Ketil Nergaard

When I was asked to write about the Glitch symposium, I had never heard the word before. And now, after some 48 hours of Glitch theory, presentations and small talk, the word *glitching* has somehow slid into my vocabulary without me being aware of it. Maybe that is the thing with new words. Since we're never really certain about what they actually mean we tend to rely on how they work socially. And this weekend the Glitch-word worked great socially. After Saturday's long day of initiation, I woke up on Sunday in a glitchy mood. And the mood followed me all through the day as I got more and more tired and the coffee got more and more bitter. So when John Dummett, alias "otiose", tried to sum it all up in the evening, possibly with the same ambivalence as to the usefulness of the term Glitch that I myself had experienced - I didn't really care anymore. But maybe he was right. Maybe the concept by now had grown too wide, and too open for all kinds of errors and slides for it to become really useful. So let us go through it once again to see what happened, but first, an anecdote.

My first idea about the Glitch-word before the symposium had to do with the abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell. American abstract expressionism and action painting can in many ways be called a Glitch movement, obsessed as it was with the chance meeting between oil paint and canvas. The action painters wanted paintings to be events in themselves and void of every kind of illusionism. Their interest was on how expression met materiality in painting, and how the results were always unpredictable. Each of the famous abstract expressionists specialised in different aspects of the glitch. Robert Motherwells trademark was called "bleeding". This effect looks like if you spill butter on a piece of paper. Some of the fat "bleeds" into the paper and leaves a stain around the butter. The same thing happens when you leave some oil paint on a piece of canvas. Some of the oil leaks out into the canvas and leaves a yellowish stain. Motherwell's paintings are full of such "bleedings". But a closer look will reveal that the bleeding effects are actually painted on with a small brush. So Motherwells glitches were faked.

I don't think that anyone would have believed in their version of expressionism if it weren't for the dripping of oil paint. It was the lack of control that made their paintings seem alive. Jackson Pollock set up a frame; the size of the canvas and three or four colors - and left the rest to pure chance; alcohol, dripping, jazz. The resulting painting was consequently a trace of the action. The action painters were predominantly strong men, and their paintings weren't just any old traces. They were traces of a wild and physical contact with the canvas. In this context Motherwell's counterfeit Glitch must have seemed like a faked orgasm. By sitting down in front of the huge canvas and painting faked glitches with a small brush, he broke the rules of abstract expressionism. Luckily for him none of his contemporaries actually noticed his charade.

The somewhat philosophical question that followed us during the symposium; is it is possible to make a mistake (intentionally)? - may not be answered fully, but, as we have seen in the example of Robert Motherwell, it is possible to fake a mistake, and to get away with it.

Interruption and disturbance is also connected to the Glitch-word, and we got an example of that just as the symposium was about to open on Saturday. The large mysterious box that had arrived in the room earlier that morning suddenly started interrupting Amanda Steggell's welcoming speech with rude comments about the speakers. And until someone finally found the hidden code to open the box, Staffan Hjalmarsson's counter-symposium proved to be hard competition for the official one.

Maja Kuzmanovic and Nik Gaffney who started the official program tried to combine talking about glitches with making them. While Nik was playing around with the sounds in the room, Maja invited us to take part in a whispering game. I remember the game from numerous birthday parties as a kid. One person starts by whispering a sentence in their neighbour's ear and the sentence goes from ear to ear around the room. By the time it reaches the last person, who must tell everyone what they though they heard, it is usually so distorted that the original meaning is lost. Well, this time it didn't work since someone broke the circle and several stories instead of one started moving in all directions through the room. So we made a glitch, and it wasn't a fake one, but it wasn't very productive either. This somehow illustrated Majas point that in computers as well as in social life there are more or less productive glitches. The different slips and slides in communication between people and between people and computers can range from the almost invisible to the fatal. With examples taken from a wide range of disciplines her main point was that while we have to strive towards immunity to lethal glitches, we have to allow and to welcome the less critical ones - and that we actually are dependant on them in many ways. All research and all science has to go through phases of chaos and glitch if it aims at something more than just reproducing itself. Since computer programs, for instance, are designed to handle problems that are already solved, we will need a computing error to reach new insights. In Gregory Bateson's words: "All that is not information, not redundancy, not form and not restraints is noise, the only possible source of new patterns".

Gisle Hannemyr's lecture "Electronic disturbers - hackers as subversive" seemed to follow this idea, seeing the hacker as a productive glitch in the history of computer science. According to Gisle, the early days of computer technology in the 50's was a vivid time of creativity and openness. But already in the 60's paradise was lost as the industry induced division of labour, standardisation, hierarchy, and the separation of programmers from technicians. Many programmers protested against this form of control by the industry and became hackers. Gisle's main point was that it is impossible to divide the by now accepted role of the 'hacker' from that of the 'cracker'. The subversive element, cracking of closed databases and of encryption, has always been a part of hacker culture. When the hacker communities now try to rewrite history to free themselves of their "criminal record", they are selling out on what has previously been their main strength, namely the important confrontations with the industry. A recent example of the importance of this activity can be seen in the cracking of the encryption of the software Cyber Patrol that is sold as a program to prevent children from surfing porn on the Internet. Ironically, the two kids who cracked Cyber Patrol also discovered that the program actually had a right wing political agenda blocking both feminist and civil rights sites, but didn't really work too well against porn.

After Gisle's excellent talk we moved on to some real glitch-art. Andi Freeman began his presentation by stating that glitching means treating software or data in ways that were not intended by those who wrote it. Looking at the designed space of the Internet in similar ways as situationists did with urban space he searches for new ways of using it. Andi's series of Internet browsers have in common that they turn the Information Highway into aesthetics.

He showed us how the English bureau of intelligence, MI5, looks rather gray through the eyes of his first browser "Funk&Grind". A newer version of this browser, called "Headbanger", works in a similar way, but by going through the pages at maximum speed, it can also be used to stop the access to a page for other users. While these browsers are pure automats, you start them and that is about it, Andi's newest browser, "Earshot" is an interactive sound browser. "Earshot" browses the net for sound files, and with a set of controllers turns the browser into a musical instrument. For those of you who want to try it out it can be downloaded from Andi's page:


Gisle Frøysland went through his archive of electronic work from the last ten years looking for examples of pre-glitch glitches. He started with "Blank Memory" from 1993, an audio-visual work made on an old Atari almost as powerful as a 1,3Mb floppydisk. It sounds like a glitch in itself, it looked glitchy, but the resulting work was intentional, so no (or yes), this was a fake one. Then he showed us "Mindblow", made some years later on the same computer. This time Gisle had written the program himself, but because of lack of RAM in the machine, the computer was unable to maintain the metrical rhythm of the sound and the resulting composition was pure glitch. Gisle also presented his work "DodoNews", which can currently be seen at:


"DodoNews" is a browser a bit like Andi's automats, but this one searches various newspages for the latest news and reconstructs them like cutup nonsense news poetry.

Being a mathematician and therefore untouched by art school aesthetics, Tony Scott from Beflix makes hardcore visual glitch. He had decided to present his work on an old borrowed PC, opening up his presentation to the inevitable glitches that happened on the way. In this mathematicians cabaret the glitches were funny and light and revealed Tony's nostalgia for first generation computer games. If you type in the word 'glitch art' in a search engine like Google, Tony is on top of the list, and after 6 months on the net his collection of daily errors is still growing. The glitches are mostly made from renaming data files and opening them in a variety of incompatible emulators, and from running old programs on new machines. Tony doesn't seem to care whether or not it is possible to make an intentional mistake, or if an intended mistake is a real one. He has his own rules, and they are as simple as they are strict. You can crop and you can change the colours of a glitch image, but you can never submit it to any of thefilters in Photoshop!

Grethe Melby ended the day by telling some stories from the history of science, a history where legal systems have played a crucial role. Though big inventions seem to pop up at the same time around the world, it is the inventor with the best lawyer that receives the glory in the form of both the honor and the profit. This was also the advice to all glitch artists using software and samples in unexpected and often illegal ways; you better hide your traces, because the people with money will always have the best lawyers. Best of all, become a good lawyer yourself.

After some hours of dinner break the lazy art-audience, those who only turn up for pleasure, started to fill up the hall. When Espen Sommer Eide (Phonophani) sat down in an armchair on stage ready to push his button at around half past nine everybody was there. So Espen pushed the button and the machine started to play. I must confess that I have never got used to this kind of sofa performance. I'm used to singers clinging to microphones and guitarists jumping up and down on stage, and I am not very fond of looking at other peoples desktops projected on the screen either - but the music was good.

The star of the night, and the reason why it was so crowded, was Toastgirl. Toastgirl came all the way from Japan with two dancers, a DJ and her own stagehand. The guys loved her, and I think the girls did too. The music wasn't exactly impressive, but the show was great. Toastgirl has a toaster on her head and the highlight of her performance occurs when she inserts bread into the machine, pushes the button and yells, "cooking!" After half a minute of heavy concentration on her part the toasted bread pops out of the machine and makes everyone happy. Anyone who doubted either the tackiness or the cool of Toastgirl had only to witness how photographer and editor of the art & fashion magazine HOT ROD emptied a couple of film rolls on the diva.

For me, I think Jørgen Larssons "Disco Etudes" was the highlight of the evening. In this composition for piano and computer, Jørgen, a skilled pianist, battled with his own sounds from the computer, playing faster and harder on the piano than any local speed metal band. Especially the first part was excellent. Unfortunately the mix was not to Jørgen's advantage, making it difficult to hear parts of the piano.

The last act of the night was Tøyen, two young guys playing music on their Gameboy machines. For the night Ulf Knudsen and Per Platou from Nood assisted them playing keyboard and guitar. Two generations of Norwegian experimental pop music in perfect harmony.

Cecilia Parsberg's video "To all Queens" opened day two of the symposium. The video documents a chance meeting with a homeless woman in district 6 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cecilia takes a walk in the streets and meets a homeless woman calling herself the Queen of the Homeless. I guess it is the almost uncut immediacy of the film, documenting an event that evolves by itself, that makes it possible to place it in the glitch context. For me though, it seemed that the ethical questions that this disturbing film rises, and that Cecilia was very aware of this, is what makes it most interesting. Through working with this project Cecilia realised how vulnerable the documentary "victim" is, and decided that the film was only to be shown together with her own introduction.

Next on the program was another kind of documentary video. Since the plans to present Jeff Mann's video installation "Interface 1/Adult Contemporary", had become too expensive, the work was presented as a documentation of Jeff's own interaction with the piece. The actual installation is a video-scratching machine that can be used by the audience. By hyper-repetion of short video segments the video changes the somehow synthetic intensity of Canadian superstar Celine Dion into something like surreal religious chanting. Really beautiful.

During Jørgen Larsson's presentation I realised one of the real benefits of the Glitch-word. I suddenly understood that as a technical concept it can be used in the exact same way both in visual and in audio art. With Tony's mathematical cabaret fresh in my memory it was striking to see the resemblance it had with how Jørgen described his work. Like Tony, Jørgen also changes headers of data files in the computer, fooling the software to believe that it can read it. Sometimes this only sounds like white noise, but sometimes he finds what he is looking for; interesting new patterns of sound and rhythm, untouched by human hands. It was great to see the joy on his face as he presented extracts of the piece "Crashing Happy". "Crashing Happy" is the sound of a crashing computer; 28,29 minutes of pure glitch, and this time it wasn't even started by a human.

There has been a myth in the arts, at least since the sixties, about hearing images and watching music. In electronic arts there are many examples of artists saying that they make translations between the senses. Technically speaking they may be right, but they seem to forget the semiotics of their trade. When we listen to a sound file that was generated from data of a picture of a football or a sunset, none of the footballness or the sunsetness is there. There is no reason why the football sound should have more likeness to the football than to the sunset. But none of the participants in the seminar seemed to fall into that mythical trap, so maybe Glitch aesthetics with its emphasis on error and failure has something else to offer than this kind of quasi-mysticism.

Espen Sommer Eide started his philosophical reading of the Glitch-word by examining the reception of one of the natural oddities found in the Wunderkammers of the 17th and 18th centuries. The strange Palyptipos, half bird, half mammal contended any traditional taxonomy at the time it was discovered. It had an ambiguous origin, and it caused immediate interest and shock. In the Wunderkammer such oddities from nature were presented side by side with paintings, technical wonders and orientalia, and there was no real distinction between art and curiosities. Everything that striked the eye and excited the imagination would fit.

In his essay Espen stated that modern art more or less has returned to this conception of art, and that the artful glitch in many ways is an imitation of the natural glitch. The wunderkammer tradition lives on in the collection of samples that sample-based artists store on their hard-drives. In fear of copyright lawsuits, but also out of aesthetical reasons, sample-based artists use a lot of energy to conceal the origin of their samples. In his essay Espen tried to see these hiding techniques in relation to Derrida's readings of Kant's ideas about framing and ornamentation. The question is whether framing and ornamentation are external additions to the work or whether they are intrinsic parts of it. The digital filters and plugins that the electronic musician uses are in themselves tools of ornamentation, but when he makes them glitch or when they completely hide the sample they become undetachable.

Because of a glitch in communication, I was one of the very few people who saw Harald Fetveit's DJ-ing in the kitchen during lunch. It was an ambiguous feeling sitting face to face in the kitchen with an artist-turned-DJ-turned-artist spinning records, and was this a concert or what? But Harald doesn't seem to care. He plays his records one by one. He doesn't act and he doesn't scratch, and though his record collection is both noisy and rare I do not think of noise, I think of music.

It turned out that Staffan Hjalmarson's counter symposium from inside of his box during the opening of the symposium on Saturday, was the last in a series of situationist performances leading up to the Glitch Symposium. On Sunday he was back to present his machine which is nothing but a fiberglass box on wheels, just big enough for one person to live in. The machinery inside was Staffan, and it was meant to function as a communication machine in public space. Staffan places the box in a particular context, climbs in, gets someone to lock him up, and the machine is ready to work. His first action took place at the entrance of the art museum in Gothenburg, were he tried to convince people into helping him in to see the latest exhibition. Another one took place outside of a bank where he tried to crash the economic system by giving bad economic advices to the people going in to the bank. Most of the actions ended with failure, either with someone rolling the box into a deserted parking lot, or by policemen breaking the lock. Staffans investigations of the limitations set upon the use of public space becomes touching as we follow him through his well documented series of failed experiments, always polite, always ready to discuss his role, but never giving in.

The night was arriving, and the Glitch symposium was reaching its end. My feeling that the concept had become too wide, made me think back to my first years at art-school in the eighties. At the time the term 'post modernism' was entering the art debate, and for some years, everything was postmodernist. Art, philosophy, clothing and even food. It didn´t take much time before we all were quite fed up with it, but thinking back there is no doubt that the concept and the discussions it started has formed me. In comparison with post modernism, glitch is a modest word. It doesn´t claim sovereignity or a shift of paradigm. It just creates another viewpoint. And at least in Norway, where the art debate still hasn´t fully recovered from the introduction of modernism, we are in desperate need of new viewpoints. So maybe I was wrong. Maybe it is exactly because theconcept is so open that it can be useful.

Ketil Nergaard, 20.01.02