Editing photos as if they were audio files
July 27, 2014 9:48 PM   Subscribe

"Masuma Ahuja and Denise Lu for the Washington Post applied a technique called databending to a bunch of photos. The idea is that computer files — even though they represent different things like documents, images, and audio — encode data in one form or another. It's just that sound files encode beats, notes, and rhythms, whereas image files encode hue, saturation, and brightness. So when you treat image files as if they were audio, you get some interesting results. Jamie Boulton has a detailed description on how to do this yourself with Audacity Effects." [via]
posted by Room 641-A (15 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
The WaPo presentation, with the slider to pull the effect across the image, is really effective.

I think this 2009 post by Antonio Roberts is one of the early examples of databending images with Audacity. But like also this post by Jamie Boulton, which really captures the joy of experimentation:
I was just sitting there thinking about how the Audacity method works. All it does is change the bytes of the file in such a way that it achieves the sound effect it was ordered to create. Now, I’m no computer scientist, but that sounds very similar to what a guitar effects pedal does? I’m thinking that a guitar effects pedal alters the electronic pulses, and not actual bytes (1s and 0s), but hey I may as well give it a sh–GREAT SCOTT IT ONLY BLOODY WORKS.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:02 PM on July 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think I prefer it in reverse.
posted by a non e mouse at 11:13 PM on July 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

Came for the Aphex face, leaving satisfied.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:18 PM on July 27, 2014

Have you ever looked at the Taj Mahal.... on REVERB?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 11:19 PM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just coincidentally I've been playing with doing this this week, it's great fun! My favourites were a picture of me playing guitar into my amp, with the image played though an overdriven guitar amp sim and one where the image has reverb came our nice and watery, just like a reverb. I'm now wondering about playing images though my entire pedals and amp signal chain and capturing them at the end and re-imaging them. So many things to try.
posted by drnick at 11:41 PM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

To anyone who's worked with analogue video circuitry, this will be comfortingly familiar. In good old-fashioned electronics, a video signal is just a very fat audio signal with some timing cues, and it gets amplified and treated by amplifiers and filters that are very closely related to those used for audio.

When they go wrong and non-linear - clipping, ringing, filtering, adding noise - then the visual effects are characteristic (it's how the TV test card is designed, to make this explicit to a service bod's eye). And they look, unsurprisingly, much like the sort of results you get when you shove digital video information through the mathematical models of an analogue signal chain in a digital audio processor. (If we'd discovered high power computing before we had analogue electronics - it's quite fun to kick *that* what-if about - then we'd be talking about building analogue models of digital signal chains. It's all applying mathematical operations to data sets in time and space.)

I simplify grotesquely, of course. But all this is part of a much larger, and intellectually intriguing, world of what information is, what it means to process and experience it, and the relationships between our technology, our perceptions and that ol' reality-consciousness divide. The nice thing is, it exposes aspects of that and lets us muck about with it.

And that's why I've loved this shit ever since I first ripped the back off a TV - which is more legal, if not necessarily any safer, than other ways of exploring the same space.

The Taj Mahal on reverb, indeed.
posted by Devonian at 1:39 AM on July 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is very old news, which is why I appreciate We Had a Deal, Kyle giving a shout-out to video artist Antonio Roberts' 2009 blog post.
posted by univac at 2:11 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't mind that it's old news - how much of the gee-whizz neophytery of Web culture is just short attention span? - anything that exposes the underlying insane plasticity of digital is worth getting out there. You never can tell where an 'a-HA!' moment might be sparked.
posted by Devonian at 3:02 AM on July 28, 2014

*tries to open MP3 in Photoshop*
posted by Segundus at 4:40 AM on July 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Succeeds !
posted by Segundus at 4:47 AM on July 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Somewhat related: the world's first photoshopped image, created in 1987. And from 1991, curiously, Barton Fink's muse.
posted by wensink at 5:15 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

This tutorial by Stallio was the first intro to sonification for many glitch art folks, before Antonio showed us how to work in Audacity.

I still prefer Cool Edit, it's capable of creating smoother / less noisy bends with dynamic delay and some of the flanger settings. I experiment with these in my Glitchometry series, which applies them to simple shapes instead of photos.
posted by rottytooth at 7:42 AM on July 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

(the stallio link is broken, should go here I think?)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:48 AM on July 28, 2014

Thanks -- yeah, that's the link
posted by rottytooth at 7:57 AM on July 28, 2014

They should start with the cover of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.
posted by pseudonick at 8:23 AM on July 28, 2014

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