What is liveglitch all about?

An experiment in using glitches to understand complexity

January 27, 2014

I’ve been working on a little project called liveglitch. I wanted to do a bit of explaining around it here.

What it is glitching and liveglitch?

Glitching (AKA databending) is the process of exploring digital media by breaking it. It creates a distinctive aesthetic, a modern form of the traditional static and warping from analogue signals breaking down.

One of the simplest and rawest ways of glitching a piece of media is to open the binary file in a text editor, change a few characters here and there, save and re-open in the media player and witness the results. This is the process I used to create my facebook profile picture.

The process is the same with video and audio files, but so is the feedback loop. You have to save and re-open the file to see the changes. I wanted to shorten the feedback loop, in a similar way to how Firebug did to playing with web pages. Liveglitch is my first experiment of doing so, by using in-process code reloading and an HTTP proxy to enable you to edit the ASCII version of the media file as it plays.

I’ve provided instructions on how to do this in the library’s readme, or you can see a short screencast of me demoing liveglitch on youtube.

What Glitching represents for me

I’ve been interested in glitching for a while. Aesthetically it is interesting, but I feel that side of it has been sufficiently covered and has sunk into popular culture enough for me not to explore that side of it. But I think there’s much more to be explored other than its aesthetics.

Algorithms, computers and complexity

While I was working on building Little Printer at BERG Cloud, anyone that had something to show at the end of the week would contribute to what we called Friday Demos. We were an unusually small team working on such a large and varied project, inculding design explorations in this new Internet of Things concept and package design down to plastic injection moulding and circuit board assembly, calling at full stack web design and development, radio certification and fulfilment along with much more, but you get the idea. When enough of these things lined up at Friday Demos, we would experience something (assisted by our end of week beer) we soon dubbed as ‘BERG Cloud Vertigo’. It’s hard to explain the feeling, but it was both unnerving and amazing to see all the specialisation and industries towering on top of each other. It’s something I definitely want to find ways of sharing with others.

Encoding and compression of media files is incredibly complex, but like many complex things in this world, it has some potent and simple ideas that tickle the brain in interesting ways. I’ve been thinking about this pattern for quite a while, and how it’s been growing in the world. Put simply, everything’s getting more complicated. Populations continue to grow to unseen sizes and technologies to extraordinary capabilities. Around this, so do our processes and organisational structures. However, our politics and art seem to struggle to keep up. We seem embarrassingly unprepared and lacking in both our collective intellectual and emotional understanding of the emerging modern world around us.

I could ramble along various pontifications of the effect of this on hundreds of very important issues, but I’ll save myself the embarrassment this time. But I’ll definitely go as far as it deserves some exploration. Hence liveglitch.


On a somewhat more grounded note, liveglitch pokes at a few of my thoughts around education.

During the early days of the current buzz around teaching kids to code in school, I declined to participate for various reasons, including a lack of any knowledge of how to educate. But I’m beginning to regret that decision, as I’m frustrated by how little it seems the schemes it is producing address the reality of the culture and education in disadvantaged comprehensive schools. I believe it is a falacy that putting programming on the curriculum addresses any of the many valid concerns. The problems are far deeper. Comprehensive education seems to be hitting the same barriers as above in the increasingly complicated world. What do we teach our less advantaged kids to give them the tools to survive, and maybe even flourish? And what hope do we have when so few of the people in power around this have any idea what it is like on a day to day basis in these schools, let alone have attended them themselves.

So I’d like to play with that a bit, from the left field, and liveglitch feels like a way into it. In a world where no one person knows everything about anything, what happens when we make that really tactile, and let people experience that. Does the Berg Cloud Vertigo shift our thinking in this area?

Next Steps

The next step was to write this article. A bit lame, I admit. The next steps were to fully educate myself about encoding and encryption, but 4 hours into 40 hours of lectures, my situation has changed which means I have to focus on some other things for a while, and as always there’s a chance I may not be able to get back to this. So I wrote this to get my thoughts around it public before it got abandoned.

Feedback is always welcome though. Email me or find me in the pub.

For more content you can see all of my posts, or read about me.


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