Introduction To Glitch
Detail, detail, detail
It’s easy, being a fan of music, to become jaded. If you, like us, are constantly on the lookout for new sounds or styles, then there can be days when you wonder when everything became so…well, generic.
Then, every so often, a style comes along which makes you stop what you’re doing. Glitch is one such style. For want of a better description, it’s music taken to its most illogical conclusion. It’s the sound of machines breaking, of circuits melting, of your mind being twisted in ways you never knew possible.
For the uninitiated, glitch music is an off-shoot of electronic music and it can be, it must be said, a ‘difficult’ listen. At any one time you can have sounds, samples and melody lines buzzing round at a million miles an hour. It’s hard to know where to concentrate your listening.
But, like so much good music, it rewards repeated listens. Knowing certain sections, drum breaks, or other parts are coming makes you feel like you’ve achieved something.
Assuming none of the previous 170 words makes any sense, let’s try and paint a picture by offering an introduction to glitch.
Musicians are famously curious, creative folk. We’re similar to engineers in that respect. Often, as much of the fun of the writing and creation process comes from pushing the limits of what we, and our gear, can do.
Consider the valve amp; it is what it is now, but back in the day those glorious broken up tones were caused as a result of pushing the amplifier slightly too hard. It’s the same with guitar effects. Technically, what’s happening is the clean, pure signal we produce is being somehow mangled or altered to create the new sound.
Take this idea to its logical extreme and you have the essence of glitch. A glitch is, as we know, a term used to describe a malfunction, often relating to computing. In electronic music, glitches refers to artefacts or ‘errors’ in the signal produced. But, in the same way as those valve pioneers, often that new ‘wrong’ sound is highly desirable.
Fast forward, and you have artists like Iglooghost and Hudson Mohawke. This newer crowd know the ins and outs of their equipment, and know how best to coax all manner of completely unique sounds out of it.
Early adopters here include Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, whose use of a Fairlight CMI encouraged them to explore ways in which ‘normal’ sounds could be altered somehow. Early ‘computer’ musicians like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin took the ball and ran with it.
Using various pieces of software, both mainstream and bespoke, these producers were able to time-stretch samples to within an inch of their lives. Taking a regular three second sample of, say, a trombone and stretching it to over three minutes long opened up all kinds of new opportunities.
Time and pitch manipulation were, and still are, a key component of glitch. Throw sampling, and various distortion effects into the mix, and you have a cocktail for craziness. The trick here is to keep hold of the leash. Let’s look at how you can do that.
Unlike regular songwriting, where you have a general idea in your head, glitch music rewards experimentation. Often the best approach is to have no approach. Simply fire up your sampler or DAW and start messing around.
A solid glitch technique for drums involves lots of sampling. And resampling. And more resampling. Chopping up individual drum hits from a line, and changing their order, pitch or effects brings up some amazing effects. While you can do this manually using your mouse to drag and drop, there’s a tactile pleasure in using a drum pad-equipped tool like the Novation Launchpad Mini or Akai APC Mini. This way, you retain some control over actually ‘playing’ the section.
A lot of what you’d use, effect-wise, for glitch is included within your DAW. Using Ableton Live, as an example, you’ll find reverbs, delays, filters and distortions to your heart’s content. A solid glitch effect starter pack would comprise a ping pong delay, a bitcrusher and various filters. You should also make use of automation to introduce wild panning effects as these are really powerful in this style of music.
The key to making something coherent lies in the detail. While you’ll typically make use of extreme BPM settings, often many within the same track, make sure what you’re creating at least makes some sense. Even if only to you.
Glitch is also a good way to hone your mixing techniques. If you can find space in the EQ spectrum, and the stereo field, for everything in a glitch track then you’ll become a better producer.
Final point; keep in mind that glitch is, at its heart, fairly punk-rock in its approach. There is no right or wrong, and if you find a great sound by chopping up, detuning, bitcrushing and rearranging a gerbil’s mating call, then fair play to you.