Network Music Festival

Sound without Borders // 15-18th July 2020

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Glitch Lich in Conversation.

Ross Cotton has been talking to Curtis McKinney of Glitch Lich, who is also presenting his installation Leech at Network Music Festival.

Glitch Lich are performing on Sunday 29th January.

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Glitch Lich are an innovative collective of experimental musicians, who perform and collaborate with members spread over three different times zones.

Developing new ways to create music and expanding on the idea of what it means to perform as a group, the four piece study further in composition across their different bases on the globe.

Made up of researchers Cole Ingraham, Benjamin O’Brien and brothers Chad McKinney and Curtis McKinney, Glitch Lich craft real-time network music like no other group on the planet.

“My brother and I have been performing music together our entire lives”, says Glitch Lich member Curtis.

“In California, Chad and I formed a band with two fellow students at Mills College.

“This ensemble was informed by the work of The League of Automatic Music Composers, and The Hub, two members of which where professors at Mills.

“These ensembles focused on creating music through a unique process of collaboration, using computers via data networks as a medium to share music information.

“Once we graduated, we all went our own ways, which is often the case.

“Myself moving to England, Cole to Colorado, Ben to Florida and Chad stayed in California, though he now joins me in England.

“Of course the band still wanted to perform together”, says Curtis.

“Since we were already using networks as a medium for musical collaboration, it was only logical that we could extend the performance space by using custom programmed applications.

“Allowing us to use the same collaborative methods on a global scale.

“Thus, Glitch Lich became an international Ensemble!”

The group’s goal is never to cultivate a sound, but instead to focus on the principle of experimental music.

Researching new techniques for performance and sound production, the collective discover new ways of where music can lead to.

Curtis explains further, “Sometimes you fail miserably, sometimes it works more successfully than you could ever imagine.”

Although, it seems that the press may not always see Glitch Lich as innovative in their approach.

“We recently received a rather humorous review from an individual unfamiliar with experimental music”, says Curtis.

“They compared us to [American abstract expressionist painter] Jackson Pollock and horror movie scores.

“I believe they meant it derisively, but we all found it rather complimentary!”


The sound of Glitch Lich is always one that treads on dangerous territory, something that Curtis is very much keen on doing, as it’s all part of the thrill to him.

“Every performance is a treacherous and exciting journey”, he says.

“A large part of our work has researched the possibility of a group collaboratively influencing chaotic structures, often through the usage of recursion and feedback.

“These pieces can be extremely surprising, and often feel more like herding wild beasts than performing.

“At their best, the pieces produce results I’m not sure we could have ever derived in any other fashion”, he says.

“When this occurs in performance, it’s like a gift from Azathoth [a supreme being in the Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle stories of H.P. Lovecraft].”

“On the other hand, sometimes the system just won’t comply, and just produces boring or painful results.

“Worst case scenario is a fatal technical glitch that brings the performance to a halt.

“However, I consider this to be a boon”, he says.


Network Music Festival will also feature an installation piece called Leech, which is one of Curtis’s own creations.

Leech from Curtis McKinney on Vimeo.

Harnessing BitTorrent downloads as data, the piece reveals the look and sound of piracy, using the actual music being pirated itself as a new musical composition.

Curtis says, “I began thinking about alternative methods of using networks in music.

“Almost everyone I know pirates music, including myself and many other musicians.

“I often hear about how we should support musicians by buying their albums from the same people who pirate music themselves!

“It’s a strange dichotomy that no one wants to talk about”, he says.

“I decided that it would be interesting to tackle the issue the one way I know how, through music and sound itself.”

Curtis continues, “to accomplish this, I set out to sonify the BitTorrent traffic of an actual act of music piracy.

“Gathering the data involves using Packet Sniffing [a piece of computer hardware that intercepts and logs traffic passing over a digital network] in combination with Geo IP location, and data mining a BitTorrent client.

“By using this information, I am able to plot all the individuals involved in a particular torrent onto a global map, to both visualise and sonify the pirated data that is being uploaded and downloaded.

“Simultaneously, I use the pirated songs themselves as a musical resource for effects processing as they download onto my computer.”

Curtis has written more about his piece Leech here:


Glitch Lich welcome anybody with an open mind to come and see their performance at Network Music Festival.

“As long as people listen actively and critically, I am happy”, says Curtis

“If they react by buying the band a round and having a friendly chat about what the heck just happened, that would be optimal, though not required”, he jokes.


And what are Curtis’s and Glitch Lich’s plans for the future?

“We want to be the first organisation to design human eradicating AI, in hope that perhaps they will be more forgiving to us”, he says.

(More about Curtis’s opinions on Artificial Intelligence can be read below this article).

“We are also currently researching how to more intimately involve beer in our performance practice.

“And I personally plan on creating more installation pieces that are illegal in at least one country.”


Curtis’s opinion on the future threat of music and artificial intelligence is definitely a unique and highly interesting one, as he explains “Unless some drastic event were to derail research into the fields of computer science and AI, I believe there will be no way of avoiding the fact that we as technology researchers are paving the way for humanity’s utter destruction.

“At the very least, we are designing our own replacements.

“In my own way, I am helping it along myself”, he says.

“As technology increases, the rate of changes increases, eventually leading to what Ray Kurzweil terms, the ‘Technological Singularity’, a point at which the rate of change is so great that it would approach infinity.

“To reach this level will require the design of advanced artificial intelligence.

“Once to a sufficient point, this artificial intelligence will then be used to design the next generation of more capable artificial intelligence and technology.

“This will precede until AI becomes many magnitudes more capable than human beings, appearing to us almost as gods.

“Kurzweil has a rather Utopian view on these things, and believes that somehow it will all work to the good of humanity.

“I tend to agree more with those such as Hugo De Garis, who foresees that advance AI will look upon the human race as a nuisance, akin to how we look upon ants.

“And as such, they would see little moral consequence in eradicating the vermin.

“I’d recommend reading The Artilect War by Hugo De Garis and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison for more insight.”, explains Curtis, who’s in depth knowledge on the subject matter is both extremely thought provoking and eye opening.

– by Ross Cotton – Freelance Music Journalist –

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