Glitch artist Steven Hammer explores how our devices experience the world

So you’re watching Netflix–say, the new Arrested Development season–and all of a sudden, George Michael becomes overly pixelated and green. The sound becomes tinny for an instant and the image bleeds into a scene with Lindsay and Tobias, who are also distorted and pixelated.

Where many of us would groan, reset our routers, or restart our browsers, glitch artists like Steven Hammer see a possibility–and a lesson. Glitch finds exploits in our digital media that serve to deconstruct their purpose and value and, as Hammer puts it, give us a peek at the world our electronic devices inhabit, one of preprogrammed purpose, commercial intent, and slick environments that, underneath, brim with unintended sights and sounds.

Hammer, a doctoral student at NDSU, is curious about this inner life of our devices. He uses induction coil pickup microphones to tease out the spurts of electromagnetic activity of devices like his iPhone and iPad. The result, he admits, is not necessarily beautiful or aesthetically pleasing, but it is a telling practice. Load screens and screen navigation on an iPad, for instance, release a volley of chirps and blips; the device works while we wait. After the app loads and we begin lobbing birds at pigs, the device waits. (For more on the theory that drives this work, Hammer recommends looking into the notion of object-oriented ontology, or “OOO.”)

As Hammer puts it:

“I think what glitch is trying to do is to get people to go, ‘there’s this whole layer that’s invisible to me, and if I can look beyond that, I can be more thoughtful in the choices I make as a consumer and as a maker.”

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