by Carlos Antonio Piñón
March 9, 2016
Missteps is three-part installation involving several monitors showcasing glitched images from the 1896 SAIC course catalog. The work, which seeks to reinterpret the archive through the process of databending sonification, was installed in the Leroy Neiman Center at 37 S. Wabash Ave. as a part of the Telegraphic Fields (First Transmissions) exhibition celebrating the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's 150th year anniversary.
Thinking about text and even books in context of the archive immediately brought the idea of aging media. Page after page yellowed with some of the more crisp ones falling apart. In doing research for a different subject, I came across an old letterpress book where the words on one page somehow seeped into another, which further influenced the way I perceived these old documents.
In many ways, the little mistakes in old documents didn't feel all too different from the glitch form derived from databending sonification. Instead accidentally inputting a typo and having to go over with X's on a typewriter, I intentionally subjected scans of the catalog through sound editing software and back. The process of using a tool the wrong way to produce an image while simultaneously immortalizing a decaying document into the digital realm as a form of reactivation seemed appropriate for me.
I chose three separate, but visually appealing pages: one was the title page, one had an image, and the final page displayed text in an interesting way. As there are many effects in Audacity available, I limited myself to seven each. When it came to install at the LeRoy Neiman Center, figuring out how to display all twenty-one images became an issue. Instinctually, keeping the altered images digital seemed like the right way to go, and so video was the compromise. Even still, working out how to portray the twenty-one images remained unknown to me.
The first iteration—which also managed to make its way into the exhibition—was to display them as a triptych on a single monitor with varying speed for the seven images. Even now, it's a mouthful to explain. As I was essentially rendering a video from a GIF, I had to slow the rotation several times because you couldn't see any of the detail. Part of the issue was that the monitor too far from viewer.
The detail in each image was important to me, and through help from Mark and Nick, we managed to obtain access to the three monitors in front of the elevators. That way, they would be displayed bigger, and anyone could step right up to them, and with the physical catalog also present itself, the exhibition felt complete.
The following are select images from Missteps:
The following are the original scans of the catalog:
Days after our exhibition opening, we held our Telegraphic Fields (Live Transmissions) event. For this project, Dong Chan Kim and I collaborated in executing a performance which consisted of photographing the audience. Dong Chan would then edit the image to mimic an older era. After, I would manipulate the original image a second time via databending sonification. Once the two edits were made, all three were uploaded to Facebook under the hashtag #SAIC150, and the audience was informed that they had been archived.
Reinterpreting text through glitch in context of the archive is as much of a mouthful, to say the least, but has actually been a fantastic intersection of many different thoughts. In working with Dong Chan Kim by inviting the audience into the archive, one of the things that stuck with me is making all of this material available. Making it possible for another to recreate this is along the lines of the Copy-It Right ideology that influenced me. When I first uploaded documentation photos, an online friend thanked me for making the exhibition available to those who can't be there, and it struck me that would be virtually impossible for most people to engage with material unless it was explicitly made public, which is what we did.
Here is the documentation video for the performance:
Here are the images of the audience taken by Dong Chan Kim:
To continue with the idea of sharing the archive, it feels even more appropriate to also include our practice images as well. These are the images we produced before the show in chronological order:
Misprints seeks to reinterpret past and present SAIC publications through the process of databending sonification. These publications include the 1896 course catalog, which is an institutional record of what the School was like that year; the 1982 Over a Century book, which is a set of personal recollections of the School's first 115 years edited by Roger Gilmore; and the Spring 2016 E+D magazine, which celebrates what will come next after these 150 years. Scans of these publications are manipulated through a digital audio workstation and then exported as glitched, illegible image files. The work exists first as the three publications subjected to databending, and second as a durational broadcast of the audio output from the sonification process at Free Radio SAIC. Listeners will find difficulty listening to the audio output due to nature of creating sound from an image file, just as readers will find difficulty interacting with the manipulated publications.
Misprints was on display on the 14th floor of the MacLean Center, 112 S. Michigan Ave as a part of the Telegraphic Fields (Next Transmissions) exhibition.
Expanding from last semester's work with Missteps, which consisted of several iterations of just three pages all from the 1896 course catalog displayed on video monitors, I moved in the direction to glitch three entire books. For this iteration, I chose two other books, in addition to the course catalog, that were relevant to my time at SAIC. In January 2015, before I signed up for SAIC 150: Repeat Transmissions, my boss at the Office of Institutional Advancement tasked me to make scans of Over a Century at the Ryerson Library in preparation for the anniversary. Because I had to keep the book in good condition, I couldn't lay the pages flat, and therefore, the quality scans progressively grew worse until a majority of the latter half featured part of my finger.
Both the catalog and Over a Century are similar since they are black and white books with the occasional photograph, and their pages are slightly yellowed. The main difference is that while I was able to get nice, clean scans from course catalog, Over a Century uniquely has my thumb. Then in October later that year, our class took a field trip to Mineral Point, Wisconsin. I had the honor of writing an article about the trip, which ended up being featured in the Spring 2016 E+D magazine produced by my office. I knew I had to make this my third book to glitch, not just because of my article, but because the E+D is entirely in color—something that the other books lacked.
For me, being in between the crosshairs of writer and artist, I have been working closely in ways to explore the ways people interact with words and language. Part of my practice is creating glitch art through databending sonification—something I learned while taking Wired: Imaging and Web my first year at SAIC, and something I would later pass on as a teaching assistant in the same course. Today, Wired is no longer offered at SAIC.
I hadn't found a way to incorporate this skill into the rest of my practice until Missteps. Initially, I didn't think glitching pages from a book would yield anything even mildly interesting, but I was wrong.
After weeks of experimenting with all of the effects and their settings, of mixing multiple effects together, of copying and pasting different portions of the audio, of splitting the audio and manipulating the individual mono tracks, I created something unique to me. I felt like I had to share this skill like I did when I was a TA and during the Telegraphic Fields (Live Transmissions) event last semester with Dong Chan Kim, so I began by holding a live stream on YouTube, teaching friends and strangers my method.
Because glitching a scanned page of text essentially renders it unreadable in most cases, and because glitching with Audacity requires converting images files into audio files and vice versa, I held a five-week radio show on Free Radio SAIC playing the entirety of the audio from Over a Century.
Inherently, just as the text is illegible, it's hard to listen to the audio. The introduction for every episode consisted of the project description, a statement on which pages I would be broadcasting, and a warning for listeners to begin at a low volume and raise until comfortable. In the five weeks at the radio show, I personally listened to 15 hours of rhythmic clicks, pulsing static, and horrendous screeches; but I wasn't alone.
On some days, I had an audience engage with me on the Free Radio SAIC chat. On other days, I had friends listening with me in the radio booth, enjoying a pizza on that Saturday night. But on most days, I wasn't sure if I had an audience at all. After all, how many people would willingly listen to three hours of harsh noise on a weekly basis?
The weekly broadcast (if it could be called that) was not without its trouble. The second week I was supposed to air (March 26th), I was informed by security that I didn't have access to the radio key. There was nothing I could do and the broadcast had to be rescheduled for Friday, April 1st, which aired without an issue.
Having just completed a successful transmission the day before, I was confident that the show would return to a regular schedule on April 2nd.
Due to an unknown error, while I did broadcast live, nothing played. I spent three hours thinking the audio was playing on air when I was the only one able to listen in the radio booth.
I was wrong and had to reschedule the third episode.
The next week on April 9th, I was prepared to broadcast and have something available for the Free Radio SAIC staff to archive no matter what. This time I was able to broadcast, except for a separate unknown error where my voice was ironically glitched out, too, and nothing sounded like it was supposed to. I submitted the back-up recording I made separately, but kept the glitched out version.
Below is a sample:
The last two episodes aired without a problem. At the end of every episode, I made a shout-out to those listening to the recordings as archival material.
All five episodes are available on SoundCloud below:
As the radio show ended, Misprints moved on to its installation phase on the 14th floor of the MacLean Center. Situated next to the Flaxman Library's Book-X-Change on the 14th floor student lounge of the MacLean Center, the vitrine is installed just one floor above the Free Radio SAIC booth. This area is most frequently visited by people sitting down during lunch or walking through the pass that connects the building to the one next door. The vitrine was borrowed from the Museum and delivered from deep storage by the IRFM team. Originally, it was covered in a thick layer of dust.
The glitch books were printed on campus by the Service Bureau. The three bookstands in the front row, which spend the most time in the Roger Brown Study Collection, belong to Nick Lowe. I personally built the three bookstands in the back row in the Columbus Woodshop. My dad and I worked together from home in making the shelf on the outside of the vitrine.
Installed on the outside of the vitrine is a shelf containing three extra copies of the glitch books on chains so that the audience is able to flip through. Additionally, headphones are available to listen to the audio from any of the one books played throughout the day on repeat.
Ultimately, the glitch books I made represent reinterpretations of the aging SAIC publications with digital media made available only in recent years. In other words, to glitch aging books is to engage them with technology specific to now, rather than yesterday or tomorrow.
And that's how Misprints exists now, archived by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.