&nbrs;Beyond Resolution


[ethnography of macroblocks]
We already know too much for noise to exist - Douglas Kahn

As the popularization and cultivation of glitch artifacts is spreading, it is interesting to track the development of these processes in specific case studies. One case study of a compression artifact, referred to as ‘datamoshing’, tells an especially interesting account of glitch cultivation.

The datamosh artifact is located in a realm where compression artifacts and glitch artifacts collide. The artifact caused by compression is stable and reproducible, as it is the effective outcome of keyframes being deleted. The outcome of this deletion is the visualisation of the indexed movement of macroblocks, smearing over the surface of an old keyframe. This makes the video morph in unexpected colours and forms.

In 2005, Sven König embarked on his exploration into the politics of file standards, through this particular datamoshing effect, and in relation to the free codec Xvid. Xvid is a primary competitor of the proprietary DivX Pro Codec (note that Xvid is DivX spelled backwards), which is often used for speedy online video distribution through peer-to-peer networks. In aPpRoPiRaTe! (Sweden: 2005) König used the codec to manipulate and appropriate ‘complete video files found in file sharing networks’. His work included an open source software script that could be used to trigger the compression-effect in realtime. Through the use of the Xvid codec and copyrighted material, König tried to pinpoint the tension between the usage of non-proprietary compression codecs and their uptake in DRM (Digital Rights Management) remix-strategies.

In his next project, Download Finished! (2007), König explored how the codec could be used to transform and republish found footage from p2p networks and online archives. The result became the rough material for his online transformation software, which translated ‘the underlying data structures of the films onto the surface of the screen’. With the help of the software, file sharers could become ‘authors by re-interpreting their most beloved films’.

A swift maturation of the datamoshing effect took place in 2009 at the same time as Paul B. Davis was preparing for his solo show at the Seventeen Gallery in London. Davis’ show was partially based on a formal and aesthetic exploration of the artifact. While the show was intended to critique popular culture by way of datamosh interventions, this culture caught up with him overnight, when the effect penetrated the mainstream just prior to the opening of his show. Davis’ reaction to the fate of appropriation plays out as the opening quote of this chapter: ‘It fucked my show up...the very language I was using to critique pop content from the outside was now itself a mainstream cultural reference’.

Prominent music videos, including Kanye West’s Welcome To Heartbreak (2009, directed by Nabil Elderkin) and Chairlift’s Evident Utensil (2009, Ray Tintori) indeed had popped up bringing the datamoshing effect into the mainstream via MTV. The new wave of interest in the effect generated by these clips, lead to a Youtube tutorial on datamoshing, followed by an explosion of datamosh videos and the creation of different datamosh plugins, developed by for instance the Japanese artist UCNV.

In the 2010 GLI.TC/H festival in Chicago, thirty percent of the entries were based on the datamoshing technique (around 80 of a total 240). The technique that was used to critique popular culture, by artists like König or Davis, was now used to generate live visuals for the masses. Datamoshing had become a controlled, consumed and established effect. The aesthetic institutionalization of the datamoshing artifact became more evident when Murata’s video art work Monster Movie (2005), which used datamoshing as a form of animation, entered the Museum of Modern Art in New York in an exhibition in 2010.

This ‘new’ form of conservative glitch art puts an emphasis on design and end products, rather than on the post-procedural and political breaking of flows. There is an obvious critique here: to design a glitch means to domesticate it. When the glitch becomes domesticated into a desired process, controlled by a tool, or technology - essentially cultivated - it has lost the radical basis of its enchantment and becomes predictable. It is no longer a break from a flow within a technology, but instead a form of craft. For many critical artists, it is considered no longer a glitch, but a filter that consists of a preset and/or a default: what was once a glitch is now a new commodity.