A Beginner’s Guide to: glitch
Some genres are more influential than their dominant appeal suggests. Glitch almost certainly falls into this category, alongside musical movements already featured previously in this column, such as concrete music and Oramics.
The roots of the glitch aesthetic are largely defined by digital technology, which inherently sounds different from faulty analog gear when it malfunctions. Think of faulty or overused analog gear and the tonal range is quite familiar: amp distortion, tape overdrive, analog overdrive, and more. In contrast, digital problems are usually more severe and less predictable, as anyone who has played a corrupt MP3 or scratched CD knows.
Embedding digital dysfunctions in a musical context looks, in retrospect, like a logical progression of sound art, concrete music, industrial music and noise techniques. Japanese artist Yasunao Tone was among the first to experiment with what we might now recognize as post-digital glitch techniques, experimenting with the manipulation of CD playback soon after the format was introduced in the early 1980s. 1997 album Solo for the injured CD is a two-part composition created entirely from scratched CD sounds.
Video game soundtracks and chiptune music also had a major influence on glitch. There are obvious parallels in terms of digital synthesis and sound manipulation, but also direct links in terms of production techniques.
Notably, Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima’s soundtrack for Sega’s 1994 beat ’em up Streets of Rage 3 used what Koshiro described as an automated music composition system to create a “fast-paced techno-type jungle”. The glitch results were hated by some fans of Koshiro’s previous work, but turned out to be a slow-burning touchstone of glitch production.
from Autechre Problem, taken from the duo’s Warp album in 1994 amber, is often cited as one of the earliest uses of the term in an electronic music context, although the track itself isn’t particularly glitchy – certainly not compared to what the style quickly became. ELpH vs. Coil’s 1995 album Love the Glitch is probably a better point of reference for how glitchy sounds intersect with ambient and experimental production techniques.
Things were made easier by software like SuperCollider, Pure Data, and Max / MSP, which allowed for glitchy handling of audio. Advances in DAWs have also made it easier to sequence precise and detailed patterns of repetitive and glitchy micro-sounds. At the start of the new millennium, more and more electronic artists were experimenting with glitch techniques to the point that they could be considered a genre in themselves.
The best starting point might be the Clicks and cuts series of compilations launched by the German label Mille Plateaux in 2000. The series documents the surprisingly varied sounds that fall under this large umbrella of sounds adjacent to pips: from the first album alone, compare the crystalline abstraction of Alva Noto Prototype N, the metallic click of the Kid 606 Sonqizzmaster, the ambient shuffle of Frank Bretschneider Kern…
There is an argument that the biggest mainstream impact of glitch was not as a genre defined per se, but as an aesthetic in other genres, such as glitch hop, which combines glitch noises. with rhythms influenced by hip-hop.
In fact, the long-term influence of the glitch may not yet have peaked. In recent years, new generations have embraced glitch, from hyperpop producers like AG Cook adopting weird and wonderful glitch-inspired sounds in pop hits like Charli XCX, to the TikTok glitchcore aesthetic, in which video montages decidedly retro are overwritten. with emo rap inspired by hyperpop. The influence of glitch continues.
The past, present and future of glitch
Past: Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima – Streets of Rage 3 OST
Little critically acclaimed when it was released in 1994, the Streets of Rage 3 the music did not immediately become a cult classic like so many other Sega soundtracks. In retrospect, it’s more difficult to listen to than the eclectic hip-hop and techno-inspired soundtracks from previous games in the beat’em up series, but it’s a clear precursor to the glitch aesthetic in electronic music. You can hear it all on YouTube if you don’t feel like looking for an original console version.
90s glitch purists might laugh, but some of the most fascinating glitches of recent years have been lurking in the pop production’s Trojan Horse, run by AG Cook’s PC Music collective. Cook’s Hyperpop playlist on Spotify is a good place to start, but Charli XCX’s How i feel now (2020) and late SOPHIE’s Oil from the back of each pearl (2018) prove that sound works just as well in a full album format.
Boomers, look away now. TikTok’s spooky Gen Z world may be a step too far for older listeners, but it almost certainly represents the future of glitch. Search for #glitchcore videos and you’ll find thousands of consciously aware #eyestrain edits mixing a glitch aesthetic with glitch music from the broad spectrum of hyperpop rap and SoundCloud. Confusing and terrifying for anyone over 24? Probably.