Amnesia Scanner

Berlin Atonal opens month-long exhibition Metabolic Rift that explores overloading kinetic energy

28 September 2021

Berlin Atonal is presenting Metabolic Rift in Berlin from September 25 to October 30. The exhibition contains a series of site-specific interventions from visual artists, including Pan Daijing, Sung Tieu and Amnesia Scanner’s Ville Haimala, and Jamal Moss (aka Hieroglyphic Being).

The exhibition takes its name and functionality from a metabolic system responsible for producing new energy via the breakdown of chemical compounds. Works appear in a choreographed succession, their rhythm created between shifting audiovisual landscapes that fuel activity within the ever-changing topological space. Experiences occur in chain reactions, replicating high-velocity exchanges of energy along metabolic and electrical pathways that climax in eventual overload.**

Metabolic Rift runs at Berlin’s Kraftwerk complex from September 25 to October 30. Visitors can book tickets to the exhibition’s guided tour via their website.

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Alone togetherness in the localised global underground of Krakow’s Unsound Festival & its insights into the value of presence

28 November 2018

Emergent sentience – a holy grail of unity between new technological developments and age-old philosophical ideas – provides a set of perspectives to consider the nature of presence. Death, legacy and the echoes of physical, mental and spiritual awareness grant further windows to gaze through. Presence is felt and shared as both personal and communal experiences. The treacherous chasm between memory and canonisation in a world currently obsessed with ‘truth’ is pertinent.

Adam Gołębiewski @ Hotel Forum (2018). Performance view. Photo by Helena Majewska. Courtesy Unsound Festival, Krakow.

The Unsound brochure posits that this year’s theme of ‘Presence’ invites reflection on how best to exist under life’s circumstances. The international festival is known for its forays into electronic and avant-garde music and art, bringing a multidisciplinary cohort of producers, performers, musicians, artists and writers to the Polish city of Kraków to pragmatically tackle multifaceted questions on the modes, meanings and manifestations of existence. Tying global artists with local scenes, it brings the fringes to a concentrated centre each year. It sits as a towering landmark for a culture that sees itself as underground and experimental, cultivating moments of alone togetherness that are simultaneously slow-moving and epiphanic, tangible and amorphous. These contradictions are continuously negotiated just as the festival navigates its own way through its point of inquiry. Salient angles from which the concept of presence is approached include survival, absence, disruption and the digital realm. These perspectives are investigated in the sections below, alongside thoughts from some of the artists themselves.

 

Virtual and Digital

A number of avatars take to the stage at Unsound. Sinjin Hawke and Zora Jones have flitted between virtual and physical realms, hosting interactive videos online and bringing their own rubbery, mutative uncanny valley sonics to club music as Fractal Fantasy. For their peak set time appearance at the colossal Hotel Forum, they perform with live motion capture to project themselves in different sizes, shapes and environments on the screen behind them.

SinjinHawke & ZoraJones @ Hotel Forum (2018). Performance view. Photo by Helena Majewska. Courtesy Unsound Festival, Krakow.

Absence 2018 is a bot developed by crypto-artist TCF and several programmers, created and deployed during the festival. Users of the Facebook Messenger chatbot can type commands, allowing them to check programme details, broadcast messages and receive notes. The scope of the user experience soon widens as the automated service begins to assign tasks to users, ranging from pop quiz questions on Unsound’s history to initiating a competitive augmented reality game with prizes. It’s a novel way to communicate with people during events and provides the opportunity to share the experience with strangers and a charming play on the theme. The choice to prioritise people’s connections with each other rather than having the bot strike up a false friendship with users comes as a relief.

The premiere of performance and audiovisual art-based presentation ‘Magna Surgat’ also features live motion capture. Dance collective House of Kenzo interpret the music of fellow Texan producer Rabit, and their choreography is in turn monitored and reconfigured into a digital environment on screen by visual artist Sam Rolfes. The visceral voguing of the dancers and the hypnotic abstractions of their shadows on screen are locked in battle for the audience’s attention. Company Wayne McGregor reverse the flow of information in the Jlin-scored Autobiography, a show where the dance ensemble move to the DNA of their namesake as parsed by an algorithm. Graceful and opaque, it’s a reminder of all an avatar can conceal in the act of appearing visible.

 

Play and Disruption

Rabit, ‘Magna Surgat’ (2018). Performance view. Photo by Theresa Baumgartner. Courtesy Unsound Festival, Krakow.

Writer and composer Emile Frankel speaks on ideas of play and ambiguity in music and their relationship with the current political climate. He posits that much of the music from recent years sitting on the industrial-electronic-experimental axis (Amnesia Scanner’s work, for example) feature a sense of compositional uncertainty and randomness. This taps into human tendencies of extracting information from noise and discerning patterns where there are none – a sensation known as apophenia. In the act of listening, this compositional ambiguity compels people to subconsciously long for stability and meaning in the music. Frankel then introduces the phenomenon of collective false memory known as the ‘Mandela effect’, where social factors such as ambiguous information lead people to believe untruths (i.e. that Nelson Mandela died in the 1980s – a falsehood many have subconsciously embraced). When their illusions are shattered, those experiencing the effect come to believe something is amiss with reality itself, rather than accept that they’d misremembered. A similar expression of existential denial has become quite common since Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president. Frankel says the Mandela Effect is an unintended political consequence of ambiguity, almost issuing a caution to the dystopian, erratic electronic sound of the moment. Fortunately, he proposes that there is a utopian, constructive way to introduce ambiguity into music: through play. He nods to improv jazz, more of an approach than a genre; it sets its own paradigms and seeks to discover rather than obfuscate, just as children do.

Amnesia Scanner, ‘AS Oracle’ app (2018). Screen shot. Courtesy Tayyab Amin.

Amnesia Scanner’s recent album Another Life features the voice of Oracle, a software stack processing outsourced vocal work from online freelance marketplace Fiverr, manifesting as the third member of the group. The ‘AS Oracle’ live show introduces this new member across media, as the crowd is invited to join an ad hoc Wi-Fi network with a dedicated chatroom where Oracle is also present during the concert. Usernames are anonymised and anyone in the IM chatroom can share words or Amnesia Scanner-themed stickers, while the ‘chatbot’ Oracle also weighs in. The user base of fans incline the conversation towards self-referential memes, in-jokes, commentary on the music and frequent, transgressive attempts to test the limits of the technosocial construction. Oracle’s responses are in essence a simulation of the Turing test, while the encouragement to look down and stare at one’s phone during Amnesia Scanner’s performance flies in the face of live music convention and adds a new dimension to being present. The group take this idea one step further, triggering the webpage’s background to flash oranges and yellows during particularly intense moments of the music. Through logging in and participating in the chat, the audience inadvertently become proxy strobes for the artists, their phones now lighting fixtures to be weaponised at whim.

Elements of disruption and chaos are intentionally programmed, too – percussionist Adam Gołebiewski launches into his powerful solo drum set smack in the middle of a club night crowd, moments after the previous act has left the stage. At other times, artists themselves take the initiative. Gaika ensures that the audience is part of his bombastic, industrial-drenched dancehall storytelling. He tells the lighting engineer to bring the room to total darkness before asking his audience to turn their phone flashlights on. While such a request is often saved for more still, sentimental gig moments, here the vibrancy and sway of the dancers and their torches conjures a more spirited, ritualised unity.

 

Gaika Speaks

Gaika @ Hotel Forum (2018). Performance view. Photo by Katarzyna Borelowska. Courtesy Unsound Festival, Krakow.

On his stories: “They’re from all around the world and it’s all true. It’s actually my life. If you know anything about me and you go and listen to the lyrics, it’s quite uneasy listening. It’s quite an uneasy listen for a lot of my friends – they get it, they know what it’s all about.”

On technology: “I didn’t have a phone for four years. They just rot your mind, you know? Well not rot your mind but make you not present. You have to wean yourself off it, so you don’t have to pick up and put it down. I use Instagram less than most people but I see it as unnatural to me. If it gets too much I’ll throw my phone in the bin, because I think we’re sliding between realities.”

On staying present: “Concentrate on what’s real, on what has meaning. Not the spectacle, the actual thing. How I feel, [how I’m] being viewed. Not how I want to feel, not how I want to be viewed.”

 

Absence and Isolation

A classical concert pays tribute to esteemed composer Jóhann Jóhannsson by way of his previous collaborators: Hildur Guðnadóttir, Sam Slater, Erik K. Skodvin, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and Sinfonietta Cracovia, who close Unsound on a gentle, comforting note. The festival also remembers and celebrates Ursula K. Le Guin, through a poignant, enthralling performance of her project with Todd Barton, Music and Poetry of the Kesh. It is presented as the sound of a fictional, purely imagined society, isolated from real life frames of reference. Yet the vaguest recognition of familiar textures and melodies prompts a consideration of all we passively absorb from our surroundings. Anthropological studies continue in the film programme, as Welcome to Sodom (2018) spotlights Agbogbloshie, Accra – the destination landfill for swathes of the West’s electronic waste. Through an inescapably colonial aperture, the film intrudes upon and documents a troubled community of workers left damned by consumerism, delving into what it means to be isolated and ignored in a globalised world.

Hildur Guðnadóttir, Sam Slater, Erik K. Skodvin, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe & Sinfonietta Cracovia (2018). Performance view. Photo by Michał_Ramus. Courtesy Unsound Festival, Krakow.

A train ride outside of Kraków and down a skeletal, draughty lift underground lies the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It exists in the forced, shallow liminal space between abandonment and community as tourist attractions often do, offering a canteen, bar and remarkably strong 4G connection among its cavernous walkways and curious chapels. It’s here that minimalist vanguard Terry Riley performs with his son Gyan to a seated audience who are entombed in the stasis of quiet music amidst silent surroundings. Terry Riley’s brittle voice contends with the anatomical demands of his opening raga, his Hindi developing Arab inflections alongside Gyan’s acoustic guitar as if the pair were making Malian folk. Here in the Polish mines, with the Rileys on stage – for how many is this the first time seeing Indian classical music live?


Survival and Sustenance

Rory Gibb, Paul Rekret and Anja Kanngieser broach the topic of sound and environmental crisis in their presentation called ‘Amplification/Annihilation’. They draw a parallel between the growing use of field recordings in countercultural spheres and the ecologies of ‘60s and ‘70s folk revival music, such as Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. The causes and consequences of climate change are not equally distributed across the globe, so it is interesting then that the researchers point out the most diligent sonic activism in this area has come from marginalised communities. They cite Standing Rock protest group Voices of Water, as well as a bounce anthem from New Orleans’ 5th Ward Weebie titled ‘Fuck Katrina’. While the electronic underground’s apocalyptic rave music thrills in its own way, this sort of activism makes a compelling argument for moving beyond fetishising sonic aesthetics and using music to galvanise and mobilise instead. In a similar vein of protest, free jazz group Irreversible Entanglements marry mesmerising musicianship with uncompromising resistance politics to devastating effect. “Why are you here? Who sent you?” Moor Mother demands, leading the band. For some, simply being at Unsound in Kraków – a scene and city largely white – is an act of resistance and a declaration of the right to exist and be present in itself. Lotic’s lyrics also resonate with this issue of making presence felt: “May every step you take burn your print.”

Colin Self, ‘Siblings’ (2018). Performance view. Photo by Dominika Filipowicz. Courtesy Unsound Festival, Krakow.

Sarah Davachi’s midweek morning show demonstrates music’s healing potential as she shares delicate ambient tones to an audience strewn across the floor. Care is also a key theme of vocal and performance artist Colin Self’s opera Siblings. Backed by a string section and a choir of workshop participants formed earlier in the week, Self presents a proposal for interdependency, non-biological/found families and queer kinship through cluttered electronic beats and Disney-like expositional ballads. Concepts such as ‘reflection’ and ‘radical dissolving’ appear on a screen with track titles and a timer counting down to the end of each song. Self frequently breaks the fourth wall to narrate their own performance, leaping on and off the stage, sitting with the choir on the floor at times and sending off the show with a climactic vogue routine. They pose with venue staff, clamber in amongst audience seating to cause havoc and wave a book tied to a string as a prop, steadily tearing it apart. It’s a joyous, bemusing and righteous affair that champions ideas of presence through and through.


Colin Self Speaks

“If you’re doing performance, presence is always part of the conversation. I was leading this choir session yesterday and one of the people participating [was] talking about presence not just being about what the performer is doing but actually the other people in the room. Getting out of this very vertical, binary relationship of audience performer, where everyone else also has to be present. So much of what these choir sessions became is trying to get us to be present with each other, and presence also being about active listening and engaging with each other on a human body energy level.”

“I think people are checked out because it’s a really hard time to be alive, in some ways. People are increasingly taken out of these places where we can encounter a stranger and have a relationship with a stranger in conversation. Presence is… I feel it’s precarious because it’s under attack. Being with each other is something we have less and less of. There’s solitary presence which has to do with a meditative state, in yourself and conscious of yourself. But then there’s presence with multiple people in the room, are you paying attention to what’s happening and what’s going on to what’s around you?”**

The 16th edition of Unsound Kraków was on across venues of the Polish city, running October 7 to 14, 2018.

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Berlin Current X PHONO Festival @ Jazzhouse, Oct 22 – 23

21 October 2015

CTM Festival is partnering with Odense’s PHONO Festival and Copenhagen’s Jazzhouse to present the Berlin Current X PHONO two day event in the latter Danish venue, running October 22 to 23.

The event will showcase what its press release calls the “unconventional pop and electronic music hybrids” of the likes of Berlin-based producers Kuedo and Amnesia Scanner, Melbourne-born Phoebe Kiddo and Vilnius’ J.G. Biberkopf –who also presents NTS Radio’s monthly ‘Unthinkable‘ series –on the first night.

With its focus being on “musical diversity”, the following day will feature sounds that are less “hypermodern” and more analogue and organic with Rabih Beaini, OAKE, Demdike Stare and more.

See the CTM Festival website for details.**

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Holly Herndon @ Berghain, Jun 11

10 June 2015

Holly Herndon takes over Berlin’s Berghain with a night of live performances curated by the San Francisco artist this Thursday, June 11.

Presenting her second full-length album, Platform, through Rvng Intl. and 4AD record labels, CMT Festival and transmediale – festival for art and digital culture berlin have invited Herndon who, in turn, has invited a few of artists that have either contributed to Platform or explore similar themes of surveillance states, neo-feudalism and big data. 

Joining Herndon (also be performing live) is Berlin-based artist Claire Tolan with an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) session, followed by Amnesia Scanner performing a special live version of their audioplay, ‘AS ANGELS RIG HOOK’, and “poem-producer” AGF performing “(if (is_true) 1 plus 2 = you”.

See the event page for details. **

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An interview with Holly Herndon

19 May 2015

“Are you doing anything internet-intensive right now?” Holly Herndon asks through Skype as she struggles with a new internet connection from her latest base in Los Angeles. The US-born but fairly peripatetic producer can’t hear, typing words into the chat window saying she’s only getting every second syllable. She heaves and grunts to give an impression of how it sounds, and it’s not unlike the hyperventilating whoops and howls of a song like ‘Chorus’. It’s the track that follows the first, ‘Interference’, on her second album Platform – out on RVNG Intl and 4AD on May 19 – and it’s one that explores the intimate relationship between a person and their laptop. Made up of sounds recorded from Herndon’s own computer’s processor – its inner life – ‘Chorus’ combines the clicks and currents of said device with her own voice that’s sampled, cut and filtered in a way that one could almost imagine how this electrically powered entity would actually hear.

“I’m kind of already spying on myself in that one”, she says about the early implications of the single and accompanying video by Akihiko Taniguchi released in January last year. It features browser windows, files and images, as well as webcam video and floating 3D renderings of searches for washing powder, pigeons and clothes pegs. “[It’s] spying on people in their very personal workspaces, and the very personal private spaces where they’re also spying online.” That was followed by the other side of stalking and being stalked beyond individuals to government surveillance and mass control via the networks we’re connected to in ‘Home’, released as another video in September. It’s one of two, produced with graphic designers Metahaven, along with Herndon’s long-time partner Mat Dryhurst, and a part of many other interdisciplinary collaborations on Platform including those with Colin Self (also of Chez Deep), Claire Tolan, Spencer Longo and Amnesia Scanner.

Metahaven x Holly Herndon, 'call.hollyherndon.com' (2014). Screen capture courtesy Metahaven.
Metahaven x Holly Herndon, ‘call.hollyherndon.com‘ (2014). Screen capture courtesy Metahaven.

“It gets really lonely in the studio, you know?” Herndon says matter-of-factly about a part of the reason she’s embraced the collective route to production. But it also gets like that in a world where the noose of social alienation and political oppression seems to tighten with every high-tech advancement. “I feel like people try to imbue technology with a specific agency,” Herndon, and by extension Platform, says, rebuking the suggestion that we have anyone (or more specifically, anything) to blame but ourselves when it comes to this current climate of what the album press release calls “systemic inequality, surveillance states, and neo-feudalism”. That’s why, in summoning the involvement of other artists, writers and thinkers, with a similarly active interest in the basic notion of human liberty, Platform becomes a musical manifesto of political resistance.

Literally having just flown in from a show in Chicago late that evening for her first night in her new home (“no need to use a camera, I’m still in my pyjamas”), Herndon is understandably exhausted. She switches Skype apps, between laptop and phone, struggles with her tangled earphones and own exhaustion to offer insight into our changing relationships with technology, agency and oppression, and how we as a community can adapt.

You’re working with all these people who are really dispersed geographically, would you say that there is some kind of shared intent, or aesthetic, or ideology between you and the artists that you’re working with in this particularly movement generally, or is there even a movement to speak of?

Holly Herndon: I don’t know if I necessarily want to call it a movement but I think that there’s definitely a shared proactivity. There’s criticality, but joined with optimism and proactivity.

Do you think that optimism is shared by many people or a specific set?

HH: That’s hard to say, I feel like I experience a lot of cynicism today and I feel like often when you show optimism, people can be very glib, and I don’t know, I find that really exhausting.

In being completely open about who you’re working with and also referencing, I’ve also been a little bit confused about how digital culture seems to work, or how it’s criticised for the fact that people just like lift stuff, take it out of context and don’t credit anyone…

HH: [laughing] That pretty much happens all the time.

But that always happened in literature, where people would reference something, probably not with the intention of claiming an idea, but it comes with the presumption that a reader would get it.

HH: I see that as a little bit different. Whenever I see those references in literature, it’s more like, ‘oh, ha, ha, I know you know and this is like a fun little witty thing’ and ‘oh i get where this reference is from’. It’s more like an intellectual game or something and I think that’s different from just like lifting someone’s idea [laughs].

Holly Herndon, Platform (2015) album cover by Metahaven.
Holly Herndon, Platform (2015) album cover by Metahaven.

There are artists out there who do that as their entire practice; appropriating work, reformulating and representing it as their own, without adding much, if anything, as some kind of pseudo-commentary, but not really critiquing it and just benefiting from it.

HH: I think our culture is rampant with people ‘pseudo’-criticising things and simply benefitting from them [laughs]. That like sums up the last… I often think that a lot of people do it under the guise of criticism without really criticising anything. I also think it’s a very ripe time for us to not necessarily just say, ‘oh, that’s bad and we all know. I know that you know’. It’s more interesting right now when people are like, ‘this thing is bad and so why not try this thing?’ I find that way more inspiring, when someone has an alternative idea instead of just poking fun at, or showing that they know something should be criticised. I feel like that’s what’s problematic about art, ‘creating this great problem’. Why can’t it be creating these great answers?

I remember you speaking at Unsound 2012 and saying that with technological development come new problems and new ways to solve them.

HH: Yeah, I mean, I don’t remember the context of that talk, it’s been so long but that sounds like it’s still very much in alignment with what I’m working with now. People sometimes like to think of technology as the problem, which is so bizarre.

There’s that quote where you say technology is and isn’t the problem…

HH: Well, I feel like people try to imbue technology with a specific agency, like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and I don’t see it like that at all. I see it as more of a neutral, or just like an extension of human thought. It has everything that’s good and bad in human interaction because it’s a part of human intellectual thought.

Holly Herndon.
Holly Herndon.

So then does the existence of technology imbue a person with greater potential for destruction? Like the human that wields the gun is the problem, but the gun makes it easier to kill people.

HH: So you’re thinking about the gun metaphorically in terms of technology?

Yes.

HH: Oh my god [sighs heavily].

Sorry am I doing what you didn’t want me to do?

HH: [laughs] No. Yes, a gun is a technology, but this gets really specific into how certain technologies are regulated [laughs]. Yeah, the gun does make it easier to kill someone but I’m from the South and a hunting family, so I grew up with guns being used to make dinner.

That’s true.

HH: I also don’t believe in the NRA thing of everyone needs to be able to own a machine gun in the United States to really have personal liberty but, I guess, philosophically speaking, the gun doesn’t necessarily have agency. Of course, certain technology can be developed in a way that has been designed in a specific way, but if you look at the technology of the gun, it’s like the steel and the mechanics, that can be designed in a way that’s both positive and negative [laughs]. 

So if you’re looking at technology or the design of certain tools, you’re looking at something as basic as C++. It’s just a language, and that can be used in both a positive and negative way. That can be designed in a way to spy on you, or to protect your privacy.

You’ve lived in a few major cities already, and you’ve just relocated to LA from San Francisco, why do you move around so much?

HH: I’m so not tied to any one particular place. My partner grew up in Kuwait and he has been moving around since he was old enough to do so. I grew up in Tennessee and I knew from the age of two that I didn’t want to live there when I grew up [laughs], even though I love visiting my family there. So we’re both just so not tied to any specific place, if we can’t afford one place, or if it’s not working anymore, or we can’t handle the dynamic in one place, it’s very easy for us to get up and leave because we’re not so emotionally tied to any one specific location.

And I guess it makes it easier because you can still maintain relationships online?

HH: Yeah, relationships have changed as well. I mean, some of my best friends I don’t see every day. I see them in my email account and then we spend time together when we’re in the same place. People are much less, kind of, what’s the word, like needy or something. Is that a bad word? Does that make it sound like I’m a bad friend? [laughs]

Do you think it’s a cultural thing or an age thing?

HH: I think it’s probably both but I think people are way more transient these days. People move around way more and it’s totally normal to live in a city for three months, hang out with someone there for those three months pretty regularly and then go to another city. It’s not like that friendship ends but you don’t have to see each other quite as often. I actually do think the nature of relationships has changed.

And this isn’t for everyone, this is an incredibly privileged position to be coming from. To be like, ‘oh yeah, I can move here if want to, when I want to, because my work is mobile’. I think most people are probably still tied to wherever their income source is, physically. So I think I’m speaking for musicians and artists on the large part. And rich people [laughing], they can do whatever they want!

Also people of certain nationalities that can’t move around as freely as others.

HH: That is absolutely the case.

When thinking about the song New Ways To Love, does this relate to the way relationships are changing?

HH: Yeah, I never really thought about it that way. I think with that, I was trying to think more like, ‘with new problems come new answers and new ways to connect and trying to solve them together, and to come together, and to help each other’. Also it comes from, that with these new conditions come new modes of emotion. So we don’t’ necessarily need to rely on the same emotive tropes that we have.

Music is pretty guilty of that, where very specific vocal inflections mean one very specific emotional thing and it’s like that will be the same for 50 years, even though the world is dramatically changing. So I really like the idea of us being open to finding new ways to be emotional and not always to rely on a kind of emotional nostalgia.

I was thinking more in terms of polyamory being a thing.

HH: Oh god! [laughs] Gosh, I’m reading this book right now, Perdido Street Fiction, have you ever read that?

No…

HH: It’s by China Melville and it’s the beginning of a trilogy. Anyway, I’m only like 10 short chapters in but it’s this new world with all these different species and then you have these interspecies sex scenes, where it’s like, ‘he gently caresses her quivering wing’ or something. It’s so interesting, but that’s not what that track is about [laughs]. **

Holly Herndon’s second album Platform is out via RVNG Intl and 4AD on May 18 in the UK and May 19 in the US. 

Header image: Metahaven x Holly Herndon, ‘Home’ (2014). Screenshot. Courtesy Metahaven.

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