Good Thinking

Art in the age of ones and zeros: Datamoshing

Datamoshing like a wrecking ball - a video still from Matt Caron's Miley Cyrus datamosh
Datamoshing like a wrecking ball - a video still from Matt Caron's Miley Cyrus datamosh
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Video still from Matt Caron's datamoshed Miley Cyrus
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Video still from Matt Caron's datamoshed Miley Cyrus
Datamoshing like a wrecking ball - a video still from Matt Caron's Miley Cyrus datamosh
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Datamoshing like a wrecking ball - a video still from Matt Caron's Miley Cyrus datamosh
Video artist Nicolas Provost datamoshed the classic film Videodrome to create his stunning 2009 video art piece, Love Live The New Flesh
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Video artist Nicolas Provost datamoshed the classic film Videodrome to create his stunning 2009 video art piece, Love Live The New Flesh
Nicolas Provost's Long Live The New Flesh also features imagery from Stanley Kubrick's classic The Shining
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Nicolas Provost's Long Live The New Flesh also features imagery from Stanley Kubrick's classic The Shining
Video still from Kanye West's 'datamoshing hits the mainstream video', Welcome to Heartbreak
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Video still from Kanye West's 'datamoshing hits the mainstream video', Welcome to Heartbreak
Kanye West's video incorporating datamoshing may not be the most aggressively interesting but it certainly offers some solid uses of the technique
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Kanye West's video incorporating datamoshing may not be the most aggressively interesting but it certainly offers some solid uses of the technique
A video still from Takeshi Murata's Monster Movie, probably the definitive artistic example of datamoshing from the past 15 years
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A video still from Takeshi Murata's Monster Movie, probably the definitive artistic example of datamoshing from the past 15 years
Untitled datamosh
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Untitled datamosh
A New Ecology - Nick Briz
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A New Ecology - Nick Briz
Video still from Sunday Mornin' by tommilsom
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Video still from Sunday Mornin' by tommilsom
The music video 'Evident Utensil' by Chairlift came out at the same time as Kanye West's datamosh video in 2009 officially marking the peak of the trend
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The music video 'Evident Utensil' by Chairlift came out at the same time as Kanye West's datamosh video in 2009 officially marking the peak of the trend
Video still from music video 'Evident Utensil' by Chairlift
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Video still from music video 'Evident Utensil' by Chairlift
Animator David O'Reilly offered an early, and extraordinarily innovative example of datamoshing in his 2005 music video for Venetian Snares 'Szamar Madar'
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Animator David O'Reilly offered an early, and extraordinarily innovative example of datamoshing in his 2005 music video for Venetian Snares 'Szamar Madar'
Early datamosh innovators Paper Rad used the technique in 2007 to accompany their musical mash ups. Here we see The Cranberries 'Zombie' moshed with a Rhianna music video
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Early datamosh innovators Paper Rad used the technique in 2007 to accompany their musical mash ups. Here we see The Cranberries 'Zombie' moshed with a Rhianna music video
Mark Brown was another early datamosh experimenter with his interesting line work innovations
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Mark Brown was another early datamosh experimenter with his interesting line work innovations
Video still from work by Mark Brown
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Video still from work by Mark Brown
Takeshi Murata's 'Pink Dot' film is probably one of the best and most elegant examples of the technique 
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Takeshi Murata's 'Pink Dot' film is probably one of the best and most elegant examples of the technique 
Artist Matt Caron's experiments with RGB datamoshing
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Artist Matt Caron's experiments with RGB datamoshing
More RGB datamoshing
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More RGB datamoshing
Moshing Miley
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Moshing Miley
David O'Reilly's experimental episode of the TV show Adventure Time is probably one of the most psychedelic and strange things to ever be smuggled into the mainstream under the guise of 'children's television'
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David O'Reilly's experimental episode of the TV show Adventure Time is probably one of the most psychedelic and strange things to ever be smuggled into the mainstream under the guise of 'children's television'
Some gorgeous datamoshing from David O'Reilly in his iconic Adventure Time episode
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Some gorgeous datamoshing from David O'Reilly in his iconic Adventure Time episode

Art has always been fundamentally intertwined with technology. New techniques and materials have constantly allowed artists to innovate and create new types of works. Our new series, Art in the age of ones and zeros, examines the impact of digital technologies on art and looks at how artists are creating entirely new forms of artwork using these modern electronic tools.

Our first article looks at datamoshing, an evocative glitch art technique inspired by errors found in digital video files.

Datamoshing is a technique that arose in the early 2000s inspired by the glitches seen in early digital video codecs such as DivX. Early experiments in creating intentional flaws in jpeg files led to artists exploring ways of controlling the glitches in digital video. Innovative digital artists began harnessing these compression artifacts and hacking the code of digital video files by implanting intentional flaws to create impressionistic swirls of mashed up imagery.

Video artist Nicolas Provost datamoshed the classic film Videodrome to create his stunning 2009 video art piece, Love Live The New Flesh
Video artist Nicolas Provost datamoshed the classic film Videodrome to create his stunning 2009 video art piece, Love Live The New Flesh

The technique rapidly progressed from something accidentally interesting to a thoroughly valid new artistic device that was infiltrating not only art galleries, but other forms of popular culture, from a Kayne West music video to a Hollywood movie trailer.

The earliest serious artistic deployment of datamoshing can be found in a 2003 video by artists Owi Mahn and Laura Baginski entitled Pastell Kompressor. The artists stumbled upon the technique after they discovered errors in video footage they had shot.

A video still from Takeshi Murata's Monster Movie, probably the definitive artistic example of datamoshing from the past 15 years
A video still from Takeshi Murata's Monster Movie, probably the definitive artistic example of datamoshing from the past 15 years

It was American contemporary artist Takeshi Murata's work in 2005 and 2006 that really catapulted datamoshing into the art world. Monster Movie, a short film now in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian, is an aggressive blast of visual noise (see video below). Combining footage from an obscure 1981 horror film with a thrashy improvisational funk soundtrack, Murata created a hypnotic and hallucinogenic piece of work. This was new art at the most experimental and innovative fringe of the spectrum.

Takeshi Murata, Monster Movie, 2005

Over the next few years we saw some fascinating deployments of the technique from the nightmarish fugue in Nicolas Provost's Long Live The New Flesh to the hyperactive strobing in Paper Rad's defiantly colorful work.

Nicolas Provost - Long Live the New Flesh - Excerpt One

Of course what the underground nurtures, the mainstream appropriates.

By 2009 datamoshing was already deemed passe by several artists, particularly after Kanye West decided to make a music video using the technique. Apparently West saw Takeshi Murata's Monster Movie in a gallery and the rest is history. As with most mainstream appropriations of alternative culture, West's version was less assaultive and less interesting than the best datamoshing out there.

Video still from Kanye West's 'datamoshing hits the mainstream video', Welcome to Heartbreak
Video still from Kanye West's 'datamoshing hits the mainstream video', Welcome to Heartbreak

Since then the technique has been sparingly utilized by many artists as yet another digital paintbrush in the modern palette.

Filmmaker Leos Carax dropped a datamoshed transition into his magnificent 2012 film Holy Motors (see video below). It was Carax's first film shot digitally and the technique functioned as a coy bit of snark at his forced transition from old-fashioned celluloid.

Holy Motors

Other artists such as Matt Caron use the technique as a form of digital graffiti, shoving mainstream popular culture through a datamosh grinder to create a kind of psychedelic visual confetti.

Video still from Matt Caron's datamoshed Miley Cyrus
Video still from Matt Caron's datamoshed Miley Cyrus

One of the more extraordinary uses of the technique (and many other glitch art devices) came from animator David O'Reilly in his episode of the Cartoon Network series, Adventure Time. The episode, framed around an idea where a computer virus is causing the world to glitch out, turned into a madly surreal deconstruction of every animation technique ever developed. It was a stunning peak to the datamoshing phenomenon and a glorious trippy treat for the eyes.

Adventure Time - A Glitch Is A Glitch (trailer)

Love it or hate it, this is truly a form of modern art that could not have existed without the advent of 21st century digital technology.

Take a look through our datamoshing gallery to see some more examples.

David O'Reilly's experimental episode of the TV show Adventure Time is probably one of the most psychedelic and strange things to ever be smuggled into the mainstream under the guise of 'children's television'
David O'Reilly's experimental episode of the TV show Adventure Time is probably one of the most psychedelic and strange things to ever be smuggled into the mainstream under the guise of 'children's television'

1 comment
YogSototh
Look for Wim Wenders' "Until the end of the world" (circa 1991) - first datamoshing, best datamoshing