June I’ll be taking part in Post-Modern Plant Life: An [RHP] CDRs Artist Laboratory in at Jephson’s Gardens in Leamington Spa:


Post-Modern Plant Life: An [RHP] CDRs Artist Laboratory will provide an opportunity for a group of practitioners from fields including contemporary art, experimental music and academia to spend time together in the unique setting of The Temperate House in Leamington Spa’s Jephson’s Gardens to see how their respective practices can interact with each other and with the visually exciting and complex space.

The practitioners will be encouraged to make new work or to further develop existing projects within this new context with the intention of presenting the results to the public over the Leamington Spa Peace Festival weekend.

  • 9th – 13th: Development Period. (This will not be specifically public facing but will be taking place with the public around).
  • 11th: Open Studio. (This is an opportunity for the public to speak to the participants and to see works in progress). 10:00am – 5:00pm.
  • 14th – 15th: Presentations. (This may be an exhibition, performances, talks or something else. This is public facing and will be existing alongside Leamington Spa’s Peace Festival). 10:00am till 5:00pm both days.

I’ll be one of seven artists taking part, the others being Ryan Hughes (duh), Jake Watts, Verity Jackson, Richard Scott, Ypsmael, Tapiwa Svosve, Cormac Faulkner and Ana Rutter.

I intend to be there most days during the development period but do prod me on TTwwiitteerr to be sure. I’ll be tweeting my progress over at the #PoMoPLLab hashtag.

Sonification Studies/Pixel Waves

In October 2013, whilst visiting Barcelona for the performance at Mutuo Centro De Arte for The Wrong, I had the honour of meeting Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas, collectively known as The Cyborg Foundation.

Throughout the evening we began to see some similarities in how we interpret things we see and hear, as well as how we handle data. For example, in Waiting for Earthquakes, Moon Ribas uses a device attached to her wrists to receive live data of earthquakes around the world. This data is then interpreted in a live dance performance. Neil Harbisson was born with Achromatopsia, a condition that only allowed him to see in greyscale. In order to see, or at least perceive colour, he had an “Eyeborg” implanted, which translates colour frequencies into sound frequencies.

Similarly, some of the work by myself and other digital and new media artists looks at different ways of interpreting data, beyond simple charts and data visualisations. For example, my piece(s) Some of My Favourite Songs from 2012 took the data of an mp3 file and interpreted it as jpg image data.

The Octopus Project - Catalog

So, whilst their work is more advanced and in some cases takes a more performative approach, there are no doubt some similarities.

Later in the evening Neil very kindly did an audio portrait of my face. It’s really intriguing to hear what he sees (there was once a time when that sentence would’ve made no sense). Have a listen:

Kinda murky. Must be the hair.

Being the unique person that I am it was not enough for me to simply hear what I look like. I needed to see what he hears that I look like. Using a modified version of the software that I used to make Some of My Favourite Songs (update available soon) I converted this audio portrait back into an image:

Audio Portrait

Yo Dawg!

Once again not being completely content on just seeing what he hears of what he sees (this is getting confusing) I started to explore methods to again reinterpret this as audio. Much has already been written about sonification, especially in the Sonification Handbook, which I highly recommend you read (I haven’t read all of it yet). For my experiment I wanted to use the red, green and blue (RGB) values of each pixel as a source for the audio. I assume that Neil Harbisson’s Eyeborg does not use the same method as, depending on the resolution of the image, it would take a totes cray cray amount of time to read each pixel, and then it would have to do this 24 times a second (or whatever frame rate he uses). However, my intention is not to reproduce, just reinterpret.

Using Pure Data, my weapon program of choice, I created a simple program, available from my Github account, that would read the RGB values of a pixel from an image from left to right, bottom to top (order define by how [pix_data] works) at a user-defined rate. These values are then used to power three oscillators/[osc~] objects – one for each colour. The RGB values are output from 0-1, so scaling is necessary to get something audible. This scaling can also be set by a user globally or per oscillator. Enough yapping, here’s the software:


Red/Green/Blue denotes the value (0-1) of the current pixel. Current column/line relates to the X/Y position of the pixel currently being read. Scale is how much the pixel value is being scaled by before it reaches the oscillator. For Speed it is reading one pixel every n milliseconds. This speed, however, may become irrelevant once you get to 0.1 milliseconds. By that point it’s going as fast as the computer and program will allow it to go.

With the software in place I began to look at which images produced the “best” sounds when sonified. Of course this is all subjective, but I was after sounds that didn’t sound completely unlistenable and perhaps had some kind of pattern or rhythm. Sonifying the reinterpreted image of my audio portrait produced these results. I added some text information for illustration purposes:

The results are somewhat noisy and unlistenable. Other images from the Some of My Favourite Songs series produced very similar audio results. I soon learnt that the garbage in garbage out rule applied to this process as well. If the image being read is too noisy i.e. if there is a lot of colour variation in closely located pixels, when sonified the resultant audio will be noisy. If I wanted audio with pattens I’d have to use images with visual patterns.

For the next stage in this experiment I turned to images by Joe Newlin. He remixed the original software that I used to make the Some of My Favourite songs into a JPG Synth images. His modification allowed him to send oscillators into the image generator, resulting in some awesome patterns! Go download it now now now! Using one of his example images I was given these results:

Much “better”, amirite? Here’s another experiemnt using one of the CóRM images:

So far, however, I had only dealt with digitally composed images. What do regular digital photographs sound like? Durnig the merriment of the evening at the Cyborg Foundation they invited me to have my “regular” portrait taken in the self-procliamed worlds smallest photography studio! Although only greyscale it produces some quite pleasing results.

For the final stage of this experiment I used colour photographs:

Although these images are visually complex, they produced “successful” results because the colours do not vary greatly.

It’s Just Noise!

Long-time readers will recall that I experimented with sonification back in 2010. In that experiment I tried composing images with the intention of them sonified, with some success:

Now that I have developed a more robust approach and have better understanding of programming in general you can expect me to take this much farther. I predict the development of an image to audio sequencer in the near future.

Copyright Atrophy

I’m happy to finally announce the start of the much-delayed Copyright Atrophy project.


Copyright Atrophy is a project that explores how much an artwork must be changed, remixed, mutated, or altered before it loses all of its associated meaning, context and, more importantly, copyright/trademark status. Check the site regularly to see the newest logo to be destroyed.

I talked a little bit about the project at the Glitch Moment/ums launch in June 2013.