And no, it’s not a forgotten skill of the Avatar…
Here is Databending, according to Wikipedia:
“Databending (or data bending) is the process of manipulating a media file of a certain format, using software designed to edit files of another format. Distortions in the medium typically occur as a result, and the process either falls under a broader category of, or is frequently employed in glitch art.” – via Wikipedia
Databending has been a topic that has peaked my interest for a long time now. Something about the ability to manipulate the raw data of one medium through tools of other mediums seems so… Artsy.
As stated above, the process of databending is to manipulate raw data in a program that would ordinarily not be used to alter the medium you’re working in. In the case of the photos above, those were “edited” in Adobe Audition. Below I’ve outlined the process, as well as provided a small gallery of examples!
Update: Since posting this tutorial, I was able to Databend video, using After Effects and Audition. The process is almost the same, you’ll find those steps added soon. Until then, check out the results at the bottom of the page.
For this tutorial, we are using Adobe Photoshop and Audition for photos, and After Effects and Audition for video, though this process can be done using a variety of programs.
Step 1: Choose a file and make a COPY
This step is vitally important.
Unless you want to never see the file again, save a copy first.
For reference, here is our original photo:
Step 2 (Photo): Import into Photoshop and convert to raw data
First things first, open your photo file in Photoshop (or other applicable photo editors).
Next, choose to “Save As” and choose TIFF
When the save options menu pops up, set your compression to “None” and leave everything else as is. Click “OK”.
Step 3: Import the image data into Audition
Once in Audition, load your image or video data.
File > Import > Raw Data
I set my sample rate to 48000, though I’m not sure what difference it makes. Make sure to set your encoding to “U-Law 8-Bit PCM”.
In all honesty, I’m not sure what would happen if you were to choose other settings, this is just where I’ve started, based upon the recommendation of another tutorial. Hopefully I can experiment with these settings soon, and figure out how they affect the final image.
Now your image should appear as a waveform! Cool, right? Give it a listen, it’s pretty interesting. Sounds a bit like lo-fi robo-techno if you ask me.
Update: At the bottom of the page there is a section showing examples of turning the resulting waveform into music.
Step 4: Manipulate!
Highlight a portion of your track and select an effect. For the purpose of this tutorial, I am using the “Reverb” effect on the “Default” settings. Any effects can be used for this process, and all effects have different effects on the final image. You can see a variety of examples at the bottom of this tutorial.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Avoid manipulating the first and last second or so of the file. This is called the “Header” and it makes the data readable. If the header gets changed in any way, the file is corrupted and unusable.
Step 5: Save and enjoy!
At this point you can go “CTRL + S” to save the .tif file. There is also the option to “Save As” but “CTRL + S” is the easiest. If you choose to make further adjustments after saving, just Undo your changes in Audition, and save again.
Open up your .tif file and it should look something like this:
NOTE: I have converted the image above from .TIF to .JPG in order to upload to this tutorial.
Thats it! We’ve officially made glitch art!
Keep in mind, my in-depth knowledge of this subject is limited. At the bottom of this page I’ve included some resources that have helped me to understand databending and learn this method, and I will keep this post updated as I experiment with more programs, settings, etc.
This tutorial is the only method I’ve found successful after many failed attempts and hours scouring the internet for information. I hear that there are many, many other options for databending. This tutorial was also made on a Mac, but this method works on PC as well (see hani-amir.com resource below for pretty much the same tutorial, but on windows).
Here are a few more examples using the same original photo. I have listed the effects used for manipulation for reference.
After posting this tutorial, I was able to databend video using a similar technique.I will add detailed steps when time is available, but for now here is a quick run-down and an example:
Instead of using Photoshop in Step 2, Import the video file into After Effects.
Add the File to the Render Queue. In the “Format” settings, choose “None (Uncompressed)”. Render out the video.
From there the process is identical to that of a photo. Do note it is a much lengthier process, given the file size of uncompressed video. I would suggest starting with a very short clip. The example below took over 3 hours of converting, exporting, etc.
Keep in mind, you will have to convert your video back into a compressed format after saving from Audition, in order to watch it.
Here is the original video:
Here is the databent version:
Justin Graff, a friend of mine who is also a composer, found himself inspired by this process and decided to give it a go himself. Rather than creating images, he chose to manipulate the audio resulting from importing the raw data of a photo into Audacity.
First, he chose to manipulate this image:
After converting the image to raw data and importing it into Audacity, this was the resulting waveform:
For most, that resulting sound doesn’t sound like much. But here it is after adding reverb and tremolo:
It’s starting to sound a little bit more like… sound, right? He then took it one step further, and used that sound for this beat:
And just like that, he converted a digital image into sound. Not just sound, but actual, listenable music. If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will!