A few weeks ago, I came across an article about a group of programmers who were trying to create music through very small programs. The article recalled Nick Montfort’s poems, generated from a single line of code, but in reading it, I ended up revisiting glitch art and the creative possibilities inherent in code itself.

Thus began an ongoing fascination.

Databending is a form of glitch art in which the artist intentionally corrupts the code of an image file to create art, either by altering the raw data in an editor, or by opening a file in a non-compatible program that will alter the file’s data as it tries to read it. Though the output from such processes is, itself, an artistic object, the aesthetics of databending seem to overlap remix aesthetics and those of electronic literature. A work may be beautiful on first view, but the value of the work grows somehow upon seeing both the source material and understanding the process that the piece underwent.

Databending also has the potential to foreground the aesthetics of the source code itself, an ideal for which many eLit researchers have often argued. Files can be glitched by the injection of creative text, like poetry or prose, into the image’s raw data. This insertion creates a cognitive bridge for the viewer between the largely illegible machine language—which serves as a transitional step between what the machine understands and the higher-level languages with which modern programmers work—and our native language and the critical practices we apply to it. We create a new image and a poetic source code rich with repetition, rhythm, allusion, and other rhetorical devices.