Electronic noise: Glitch in the matrix

Posted on August 8, 2014



Art used to be all composition, paint and sculpture: materials applied, carved and manipulated. Computing changed all that. Music is synthesized, we paint with light, sketch in code and reproduce perfectly. WeLove Digital takes a look at electronic art to see if it has any real substance.

There is a glitch in the matrix: it is electronic art. Digital systems have allowed artists to create perfect mass reproductions, but modern electronic muses often prefer to inject analogue noise and user error into what could have been a bland binary world.

Electronic artist and designer Jamie Hearn says he likes to make things with his head and his hands. He researches media culture, experiments with design and user interaction. A lot of the projects he works on are collaborations and what I would call high concept art – using ‘big data’ gathered from landscape and geotechnical instruments to depict occurrences at the Berlin-based ‘Afterglow‘ media and arts festival – they make sense only in a specific context.

The Lie Machine
Others like ‘The Lie Machine’ strike a balance between academic and popular culture, they are well-researched and look great too. The Lie Machine recreates an early lie-detection apparatus that used micro-tremors in voice patterns to decide whether a person was telling the truth. By applying the lie machine to old recorded speeches or audiobooks – such as George Bush’s ‘Decision Points’, ‘Going Rogue: An American Life’ by Sarah Palin, and ‘A Journey: My Political Life’ by Tony Blair – the project takes on a blackly comic edge.

The title itself is taken from a 1973 Playboy article on a voice stress analysis (VSA) instrument designed to fit into a Samsonite briefcase. Add to the fact that the use of computerised VSA in the trial of Florida security guard George Zimmerman partly contributed to his acquittal from the charge of second degree murder of teenager Trayvon Martin and it brings our ideas and perceptions about the technology up to the present day. Jamie widely describes his work as an examination of ‘exegetic technology’, a critical interpretation of technology.

volumemoika_6The purpose of art is to frustrate perception
‘Volume’ is Jamie’s collaboration with Bernhard Garnicnig, Elana Jeeaooo and the Radar Agency. He describes it is a composition for sound and architecture, using the frame of a soon to be demolished building at the City Museum of Moscow. Holes were drilled into the walls to create sound channels, listening points for a ‘sound world’ created inside, or fissures to ‘decompose the building’ – a requiem for doomed Soviet architecture. It looks like it sounds, large concrete walls artistically ‘altered’ to allow fragments of light and audio to leak out.

Jamie has worked closely with the Berlin-based Transmediale digital arts and culture festival, the ZK/U Berlin Center for Art and Urbanistics and the Laboratory for Electronic Arts and Performance. LEAP as it is known has its own Vimeo channel and one of the videos on its page is taken from the TED Blog on the reality of DNA technology.

The video (below) is a documentary about the work of artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, who collected hairs shed in public spaces so she could sequence the DNA contained in them and print 3D sculptures of what those hairs’ owners might look like. It is a frightening thought that as DNA sequencing technology becomes cheaper and more widely available, someone could quite easily possess your DNA secrets without your knowledge.


Running deep
Delve a little deeper into the world of the glitch and you uncover a worldwide network of artists dedicated to uncovering mysteries in technology and code. A few of those suggested by Jamie as influential and interesting electronic artists to take note of are listed below.

Noise central
Phillip Stearns is a US glitch artist who shares videos about his electronic media projects and runs two blogs – one a WordPress blog with details of all his work and another Tumblr dedicated to his ‘glitch-a-day’ project ‘Year of the Glitch’. Look at this video below about Stearns’ textiles made from code printouts.


Garnet Hertz’s biography (at Concept Lab) says he is an “artist and researcher whose work explores themes of DIY culture and interdisciplinary art/design practices”. His ‘Videodome’ project is a transparent helmet filled with cameras that broadcast a live image of the wearer as it switches between each camera (video below). Cool.


The Optron
More light and noise from Japanese electronic improvisation artist Atsuhiro Ito. Ito made his own instrument – the Optron – using a fluorescent light tube. He is a member of the “extreme optical noise core band” Optrum.