“This [sound] might be achieved by simple manipulation or modification (taking the technology apart and trying to put it back together), or it might be through overloading it or otherwise stretching its operating parameters, until it starts to fall apart or break down…Experimentation with readily available tools…the risk of sometimes great loss is turned to great gain as traditional and commonplace sound practices are themselves transformed, extended, and expanded.”

The use of glitch isn’t new. Before digital technologies, artists altered sound in both intentional and unexpected ways by damaging or manipulating physical media, first instruments, vinyl discs, and turntables. As such, many scholars cite the development of current strategies originating in the 1960s, with vinyl manipulations by artists such as those associated with the Fluxus movement or DIAS, such as John Cage and Milan Knizak. Strategies of vinyl manipulation included putting tape on surfaces, cracking discs, scratching their surface, cutting the grooves, filling grooves with paint or mud, warping discs so they were no longer flat, scuffing surfaces with sandpaper, cutting discs into wedges and reforming them, completely smashing or destroying vinyls, playing them at the wrong speed or backwards, allowing the gramophone to run down, bumping microphones on the phonograph deck, holding cymbals over the turntable to cause feedback loops to occur, replacing vinyl discs with objects such as wood, metal, or sandpaper, replacing the stylus with a toothpick, using a contact microphone, smashing the tone arm, or removing the tone arm.

“By playing [vinyls] over (which destroyed the needle and often record players too) an entirely new music was created. Unexpected, nerve-racking, aggressive. Compositions lasting a second or almost infinitely long (as then the needle got stuck in a deep groove and played the same phrase over and over again)...I began sticking tapes over records, painting over them, burning them, cutting them up and gluing parts of different records back together, etc. to achieve the widest possible variety of sounds. A glued joint created a rhythmic element separating contrasting melodic phrases.”

“I realized that when I listened to a record, there were all these unwanted sounds, clicks and pops, because of the deterioration of the record, the surface noise, scratches. Instead of rejecting these residual sounds, I’ve tried to use them, bringing them to the foreground to make people aware they are listening to a recording and not live music.” -Christian Marclay

You get the point. They tried everything.

Japanese noise music of the early-1980s to mid-1990s is also cited by artists and scholars alike as a massively influential scene for further development of strategies of failure. These noise musicians highlighted dissonance within Japanese consumer culture by the constructing and centering the use of analog feedback devices, creating new assemblages of sound grouped around low frequency throb and screeching high ends.

In the 1990s, the proliferation of CD technologies allowed artists to explore strategies of failure at a new scale with an entirely new medium. Sometimes this meant applying tape or some other marker to the substrate of a CD similar to vinyl manipulation; however, the delicacy of CD technology compared to vinyl discs encouraged artists to develop alternative ways of manipulating sound. As such, CD manipulation diverged from earlier failure strategies, leading to unique sounds of skipping, jumping, and hissing. Artists also achieved failure by overloading CPUs (central processing units) to produce sounds of “glitch” as we might conceive of today.

In the mid-late 1990s, media manufacturers such as IBM, Microsoft, and Apple simplified versions of integrated software applications for more popular production use, expanding creation to anyone with (increasingly affordable) home computer equipment. Now, not only did the distribution of MP3s and CD-Rs take place on the internet, but the entire process of production could as well. An explosion of experimentation took place, giving name to “glitch” as a genre for the first time.

“Computers have become the primary tools for creating and performing electronic music, while the Internet has become a logical new distribution medium. For the first time in history, creative output and the means of its distribution have been inextricably linked.” –Kim Cascone