GLiTCh aRt

Phasor filter applied in Audacity

Phasor filter applied in Audacity

You may have heard of glitch art. You may already know all about it. I have seen some of John Johnston’s experimentation at, and had some awareness overall, but had no idea how to produce my own. And Alan Levine recently posted a tutorial on his blog ( about using Audacity (the audio editing software) to import and modify pictures.

Since then, I have been reading and experimenting. It turns out you can cross file types in many ways. You can use text editors like Wordpad to modify image files as text. I assume that there are a variety of programs that can be used to modify filetypes other than the ones they were designed for. I haven’t yet modified audio files with image or text editing programs, but listening to an image is interesting.

Original image from the Thoughtvectors website.

Original image from the Thoughtvectors website.

A few of things I’ve learned which seem consistent: preserve the header information, make duplicates of your original, use undo liberally, and experiment joyfully. The more you learn about file formats, the more creative you can be. Randomness is fun, but controlled randomness can lead to reproducible results.

I’m not making a detailed tutorial, but here are a few steps and hints.

Start with an image. Bitmaps are easy to work with, so use Paint or another image editor to Save As a .bmp file. (Remember to save a copy of your original first?) Other formats will work, depending on what program you are using.

Using Wordpad, open the bmp file. It will be a bunch of odd text, starting with the letters BM. Don’t mess with the first couple of dozen characters, known as the header, since they contain important filetype and formatting information. (Actually, you can mess with some of it, but use undo if your picture breaks.) You can immediately save the file and have interesting glitches. Just save, don’t use “save as” so that it doesn’t change to a .txt file.

OK, now for more fun. Somewhere in the file, add text, or cut text out, or copy some text and paste it somewhere else. With each change, save the file and see the results. If you get the broken image icon, you can usually recover by using undo (CTRL-z on my Microsoft machine) and saving again. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t recover something, you still have the original, right?

Using Audacity, you need to import the image as RAW data. When prompted for options, select U or A law, and Big-endian. To save, you need to export, clicking on options and making sure you have the same RAW and U or A choices. The nice thing about Audacity is the ability to use the filters to modify the image in ways that are similar to music. Just be sure to select past the header, which can be seen on the waveform in the first few tenths of a second. Experiment with selecting sections.

Echo applied in Audacity

Echo applied in Audacity

Wordpad and Audacity are the only two programs I’ve used so far (except I tried Notepad and didn’t get it to work). I plan to work with one or more hex editors, so I can learn the formats better and alter the header information in meaningful ways. Perhaps copy the header onto another format file to make something hybrid.

I think I loaded a previous raw file back into Audacity and then exported it.

I think I loaded a previous raw file back into Audacity and then exported it.

If you get into this and enjoy the spontaneous randomness, I think you will enjoy it more if you can learn to control the results. You can learn a lot by doing, and a lot from other experimenters. Try searching the Interwebs for databending, glitch art, or similar terms.

My examples in this post should give you some idea of the possibilities. Just keep experimenting and explore everything!


Glitched and animated!

Glitched and animated!


One comment on “GLiTCh aRt

  1. CogDog says:

    Love the experimentation Bill! The glitch process is a great example of iterating process where you do not really understand it at an atomic level.

    I am pretty sure the app needs to be saving the files as binary; when you open in notepad, it automatically converts it on saving to text file format, even if you try and save the file extension.

    On a Mac I am able to text glitch using BBEdit, as it opens any binary file and can save it in the same format (if you keep the extension).

    Glitch on!

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