Mat Dryhurst is an artist. He releases music on PAN records, collaborates on audiovisual projects with his partner (and RVNG Intl-signed producer/composer/vocalist) Holly Herndon under the name Kairo, and last year started a graduate program at UCLA. He has lived in Salwa, London, Berlin, LA and Oakland – where he has been since 2008. Recently, he’s been listening to Black Ocean artists Soda Plains and M.E.S.H.. He’s feeling the new Jam City material, too. On January 26 he dined at Napa Farms Market restaurant in Terminal 2 of San Francisco airport before taking a $70 Virgin flight. Sometimes, he goes hiking.
These aren’t things Dryhurst had to tell me during our email correspondence throughout late 2014 and early 2015. It’s all public. We’ve all dug around inside our acquaintances’ online profiles to discover things about them that we didn’t necessarily need to know, and we’ve all had the same done to us. In our online glass house, we’re constantly, painfully aware of being observed, and yet at the same time flippant about – maybe sometimes obsessed with – revealing fragments of ourselves anyway. It’s that prism of narcissism and curiosity, that unquestioned compulsion to keep posting, that Dryhurst peers into with his work as a solo artist, a researcher and as one half of the Kairo project.
Alone and in collaboration with Herndon, Dryhurst has led performances that hinge on his sourcing information about audience members and relaying it back to them; he’s even been known to make compositions from their personal data. The effect is unnerving and shocking, despite the fact that this is all information that was willingly made public. He calls it “boomerang-ing data back into the world,” explaining over email, “[We’re] presenting people with the information that they freely share online, however are usually uncomfortable with seeing presented in front of their faces – which will begin to become more of a feature of our daily physical lives. We’ve learned that people will sacrifice privacy for convenience… I find it really interesting to think of what a performance or art space will look like in 15 years time, when the room knows who you are, and the artist can anticipate your attendance.”.
As well as bringing digital data into physical spaces, Dryhurst and Herndon have collaborated with philosopher and writer Reza Negarestani on disrupting performance spaces with technology. Last year, he worked on bringing electronic sounds and harmonic utopian ideals to the sound design of actual cities on the Sonic Movement project (with Fernando Ocana, James Brooks, and E2Sound of Semcon). Most recently, he and Herndon debuted a brutal track named ‘Recruit’, its press release stating: “Wires emerge from the earth. What intelligence brought us here? What did we sign up for?”
In anticipation of new music from both, including Dryhurst’s White Hat LP (a reference to white hat hacking, of course), here are some things he actually did tell me directly about his practice.
What is Kairo?
Mat Dryhurst: Occasionally projects come through where it makes sense for Holly and I to share the work 50/50, and so Kairo was born as a means to recognise that, and also allow for us to experiment with projects that we wouldn’t be able to do alone. I’m a little OCD when it comes to naming things, and Kairo hit all the right buttons. To start, Kairo is one of our favorite films, a really artful and harrowing Japanese horror film about ghosts that lurk on the internet, beckoning the lonely. The kanji for the word – 回路 – also has this incredible balance to it, with the first character resembling a screen, which seems pretty relevant given Holly’s interest in the laptop and my own interest with networks and design. Kairo also translates to ‘circuit’, and there is an amazing and haunting game made by Richard Perrin that uses the name, and deals with monuments, destiny and archaic machinery. Cairo was also the first city that Holly and I visited together, and has been a fascination of mine since I was a child. The clincher was also that Kairos is an ancient Greek term for “the opportune moment”, which seems appropriate given both of our interests in concepts of pragmatism, or this notion of making decisions while moving, and constantly revising your approach.
I anticipate we may kill the Kairo name this year. It has been an experiment and people just end up using our own names anyway. 🙂
Your practice brings your artistic experience and ideas into ‘non-art’ realms, particularly the Sonic Movement project. Are you interested in doing more work on sound design for future cities?
MD: Absolutely, although to actually get anywhere with that project will take a lot more work – car companies are classically quite conservative, and have a huge bottom line to consider, however we were really enthused by the response the project received. I think that project is fairly totemic of a desire to take our ideas into the world, and was equally educational about how difficult it is to actually deliver on something of that scale and scope. The guys in Sweden just installed it into a real car, which is really exciting.
What can you tell me about the upcoming White Hat LP?
MD: I started to record all of my intimate interactions/browsing back in 2012 while I was making the ‘net concrete’ software – and so White Hat is basically a very transparent collation of that material. At the time I also started speaking in public fairly regularly, and started to basically spy on Facebook pages of events in advance so that I could tailor my argument for the specific people in the room – often quoting from individuals in the audience to make my argument, and almost always using sampled material from audience members in any sound pieces I presented.
So yeah, the title White Hat is a reference to white hat hacking, which basically is a philosophy where one exploits vulnerabilities in order to let the victim know of the ways in which they might be compromised. We are so eager to share all this intimate information about ourselves, so why not use that as raw material when creating a work, and present it back to you? It led to a couple of funny moments, like congratulating someone on the job they got that morning on a massive projection on the walls of Berghain.
How are you exploring the untapped potential for this intimate information on White Hat ?
MD: Well, there is a lot of personal information in there. Like me singing into my phone, me just ranting unfiltered ideas at Ableton. I’m really interested in attaining a kind of radical candour, and to really deliver on that thesis I need to be as candid as I can be – more human than a set of ‘interesting’ data points. A brilliant collaborator Brian Rogers and I are super interested in improv comedy for this component, just the danger and brutal transparency of it. Live improv comedy feels way ‘live-er’ than performance art or even improv music as the stakes are so high, and I feel like it is high time that people dropped the role-playing schtick and actually attempted to communicate with each other – the ability to do so easily is the gift of our time.
A lot of art and music seems divided between people who are delusional about their actual power in the world, doggedly pursuing old forms of expression and analysis (sadly, a lot of people operating in the club and the political left succumb to this temptation), or people who adopt this kind of clandestine, mercenary, libertarian game approach in order to get ahead – crystallised around a meticulously crafted online persona (producers in hoodies looking deep/artists in white spaces looking classy/artists at parties looking baller ad infinitum). Those both feel like defeats to me – a candid culture may offer an alternative, and would certainly bring a lot of bright people out of the shadows and raise discussions worth having. I tried to do it with a Transmediale project last year called ‘Anonymonth‘ but had a hard time getting enough people to contribute their unfiltered thoughts. It will happen though, it’s inevitable.
What else do you have coming up on the horizon?
MD: Well, we are both busy with solo stuff at the moment; Holly just finished a record and some commissions, I’m finishing my record and starting some commissions, and am also collaborating on a few things to do with her record coming up. It’s all very involved. We are definitely both becoming more political and focused, at a time when the things we are both interested in are becoming increasingly politicised.
I just started a grad program at UCLA and have been mostly developing a piece of software I’m calling SAGA. We’ve both been super interested in infrastructure for a while, and I’m getting to this point where I’m pretty convinced that many of the frustrating things about art and music can be traced back to elemental aspects of the culture, like tools, schools, venues, antiquated industry practices/myths. I talked about this a little bit in a PAN talk I did a few years ago, called ‘Dispatch‘, and now I guess I’m trying to make a piece of software to put forward an alternative. That shit takes time.
I’ve been researching an ascendent trend in technology, often referred to as ‘anticipatory computing,’ where applications like Google Now utilize information they have collected about you in order to provide more convenient/tailored services. Another aspect to this practice involves large companies, such as Axciom, who collect and sell nuanced profiles of us as individuals to companies so that they may target us directly, and anticipate our needs in a time and context-specific fashion. I’m interested in the implications that has for people who produce art work. This idea of ‘the audience’ that we have in the arts is so abstracted, rarely challenged, and far too vague for private industries, who have developed sophisticated methods to get inside each of our heads and effortlessly slot themselves into our daily lives. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but it does make you wonder how an artist with radical ambitions will be able to compete for attention in 20 years with the kind of sentimental/universal/unchallenged gestures we are used to making, when the alternative will be surgically tailored experiences provided by companies who know so much about us as individuals. SAGA provides some tools to play in that field.
It feels like this politicisation of your work you mention is inevitable, as our very private inner lives become politicised through the internet. You can see this most obviously in Holly’s latest videos, namely ‘Home‘ and ‘Chorus‘, as an act as private as being alone at home on the computer becomes political.
MD: The private is more political than it ever has been, and we certainly aren’t the only artists (or the first, for that matter) acknowledging that. I think what is most exciting about that observation though, is that once we reach consensus about that fact we can then try and determine what power we have to steer things in a preferable direction.
If our data, attention and participation is the fundamental value, then we have a seat at the table – which becomes a very powerful and political proposition so long as we find ways to work collectively and not trample over each other, or create these weird suicide pacts where we delude ourselves about the actual state of affairs. If you read Bratton, Malik, Metahaven, Negarestani, Easterling, Singleton, Wark, Negarestani, Ptak, Jurgenson and Dockray you get this sense of a radical re-configuration taking place, and that is cause for great optimism. I remember Adam Harper talking about the ‘new DIY‘ in music, which I thought was quite a cool point to make, but I think the scope of that is much bigger than a welcome new culture of new bedroom producers. I think that a continuum between the bedroom producer and those concerned with infrastructure, strategy and utility – the architects, developers and designers of the world – is taking shape, and that is a cause for remarkable optimism if we can all get on the same page and be ambitious and candid with our projects.
The best thing about the impending collapse of these industries is the collapse of divisions of focus and access, but making the most of that opportunity begins with personal decisions; personal conduct. I’m revisiting Fugazi and Crass – the old DIY was implicitly about infrastructure, establishing communication channels and networks, and personal liability and accountability. The mistake would be to fetishise the artificial/stylistic affects of older DIY/independent cultures, and not learn from what made them powerful – an adroit and candid ethos of collective action. **