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What is Glitch Music?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Glitch music is a genre of electronic music, dating from the early part of the 1990s. It is a highly experimental form of music, well outside the mainstream, but with a devoted group of followers.

Glitch music is often traced back decades before it was formalized as a musical style, to the philosophical underpinnings of Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noises. Russolo, who was a Futurist in the early-20th century, laid out many of his beliefs about the future scope of music in a letter to a friend. In his manifesto he argues that humans have grown used to the aural qualities of the urban landscape, with its frenetic speed and energy, and high volume constant noise. He goes on to argue that in response to this acclimation, musicians of the future will have to expand greatly on their traditional instruments and ranges, to encompass the virtually infinite expanse of the post-industrial soundscape.

In the early 1990s, a band called Oval was formed in Germany. All three of the original members of Oval, Markus Popp, Frank Metzger, and Sebastial Oschatz, are viewed as pioneers of glitch music. Oval eschewed the use of synthesizers that were popular in electronic music during the 1990s, and instead damaged CDs by writing on them with pens, using the mangled sounds this produced as the bedrock of their music.

The glitch aesthetic of glitch music is characterized by its use of digital artifacts, rather than more traditional intentional sounds. Glitch music makes use of all sorts of roughly chaotic sounds, from the skipping of discs, to hardware crashing in mid-note, to various bugs that give unexpected sounds to previously arranged songs. Glitch music uses these different sounds where more traditional music would employ percussion or instruments, and integrates them with spliced together samples from other songs.

In recent years a wide range of software has sprung up to help musicians create their own sounds for use in glitch music. From Reaktor to FLStudio, these programs and program suites allow a high level of fine tuning to create exactly the "glitched" sound the musician is looking for. The technique of circuit bending, where electronic devices are intentionally short-circuited to create instrumentation, is also utilized extensively in glitch music.

A sub-genre of glitch music, often referred to as glitch hop or click hop, has come on to the scene in recent years. Glitch hop uses most of the same techniques as glitch music to develop its instrumentation, but places it into a more traditional hip hop framework, as opposed to the more electronica-oriented framework of glitch itself. The glitch hop scene is growing fastest in Los Angeles, with bands such as Dabrye, Jahcoozi, and Edit.

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Discussion Comments
By Engelbert — On May 02, 2011

I remember spending a lot of time going around to garage sales looking for a Casio SK-1, probably the most famous of the cheap keyboards to circuit bend. It's amazing how people can turn such a cheap, small keyboard into an almost fully functional synthesizer. It was one of the first pieces of equipment owned by glitch artists Autechre.

By softener — On May 01, 2011

I was really interested in this for a while and found that Reaktor was the best glitch music software. Reaktor allows users to program their own synthesizers, effects, samplers, etc. themselves. Since there's such a big user base for this software, you can simply download some of the hundreds of different ensembles other people have made for Reaktor, many of which cater towards the glitch style of music. I have also heard good things about Glitch VST, a free plug-in.

By rjh — On Apr 29, 2011

I would also add that glitch music could be partly inspired by some of the ideas of generative music as well. A lot of glitch musicians use software which creates random processes which result in sources for sounds.

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