Part of Birmingham City University‘s involvement in GLI.TC/H 2011 involved me teaching Kate Pushkin, a student on the MA Digital Arts in Performance course, how to “do” glitch art, with the aim of devising a ~15 minute piece to be performed at GLI.TC/H. Given the number of tutorials and tools that are available online one would imagine this to be an easy challenge, right? Well, I only had the week prior to GLI.TC/H to do all of this. Yikes!
It’s true that taking leaps instead of baby steps and working under pressure helps us to learn, and so Gregory Sporton, the course leader, explicitly only gave Pushkin a week to devise this piece, with only a one-day tutorial with myself.
After GLI.TC/H had ended I caught up with Pushkin to see how she approached this task. The first step in teaching her was to find out exactly what she knew about glitch art:
I didn’t know what [glitch art] was. I did know what a glitch was.
I’ve got the impression that the coding side of things and the software side of it, in that respect, is considered key [in glitch art].
Pushkin had done some experimenting with video editing in the past and had, although unintentionally, come into contact with glitch aesthetics through feedback loops. Due to the short time allocated there really wasn’t much of a chance to explore the somewhat hazy history of glitch art.
I went on a couple of glitch artists’ websites and they didn’t work on my computer and I couldn’t tell if that was a big joke or if actually my computer just couldn’t handle what it was doing.
In trying to understand and describe what she had found, Pushkin says:
What I thought glitch was was very much the kind of very modern looking bright colours […] Moving visuals that have abstract content and are quite lurid.
Although the debate still rages on about what glitch art is or isn’t I feel this description is really quite accurate. Although she has described glitch art and the processes as very digital-looking and relying on computers the content she chose to use somewhat surprised me.
Pushkin had chosen a lot of content that had a very analogue feel to it. The glitches present represented the types found on VHS tapes and old records rather than compression artifacts or digital errors. She utilised her own Super 8 film footage together with attempting to replicate compression artifacts using analogue techniques.
I tried to replicated [the pixelation effect] using a disco ball and my webcam.
Putting the pixelation effect on the organic pixelation of the disco ball. That’s the sort of thing that, if I was going to take [glitch art] further, that’s the sort of thing I’d be into.
Considering that I had mostly shown her glitch art that had a very digital feel to it (databending, datamoshing etc) I was somewhat surprised by her choice of content. Nonetheless, I’m very pleased that she was able to find a style that she was comfortable working with.
On producing her content Pushkin faced several challenges. As we’ve seen she used analogue methods to produce her footage but she still wanted to make something that could integrate well with the festival and have a digital feel to it.
The first thing that Pushkin did, in order to try and glitch her videos was to “Download stuff wrong”:
The very first thing that I did was downloading stuff wrong. Downloading things […] But then saving it before it was finished in order to see what the results would be
What Pushkin had unknowingly come across was what happens when you remove I-frames from videos, or what is more commonly known as Datamoshing. For Pushkin this was a very much a hit-and-miss operation, with most of her clips being unplayable. To assist her I took some of her content and ran it through the What Glitch? scripts, but it was clear that she was after a more analogue feel.
Below is a sample of some of the content that she produced, together with the audio from her performance:
The other challenge came from the software. Pushkin was more akin to using software such as Final Cut Pro to produce videos, but for GLI.TC/H she would be faced with the task of performing live. As a user of Pure Data for nearly all of my performance work I attempted to teach her the basics of this. Although it is a somewhat complicated program, under the right supervision it is very easy to get a video player that has a few basic effects. I gave Pushkin a short tutorial and then later provided her with some abstractions that I use in my video mixer. The resultant patch looked like this:
As a tool for manipulating videos Pushkin found Pure Data inspiring, but time constraints prevented her from delving further into the software:
I really wanted to be able to make my own patch for my own effect, and I found it quiet frustrating, but at the same time I did give up relatively quickly because it became obvious what is going to possible in the time, given that I’d have to do something other than just make an effect for 20 minutes of entertainment.
Also technical problems sometimes arose that threatened her performance:
I had a lot of trouble with crossfading and my computer. And every time I’ve ever done it except the actual performance my computer crashed when I first faded too much. But I learnt how to get it running again in 35 seconds, so that’s a good lesson for life!
Despite all of this, it all came together on the day of GLI.TC/H. You can watch her whole performance below:
(The other videos from the event are also available online)
I’m really very pleased with her performance. Pushkin is by no means a novice in producing artwork, but to tackle a whole new style of art in a few days and then perform in front of nearly 70 people is quite an achievement.
I wonder, is glitch art (and circuit bending) something that could/should be taught at art institutions?