Questions: Iman Moradi.

E-Mail interview, originally a conversation with Iman Moradi (about 2005); later on published in the book “Glitch – Designing Imperfection”.

Thames and Hudson/Mark Batty, London 2009; ed. Iman Moradi, Ant Scott, Joe Gilmore, Christopher Murphy.

Original source of the quote in the text: Alfred Andersch, Efraim. Volk und Welt Verlag (Lizenzausgabe), Berlin 1990. © Diogenes Verlag, Zürich 1967.

Translation © Doubleday 1970, from: Alfred Andersch, Efraim’s Book. Manheim, Ralph. Published: New Directions 1994.

Interviews | Designing Imperfection, 2009

How do you create your designs? When you're listening to a new CD/LP for a cover design project, what sort of initial synaesthetic images pop into your head?

This is not what usually happens. Images in my head, I mean … unfortunately I'm not a synaesthete (that would be cool!).

The only time I remember having a very clear visual idea of how the cover would look like, I had that “vision” while taking a shower, not while listening to the music. That was the kid606 “ps i love you” CD/LP on Mille Plateaux – the cover image is a 1:1 replica of that initial idea. But with most other projects it didn’t work that way, also because the design isn’t always based on the music itself.

How do you reconcile initial spontaneous images with your currently available tools and design processes? How much compromise is involved?

In the example above (kid606), no compromise at all. But that is the only example I can think of. Other than that, how I start to work on something largely depends on the project – the designs are not always about the music itself; it’s often the title or the concept or the working process of the musician that I’m working with. Like, for example, the Full Swing EP (orth03): the design works along the same lines as the audio, it’s about enlargement and about defining an almost arbitrary starting point and taking it from there – I did the same thing with that image that Stephan (Full Swing) did with his audio samples. Constructing something out of next to nothing. It’s also about authorship – this image has no author really, it’s the result of a file conversion failure (hence arbitrary), and Stephan also says that the samples he’s used are so tiny and insignificant that it only matters in principle but not in practice where they come from.

What do you understand by “glitch aesthetics”, and would you say your work exhibits glitch aesthetics, even if it doesn’t necessarily contain “errors”?

Not all of my work, but some of it for sure. Probably the interesting part of it. For me it’s not so much the glitch aspect that’s interesting but the generative aspect – letting the unexpected happen and using it. That’s what computers are for, in my eyes, and that’s why I find that approach important: our own imagination is very limited, and our aesthetic standards are skewed, so human-generated design is often very predictable. We copy. We stick to what we consider the right way. We do it like we’ve done it before. Computers obviously have no idea or opinion about aesthetics, let alone beauty. They’re unbiased. A machine will relentlessly output *every* option, including what we call a “glitch” if you’ve set it up that way (sometimes it helps to be a bad programmer!) and you get to see things you’d never have considered yourself. This is like spontaneous mutation with regard to evolution, I think. Humans would not exist without it.

In my eyes there is no such thing as an error from the point of view of the machine: it runs or it crashes, and giving an error message is just part of the process. The only thing that could actually be considered an error would be a crash, but since that happens outside the limits of the system it can’t be observed from inside so it doesn’t exist either.

Do you find the technological experimentation an enjoyable and necessary part of your design process?

Yes. Absolutely.

If there was some piece of software that churned out endless new visual ideas with a recognisably “alorenz” theme, would you change your current style, and why?

Seeing as that’s exactly what I like to do – writing things that churn out endless new visual ideas –, I don’t think so. Style is a dead end. I sincerely hope I haven’t arrived there yet.

You’ve previously talked about this word “Zufall”, meaning something between “accidental incident” and “fate”. Is it the same as "serendipity"? Please explain the significance of this to your work.

Serendipity. Thanks for the word. I wasn’t sure what it meant so I just looked it up – beautiful! Very appropriate too, as I wasn’t expecting to expand my English vocabulary today. But no, it’s not quite the same thing – what I was on about with “Zufall” was that it carries a sense of fate in itself which is kind of paradox since the general meaning (how it’s normally used) is exactly the opposite: coincidence. “Zufall” can literally be read as “your lot in life”, das Los, das einem zufällt, as Alfred Andersch has pointed out beautifully:

The name of the person buried here was Luise Zoufal, she had lived from 1878 to 1924, and under her name and the dates the words were incised: MINE HAS BEEN A GOODLY LOT.

Of course Anna failed to understand why I was still laughing. I tried to explain my unexpected merriment.

“She believed in her lot,” I said. “She thought her life was goodly. And on top of that her name is Zoufal – ‘chance!’ – Zoufal!”


“I don’t see it that way,” she said hesitantly, when we had almost reached the gate. To me it’s as if she meant to say: “I’ve drawn the winning ticket in the lottery.” And pausing at the gate, she added thoughtfully: “I wish I knew why she thought her life was goodly. Funny word: goodly.”

When we were back on Karl-Marx-Platz and had closed the gate behind us, I tried to prove to Anna that the inscription on Luise Zoufal’s tombstone was a quotation from the Bible and that the word must therefore be interpreted as a synonym for the word “fate.”

“Maybe,” she said. “But she thought her fate was a ticket she’d drawn in the lottery of the God she believed in. That’s certainly what she meant. She knew it was chance, but she thought this chance was her fate. To her they were one and the same thing.”

This is where I’m coming from, as far as I’m aware. I don’t think this is a personal thing in that it would have special significance to my work in particular – it’s much bigger than that, one of the big unanswerable questions, or complex of questions, of mankind, isn’t it? The tension between the ideas of free will and predetermination, the quest for meaning, the desire for a goal and a structure: this is why people have constructed religions since the beginning of time.

Regarding my work I think I already somewhat explained the significance above: what we perceive as a glitch or random occurrence, with regard to digital arts, is obviously predetermined by how we set up a system and within that system every possible outcome is equally valid. The glitch only exists in our eyes. Personally I don’t think randomness exists on any level – for us it does, because we’re trapped inside the system we live in, and we like to think that there’s no rhyme or reason to things we don’t understand so we label them randomness, Zufall, fate or whatever … but to me this is just the same as declaring a hailstorm the wrath of god.

Why do you think there aren’t as many visual glitch artists and designers as there are glitch musicians?

I’ve often asked myself a similar question – why is graphic design so far behind? If you look at how music has been developing in the last, say, 40 years (particularly digital or electronic music, but probably other kinds as well – I don’t know much about what’s going on in “new classics”, jazz, impro etc.) … and other forms of expression as well, I get the feeling that graphic design is really lagging behind, at best picking up certain “trends” several years after they’ve become static.

I guess one of the reasons might be that graphic design is so dominated by the marketing industry that sometimes people don’t even see that there might be a difference (“I’m a graphic designer.” – “Oh, so you work in advertising?” – I mean if someone tells you he’s a musician you wouldn’t ask that question, would you, although music is being used in adverts just the same). So I never worked in advertising, but from what I see every day there doesn’t seem to be much room for experimentation there … “glitch aesthetics” just don’t have that sort of commercial value.

On the other hand, the David Carson rip-off style that was so popular in the 90’s (in advertising as well, at least here in Germany) is also a kind of “glitch” by your definition, isn’t it?

“Glitch” and its relatives simply presume experimentation I would say, both on an aesthetic and a technical level, and that’s just not so common in graphic design as it is in music. Of course there *are* a lot of great designers whose work seems to prove the opposite, but if you look at the profession in general, the goal seems to be making things “look nice” and … yeah, that’s about it. Almost every electronic musician I know is quite an expert in what technology he uses, and how, be it hardware compatibility issues or spectral analysis or whatever … not because they’re all nerds, but because you need to know this stuff in order to do what you’re doing. And because it’s interesting. With designers it’s more like “I’m the creative here, the technical issues aren’t my problem”. I worked in pre-press for a while and this mindset seems to be all too common. Just try to explain to a designer where that postscript error is coming from … What I just want to say is, in order to make “glitches” or any other kind of unexpected or unintentional result a part of your language, you have to understand it first, and with a lot more designers than musicians that’s just not the case.

Another thing is, when there’s a designer, 99% of the time there’s a client as well.

You are interested in forms of activism. Does the glitch’s subversive nature, being a fault or error, have anything to do with why you’ve chosen it as a perfect expressive medium to work with?

I don’t think there’s a “subversive nature” in any kind of medium. I don’t consider myself a “glitch artist” or “glitch designer” or whatever.

Political activists (the ones that I know, at least) tend to be very conservative when it comes to aesthetics, and for a reason – they want to address the “broad public” with their issue, not some kind of small avant-garde circle that might be attracted by innovative design experiments. I don’t mean to say that they think (or I think) that the “broad public” is too stupid or unimaginative to understand anything else than bold or underlined, just that that’s not their main concern – clarity comes first.

I don’t believe in “subversion” in the “art” world – it’s too often just a feeble excuse for not even trying. People allegedly developed a high culture of subversive communication in the GDR, but 1.) I’ve never lived there, 2.) this culture is dead now (from what I can tell), 3.) it wasn’t artists who developed it, but people. I guess this kind of thing exists under every dictatorship or censorist regime, but I wouldn’t say it’s tied to one medium or other (if it were that easy it wouldn’t be subversive).

Why should “glitch” be subversive anyway? I mean, is there any evil oppressive “art police” that says errors are verboten? I find errors often interesting, not because they’re errors but because they generate results I myself wouldn’t have come up with.

Be it that bug in "procedure#09" which lead to the “6.45KB” series, or the conversion error that let the full swing EP cover image happen or the beautiful results you get when you feed a video beamer (or monitor) with screen updates at 200 Hz – they’re all “errors” from our point of view, but from the point of view of the computer there’s nothing “wrong” with it. It’s either possible or not (and if not it doesn’t *happen*, because it’ll have crashed already), quite Wittgensteinian actually – “the world is all that is the case”.