What does a file sound like?
What does a script or program or binary executable sound like? It may seem like a silly question, but this is actually one I have an answer for. Did you know that with some free open source tools you can transform any type of data into a digital representation of what a computer thinks it should sound like, and thus create “music” in ways completely unintended by most anyone.
Data Bending & Glitch Art
No, this isn’t the fifth element of the next Avatar series. This is a technique that came from the before time; when things were analog, like cameras, recorders, tape reels, VCRs, and really any medium one can imprint on, would wear and tear over time and use. In some cases, these pieces of analog equipment could be altered in a way that produced extra effect on the final image or recording. Like adding a physical and permanent instagram filter to ones camera, or an unintentional echo from a lousy microphone. Full hipster points, if your gear did this by accident, but as all cool things go, the more people notice them, the more people want to replicate it and try it themselves.
So here we are, far past the age of tape drives and dial up, where we don’t have to wait for our gear to break down for us to be able to play and experiment. The emergent term for this kind of fun is called, Glitch Art or Data Bending
I was able to achive the above effect by, saving the image as a .TIFF. Using Audacity, import as RAW uncompressed “U-Law” encoding, Adding an invert effect at the middle of the sound profile, then exporting it as .TIFF with RAW uncompress U-LAW encoding.
Of course, this post is not about visual but auditory data bending.
Bring the Noise
Using audacity, we can import ANY file and represent that as sound. Now you can solve the question for what Git, Google Chrome, or even the exported image from above sound like.
Some sounds very cool like this one, others are pure harsh noise that physically hurt to listen to. Here's one spliced from the Go binary
As the good man, Chuck D, once said….YEEAAAAA BOY…bring the noise
The fun part ( if you are okay with getting lots of duds of harsh white noise ) is exploring this very strange avenue to produce music never before heard by human kind.
The Steps to do this
- Download/Open Audacity
- File -> Import -> Raw Data
- Select ANY file, anything above a few dozen KB will have enough “time” to get meaningful sounds out of.
- Encoding: U-LAW or A-LAW - U LAW seems to have the best results
- Byte Order: Little Endian
- Import and Modify to your hearts desire
- Once happy with your experiment, Export As MP3 or WAV
The Final Result
Shameless cross promotion aside, here is a live example of taking sound from different binary data, slapping a beat on top of it, and calling it music.
Hurts doesn’t it…that’s intentional, if you read the book it makes sense narratively for The Firth World. A world created to be punished by it’s authors/creators.
In High School, my music teacher once told me, "Music is just organized noise.“
With this method, we’re testing that theory. Sure this is no 4:33, avant-garde probably would roll it’s eyes at calling this music. And maybe not in it’s raw form, but part of my love for music comes from breaking rules and boundaries. This is forcing terrible harsh noise, kicking and screeching, into some semblance of a tune that maybe with the right composer and audience could call music.
My aunt once told me after listening to some of my early guitar recordings, "What’s the point if it’s just noise? No one want’s to hear that.“
Yeah they were bad, but I was having fun. So I made a small album of literal machine noise using these techniques. The Punk in me rides on, I guess.
Final words: don’t be afraid to bend your files and data…but like don’t break your data. Although, audacity makes a temp copy of the file during editing, don’t like overwrite the source file. That will break things…have fun.