The possibilities of using glitch theories in an understanding of queerness, and particularly in understanding queer art, are extremely exciting. Unfortunately, Legacy Russell, Chad Parkhill, and Jessica Rodgers all fail to construct useful discussions of glitch as it relates to queerness or feminism in their works. In my view, used appropriately, a glitch becomes useful when it represents an unexpected breaking away from a system that has been taken for granted, and misunderstood as natural and obvious. The glitch then serves to snap us out of our illusions.
Applied to queer and feminist art, glitches can be used to illuminate rigid gender and sexuality boundaries, or can heighten our awareness of our own interactions with media. For example, in a music video for a famous female celebrity, instead of the titular celebrity performing a lip sync dance routine in various beautiful locations, the video could be of a middle aged, pot bellied and bearded man wearing the celebrity’s fashion, lip syncing her words, and dancing in a similarly effeminate manner to the artist herself. This glitch is not of the technological kind, but most certainly the systemic kind. As a play on misrecognition, this glitch is humorous, but that humor plays directly on an understanding of how a female singer should sound and what an on-screen celebrity ought to look like. Thus the system is revealed, but not yet subverted. The glitch is still an error.
If the expectation that the male stand-in is a misrecognition of the celebrity, then to break our expectations he must perform more beautifully than her. Perhaps his fashion is not only extreme but lavishly beautiful, and his dance moves not exaggerations of femininity but powerful expressions of it. Then, instead of a misrecognition, it becomes hyper-recognition. The glitch becomes a part of the system, rather than a disintegrating break from it.
This sort of view of glitch as a potentially useful tool for queer and feminist activists and artists to use in subverting patriarchal and rigid systems of power, was what I had hoped and failed to see in these articles. The AIDS one even started with a claim that it discovered a stronger counter argument against partway through that it half-bakedly tried to claim as a ‘qualifier’ for a larger argument it never really developed. Ultimately it was counterproductive. The other article did offer an interesting view of buffering porn videos and waiting for sexts as new parts of foreplay in the digital age.
In his article, Peter Krapp outlines various important distinctions surrounding the conceptualization of what constitutes ‘music’. He looks at it along the axes of semantic information, perceptual interest, repetition, genre, context, and novelty. Basically, Krapp complicates any universal notion of noise music by showing first how music can simultaneously contain semantic information, such as a retro recognition of aesthetics, genre conventions, recognizable rhythms, and meaningful lyrics, as well as non-semantic information that is molded into ‘music’ by a shifting understanding of what the term ‘music’ itself means, from the abstract concept of ‘repetition’ itself, to sounds we absolutely don’t recognize or necessarily understand the source of.
Krapp, like Nunes, at some points reduces the understanding of glitch to ‘intentionality’, where what differentiates noise from music could very well be simply the discretion of the artist. In such a postmodern view, anything presented by an ‘artist’ can be music, which retroactively deconstructs the sociocultural construction of artistic status and authority. Krapp deconstructs noise music’s potential for subversion by offering that it presents novelty, but also an appropriable aesthetic, not just of clicks and pops, but of deconstructivism.
Krapp offers that the widespread appropriation of deconstructive music has allowed it, itself, to continually be squeezed into ‘black boxes’. Krapp points out how hip hop sampler culture became a retro style, and how synthesizers became black boxes. Krapp reveals some hope in the margins, by suggesting that a theory of ‘glitching’, in the abstract sense of an eternal dedication to discovery via error, could be codified into softwares that allow for and support all the things required for new subversive (and otherwise) musics, such as new technological limitations to appropriate and a way to ‘record’ and manipulate, and thus commodify, those discoveries. Krapp points to Max, MSC, and Ableton live.
Mark Nunes offers an analysis of glitch studies through its place in a continuous history of cybernetics, networked systems, and information theory. Nunes explains the history of the error, beginning with its classical dual etymological meaning as a wrong path as well as an ‘errant’ path, simply meaning a path taken without an initial intent or purpose. Later in time, as the ideological interpretation of the world evolved from an ‘explicit’ universal interpretation to a fuzzier, ‘statistical’ interpretation, where anything in the world might not necessarily be describable in its exact nature, but anything could be described by the statistical possibilities of its existence.
In this interpretation, ‘error’ is considered an aspect of the description of the system itself, where individual events or entities are described in terms of how much they deviate from a distribution of many of such events or entities. In a cybernetic view of error, error isn’t viewed as simply descriptive but as ‘feedback’, as a way of measuring how far away a signal is from how it ‘ought’ to be. This view of error is intrinsically tied into a regime of ‘purposiveness’, where errors are only thought of in relation to how they describe the distance to an ‘end-goal’.
This form of thinking has continued on even to this very day in the form of gradient descent algorithms and other cost-functions in machine learning that has, in the past few years, seeped into every corner of every technical field that exists. The idea there is that if you can run inputs through a system that randomly performs multiple layers of transformation to the inputs that result in the end output, you can ‘train’ the end output by determining how much the system ‘deviates’ from the preferred behavior, and then propagate proportionately opposite adjustments to the transformations that happen between input and output. Rinse and repeat until the outputs are emulating the preferred behavior near-perfectly.
Such systems tend to create descriptive abstractions about the patterns that they are analyzing, which humans can exploit to create more efficient algorithms to obtain the same behavior. Typically however, the abstractions become so complex and intricate for more difficult patterns that emulating them algorithmically becomes infeasible. Accepting that the machine generated result is more accurate than all human efforts has been the most recent development in this type of cybernetic ‘efficiency-above-all-else’ thinking.
Zizek describes a societal problem in the general trend of education’s privatization in Europe, where they are becoming less accessible for those who wish to subvert the system, and gradually more accessible to those who wish to simply become experts that can solve specific problems within the pre-defined systems. Zizek posits that this form of education, which is technician-based rather than academically based, robs us of the ability to address the larger issues with the ‘systems’ themselves.
The problem-solving of education becomes in the interest of profit, and thus becomes a part of the self-reinstating system of capitalism, rather than superseding it in the public interest. Zizek offers a double-edged concern, where on one side of the spectrum, education is completely devoid of wider perspectives, and focuses exclusively on solving problems where the solutions lie within the system of capitalism, and on the other side those in deep education lack any connection to the capitalist society and thus become disinterested or even unqualified to address any of its problems.
Instead, Zizek offers a middle path, where bridges are formed between experts and deep academics, such that the path of experts are informed by deep research, and researchers become connected to the issues on the ground.
Tim Baker offers a piece of writing which situates the glitch arts along a continuum of previous works in machine art or as he dubs them, process arts, where human hands construct machines which then themselves perform the art. Baker discusses this phenomenon of art as a human exploitation of error and generation, where the role of humans in the art is not the production of the art but instead the curation, framing, and interpretation of it, as well as constructing the ‘systems’ which result in it.
In Baker’s vision of ‘glitch art’ as a continuation of ‘machine art’, it acknowledges and heightens the role of system-building in artistic endeavors, with a specific emphasis on the points at which such systems break down and escape the intentions that the human artists behind the system have applied to it. Baker explores modern renditions of glitch art in visual and audio capacities, looking specifically at how machine interactions offer unique possibilities for art which escapes the preconceived boundaries of art curation, viewership, and human interaction.
Baker talks about the communications model of sender, message, receiver, and how glitch arts acknowledge the reality of the systems that facilitate that model of communications, offering instead steps that pass through the ‘medium’ of communication, that being software in this case, on its way to a receiver. The distinction for Baker between glitch art and machine art is the contrast between the artist’s intent and the result. The paradox for Baker is that to create glitch art one must not be aware of the way in which the system works, otherwise, the result can be created according to an intention.
Rosa Menkman’s glitch studies manifesto offers an operational leading light for anyone interested in how to embrace the possibilities provided by glitches. Menkman’s approach transcends the ‘aesthetics’ of glitch and prescribes instead a theoretical understanding of glitches as illuminating ‘breaks in the system’. She suggests that to make the greatest use of glitches, one must be inclined to embrace faults and be prepared to experience them outside of the regularly understood rules of previously embraced systems.
For Menkman, this isn’t to reduce glitch art to aesthetics, but to understand that the theoretical purpose of glitches is lost when they become a feature rather than a bug. The objective of glitch art, for Menkman, is to ‘feature the bug’, in a way that provokes new ideas about the systems within which it was created, whether that be challenging the way design tools themselves have been designed, or more theoretical distinctions like sexuality and gender interpretations.
Menkman broadens her definition of glitch studies beyond glitch art, to include ‘artifacts’ and ‘noise’ ‘acousmatic videoscapes’, and ‘glitchspeak’. Her manifesto prescribes an embrace with subversion and breaks in flow. She suggests glitch studies presents the possibility of looking at political subversion through an Aristotelian ideal ‘break’: ‘glitch’ as the primordial source of the dialectic.
Menkman also offers the performance of glitches as a form of catharsis: a metaphorical release from the systems that we are bound to otherwise. She suggests caution towards turning glitch art effects into end-means processes that rob them of their potential for political subversion as well as catharsis in breaking. After all, is it a glitch if you intended it.