"The Aesthetics of Failure"


This music video for "Evident Utensil" by Chairlift reminded me of "The Aesthetics of Failure" (pdf), an article written in 2000 by Kim Cascone about the then emerging work focused on the "glitches, bugs, application errors, system crashes, clipping, aliasing, distortion, quantization noise, and even the the noise floor of computer sound cards." Focus on these limits of technology or "failure", Cascone argued, forces the audience to not only rethink the definition of music, but also remind them of the tools involved in its creation.

While Cascone's article used digital audio and music as examples, this video is an excellent contemporary example. Videos streamed over the Internet are often of such low-quality that we have come to expect the blocky, pan-chromatic artifacts. This video reproduces the abberations so faithfully that one wonders if the glitches are genuine or intended. Like breaking the fourth wall, the tools used to present the video (video encoder/decoder, internet delivery, etc. ) are no longer something the audience is supposed to look past, but now something to brought to their full attention.

P.S. The "failure" reproduced here is the accumulation of visual artifacts left behind by motion-compensation video compression methods without sufficient (or perhaps dropped) keyframes.

Update May 12, 2009: Video embedding for video above was disabled by request. Here's a link instead.


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