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What Paris looks like with an echo

Open an image in a text editor and you’ll see pages of gibberish; open it in an audio editor and you’ll hear atonal white noise.

What would Paris look like with an echo effect? Something like this:

All types of media — whether it’s an image, a video or even a sound file — contains raw data. This is encoded information which has data that your computer reads and translates into the appropriate format. For an image, this includes information about pixels and color, hue and contrast.

But what happens when you edit this information in an editor intended for another file type?

This practice — of manipulating data in an editor traditionally used to edit media of another format — is databending.

Databending falls under the larger category of glitch art: where the imperfections, glitches and bugs in media files, whether intentional or accidental, are a focus of the composition.

Distortion in art is nothing new. And this version of digital distortion — “the internet’s code-heavy version of graffiti” — renders results that can be chaotic and startling.

We decided to use colleagues’ travel photos to see how landmarks and landscapes from around the world look, when edited for sound effects, using audacity.

What does the Eiffel Tower look like with an echo? What does London look like inverted, or the Brooklyn Bridge with reverb?

We found that while the raw data makes no music, the waveforms share patterns. The audio file from left to right corresponds with layers of pixels from top to bottom. Echo — unsurprisingly — adds an echo, or duplicates elements of a photo. Reverb adds noise and invert turns the audio upside down.