Stasis-breaking in transformative motion; Datamoshing

I became interested in the practise of Datamoshing a few years ago when it was drawn to my attention by a friend.

There’s been an abiding and arguably necessary tradition of artists, technicians and others exploring a medium to the point of its own exploratory deconstruction (William Basinksi and his corroded audiotape pieces is an example that comes to mind although I am sure there are very many others).  Sometimes this becomes an example of a countervailing creativity that elevates the work, its process and/or especially the limitations of a production/medium (those limitations we may even have been unaware of until that point) giving it a new or radicalised power and perspective; the elucidation of a new ‘space’ (and which may have demonstrated also that that space was always there).

Part of what is so interesting about datamoshing in particular has been that the digital code underpinning modern and computerised media seems to have been until this point an utterly unyielding and unplayful thing.  The expression of something as seemingly unplayable as binary code, or miniscule packets of information in streams, compiled and decompiled, compressed and decoded while remaining as an apparently inaccessible material for active reinvention.  But here was an abiding sense that something had finally emerged (aside from for example something like the inversion process of video feedback loops) which was able to actually jam with the digital video medium.

One of the things that immediately struck me on the level of seeing or feeling about datamoshing (and as a practise) was a sense of lo-fi immediacy.  I’ve seen examples subsequently that are anything but lo-fi (check the above brilliant sequence from Carax’ Holy Motors for example) however, it always seems to retain a slightly shocking sense of slippage… that moment when the fluidic composes unexpectedly from within the image.  The image (in this case already in video motion as we are aware and so-prepared) suddenly departing from the underpinning grammatical, syntactical boundaries of the continuation of its logic and form, becomes overtaken by the motion element of its own ‘eye’ (in this case the camera).  An intruder ‘stasis’ momentarily interrupts the continuity which we are wont to perceive as the normality and continuity of objective motion in the visual world.  This being the moment where on one level there is a freezing of coordinates of the image while on another level; the continuation overtakes it as the next scene or collection of images provides an unexpected (subterrenean) movement within what is frozen or left behind, breaking that chain of formality and setting its motion free as a dispersive, disruptive, affective force – immediately transcending or transecting the boundaries of its own logical  and consistent progression within the stable and expected field.

As it turned out (and around that time) I was sufficiently intrigued to investigate the process and undertake some of my own work, a process that to myself was not that straightforward or intuitive and required a number of editing runs on different software.  I soon realised that many or most pieces of editing kit were coded to precisely disallow this kind of invasive, malfunctional processing but that some of the results were successful enough for my purposes to be posted online.

This is probably the best one, an unofficial Boards of Canada piece that utilises footage from a BBC nature documentary.  Although an additional secondary process was involved here, where an alternative kind of ‘glitch’ from a cheap video editing package was used to form the basis of a near constant, evolving backdrop of a techno-jumbled, jungle-like visual environment and against which the datamoshing of chroma-keyed birds and avian sequences could take place.

I also wished to do this for Boards of Canada, as a way of ensuring that at least some of the massive online community of videomaking for their work was not drowning in the tide of neo-nostalgic archive visualisation of their work which has had brilliant instances but was becoming overly tropic and coming to represent a potentially unthinking morass based on an aspect of their sound (its ‘sparkling’ retro-electro-thread).

I also used it as a technique within this video, which was made for a song I had improvised some years earlier and then recorded an arrangement around.  The song was made after reading Paul Bowles amazing book ‘The sheltering sky’ and it seemed only fitting therefore to use sequences from the Bertolucci film of the same story.

Here to my mind though, is the maestro within this space – Takeshi Murata (and the artist to whom I had originally been alerted by my friend) and if not the originator of datamoshing, certainly the person who has taken it to some of its most extraordinary places and pushed it as a process.

Please be aware that some people I know have found this work quite disturbing, if nothing else a sure sign of its potency.