Digital

I saw this video about a Justin Bieber song on the NYT where Skrillex and Diplo (the guys behind the song) talk about making it. At one point they say something really interesting about analogue manipulation- now that the technology is so cheap, anyone can copy a digital sound, whereas a decade or two ago it was very very expensive and time consuming. The only way to make a unique sound now, is to digitally distort a sample, such as Bieber’s vocal, to squash it/speed it up/slow it down/change the pitch etc.

It's pretty common in image making to scan in hand-made shapes/textures etc and play with them digitally. But the video made me think about what that digital distortion really is, and I realised that at the heart it’s that glitchy language you sometimes get if you don’t copy a file correctly or if you drop a camera or scale some pixels up too big. There’s a quality to that glitch that is the same as a digitally manipulated sound. So I learnt a little about JPG encoding and about how you can edit the text that makes up the code.

 

There’s a indeterminacy to the results, but also once you’ve been doing it a while, there’s a predictability too. You get the same mistakes and quality each time, but the exact result is random. So in that sense it’s kind of similar to traditional printmaking, where you have scuzzy bits in a screenprint, or the grain in a woodcut. You expect those mistakes and become kind of nostalgic for them. So I thought maybe the same could be true of digital glitches.

 

 

The results are interesting on their own, as abstract patterns, but I thought it’d be more interesting if you could incorporate them into your everyday work. I made this patchwork pattern where some of the segments use the digital glitching as an element of the design. On some level I was connecting textiles and the glitch work, but it wasn't until I realised some of the initial stuff I was doing looked similar to Anni Albers’* weavings, that I thought digital manipulation must be related to textiles. Then I remembered watching a documentary on information technology and they spoke about one of the first computers, called the Jacquard loom, that revolutionised the textile industry by using punched cards that were ‘read’ by the machine. That coded card idea was later developed by IBM and is still still an important idea in computing. The code of the punch cards in weaving isn’t any different to the code of a JPG or an MP3. The connection between all this is in the coding itself- it's the sequencing and reinterpretation or the manipulation and misinterpretation of patterns.

 

*Anni Albers, who ended up teaching at Black Mountain college, where John Cage (who I’ve been so obsessed by this last summer) also taught. It’s all connected, friends!