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What is Glitch Music?

Glitch music is an innovative genre where the beauty of imperfection takes center stage. Artists deliberately incorporate skips, distortions, and electronic hiccups to transform technical mishaps into a mesmerizing auditory tapestry. This avant-garde approach challenges our notions of harmony, inviting us to find rhythm in chaos. Curious about how glitches can turn into grooves? Let's dive deeper into this sonic exploration.
Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

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.

Glitch music is a genre of electronic music.
Glitch music is a genre of electronic music.

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.

Glitch pioneers Oval made use of synthesizers.
Glitch pioneers Oval made use of synthesizers.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What defines glitch music as a genre?

Glitch music is characterized by its deliberate use of sonic errors that would typically be considered undesirable in traditional music production. These errors include digital artifacts, clicks, cuts, stutters, and distortions. Artists in this genre often manipulate these imperfections to create rhythmic and textural elements within their compositions, turning what was once considered a mistake into an integral part of the musical aesthetic.

How did glitch music originate?

Glitch music emerged in the 1990s as artists began experimenting with digital audio workstations and manipulating electronic sounds. The genre gained momentum with the release of albums like Oval's "94 Diskont" in 1995, which showcased the musical potential of CD skipping sounds and other digital malfunctions. This experimentation laid the groundwork for the genre, which has since evolved to include a wide range of sounds and techniques.

Who are some notable artists in the glitch music scene?

Notable artists in the glitch music scene include Oval, Alva Noto, and Autechre. These pioneers have been influential in shaping the sound and direction of the genre. For instance, Alva Noto's minimalist approach to electronic music often incorporates glitch elements, while Autechre's complex, algorithmically generated rhythms have pushed the boundaries of what is considered glitch music.

Can glitch music be combined with other genres?

Yes, glitch music is often combined with other genres to create hybrid forms. For example, artists like Flying Lotus and Prefuse 73 have blended glitch with hip-hop, creating a subgenre sometimes referred to as "glitch-hop." Similarly, elements of glitch can be found in various electronic music subgenres, such as IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) and ambient, demonstrating the versatility and influence of glitch aesthetics in contemporary music.

How do artists create glitch music?

Artists create glitch music by exploiting digital or analog errors for creative effect. Techniques include circuit bending (manipulating electronic devices to produce unexpected sounds), data bending (altering digital files to generate audio artifacts), and software plugins designed to emulate glitch effects. These methods allow artists to craft unique soundscapes that embrace the beauty of imperfection and randomness in the digital realm.

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Discussion Comments

Engelbert

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.

softener

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.

rjh

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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    • Glitch music is a genre of electronic music.
      By: Kzenon
      Glitch music is a genre of electronic music.
    • Glitch pioneers Oval made use of synthesizers.
      By: nikkytok
      Glitch pioneers Oval made use of synthesizers.