Glitch is a term used to describe a style of electronic music that emerged in the mid to late 1990s that adheres to an ‘aesthetic of failure,’ where the deliberate use of glitch based audio media, and other sonic artifacts, is a central concern.
Sources of glitch sound material are usually malfunctioning or abused audio recording devices or digital technology, such as CD skipping, electric hum, digital or analog distortion, bit rate reduction, hardware noise, computer bugs, crashes, vinyl record hiss or scratches, and system errors. In a ‘Computer Music Journal’ article published in 2000, composer and writer Kim Cascone classifies glitch as a sub-genre of electronica, and used the term ‘post-digital’ to describe the glitch aesthetic.
The origins of the glitch aesthetic can be traced to the early 20th century, with Luigi Russolo’s Futurist manifesto ‘The Art of Noises,’ the basis of noise music. He also constructed noise generators, which he named intonarumori. Later musicians and composers made use of malfunctioning technology, such as Christian Marclay who used mutilated vinyl records to create sound collages beginning in 1979. Yasunao Tone used damaged CDs in his ‘Techno Eden’ performance in 1985, while Nicolas Collins’s 1992 album ‘It Was A Dark and Stormy Night’ included a composition that featured a string quartet playing alongside the stuttering sound of skipping CDs.
Glitch originated as a distinct movement in Germany with the musical work and labels (especially Mille Plateaux) of Achim Szepanski. The movement slowly gained members including bands like Oval, whose album ‘Wohnton’ (1993) helped define the genre by adding ambient aesthetics to it. Though Oval may be the first in which the techniques of Musique Concrete were applied to the subtleties of Ambient, glitch is also informed by techno and industrial music. The mid-nineties work of Warp records artists Aphex Twin and Autechre were also influential in the development of the digital audio manipulation technique and aesthetic.
Glitch is often produced on computers using modern digital production software to splice together small ‘cuts’ (samples) of music from previously recorded works. These cuts are then integrated with the signature of glitch music: beats made up of glitches, clicks, scratches, and otherwise ‘erroneously’ produced or sounding noise. These glitches are often very short, and are typically used in place of traditional percussion or instrumentation. Skipping CDs, scratched vinyl records, circuit bending (the intentional short-circuiting of low power electronic devices to create new musical devices), and other noise-like distortions figure prominently into the creation of rhythm and feeling in glitch; it is from the use of these digital artifacts that the genre derives its name. However, not all artists of the genre are working with erroneously produced sounds or are even using digital sounds. Some artists also use digital synthesizer such as the Clavia Nord Modular G2 and Elektron Machinedrum and Monomachine.