Holly Herndon

Holly Herndon, Claire Tolan + Jam City @ Oval Space, Nov 4

2 November 2015

Holly Herndon curates a night for Illuminations’ fall series with Claire Tolan and Jam City, taking place at Oval Space on November 4.

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The Uncanny Valley @ Wysing Arts Centre, Sep 26 – Nov 8

25 September 2015

Cambridge’s Wysing Arts Centre is presenting The Uncanny Valley group exhibition, opening September 26 and running to November 8.

Curated by Donna Lynas, the show features existing works and new commissions exploring the Masahiro Mori-coined concept of the ‘Uncanny Valley’, as in the emotional response and intellectual uncertainty experienced when a viewer encounters a hyper-real object.

Including a new piece by Joey Holder and music produced by Rachel Maclean during a her 2015 Wysing residency, the show looks at “the aesthetics of the uncanny through computer generated imagery” via contributions from Julia Crabtree & William Evans, Benedict Drew, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Holly Herndon, Sophie Jung, Lawrence Lek and Katja Novitskova.

See the Wysing Arts Centre website for details.**

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The Long Progress Bar @ BDST + Lighthouse, Sep 3-4

2 September 2015

The Long Progress Bar, a two-day festival combining talks, presentations, workshops and “vanguard performances”, will run at the Brighton Dome Studio Theatre (BDST) on September 3 and at Lighthouse on September 4.

The two-day festival, running as part of the Brighton Digital Festival 2015, builds on Lighthouse’s previous Improving Reality events, bringing together international artists and thinkers to build “new platforms for creating culture, connecting people and improving reality”.

In a time of significant upheaval in the western world, The Long Progress Bar examines not just the role of art but the roles of engineering and direct democracy, aiming to create a “real-time response to real-world issues”. Some of the participating artists and creatives include USA’s Holly Herndon, Mat Dryhurst and Zach Blas, UK’s Warren Ellis, Jam City and Benedict Singleton, and The Netherlands’ Metahaven.

See the event page 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?


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?


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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Holly Herndon @ Syndrome Sessions 2.2, Sep 5

19 August 2014

Syndrome continues their live sessions with Syndrome Sessions 2.2 featuring a live performance by Holly Herndon at their Liverpool location on September 5.

Devised in partnership by Mercy and The Hive Collective, the Liverpool multi-media lab has been hosting the Syndrome Sessions since its launch in April, rolling through an eclectic platform of artists, including avant-garde music collective a.P.A.t.T., glitch artist Antonio Roberts, and dancer Rachel Sweeney in Syndrome Sessions 2.0.

This event, organized in conjunction with Deep Hedonia, features Tennessee runaway Herndon and her hybridized sound, whose mix of modern composition training with a love of Berlin-techno club music takes on a different pitch in her most recent single, ‘Chorus‘, composed of a daily sample of her private internet browsing experience.

Herndon will be joined by a live performance by Kepla of Deep Hedonia as well as a screening of ‘Engineering Joy’ by The Hive Collective.

See the Syndrome event page for details. **

Holly Herndon – Chorus [Official Video] from RVNG Intl. on Vimeo.


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Blondes, Holly Herndon et al @ Moogfest, April 26

25 April 2014

Blondes, Holly Herndon, Craig Leon and Hieroglyphic Being are playing the RVNG Intl showcase at Asheville, (North Carolina)’s Moogfest on April 26.

It’s part of the five day festival, celebrating the famous analogue synthesiser and running April 23 to 27, where Herndon -who released an update on her vocal processing experiments with ‘Chorus‘ earlier this year -appears on the same bill as record collector, cult DJ and collaborator Hieroglyphic Being.

RVNG is also responsible for a recent re-release of Leon’s classic synthesizer albums Nommos and Visiting with RVNG, as well as Blondes’ surprise new EP Rewire dropped just days ago.

See the Moogfest website for details. **

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Holly Herndon ‘Chorus’ video

21 January 2014

Looks like San Francisco-based ‘lap-top’ producer Holly Herndon has been fully absorbed by her processor for her new single, ‘Chorus’, out on RVNG Intl today. As the artist and PhD candidate behind creative vocal processing and embodied computer music, she’s taken the nudge to more dance-friendly production over her heady, though equally engrossing, sound experiment Movement released on the same label in 2012.

The b-side of the record, ‘Solo Voice’ is a more abstracted affair, in keeping with the live shows that mix conceptual fragments with gripping physical motion. Here’s a video by Akihiko Taniguchi, produced by  creative partner Mat Dryhurst and inspired by Herndon’s own mundane online habits.

See the RVNG website for more info. **

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Unsound 2012 reviewed

23 October 2012

‘Online social groups, that’s what clubbing is now.’ says Michail Stangl as he explains the changing nature of the way some interact with music during a discussion of Posthumanism at Unsound 2012. It’s a notion which the festival -in its tenth edition since starting as a still very underground affair in Poland’s cultural heart of Krakow -interrogates through a seemingly fatalistic theme of ‘The End’. Of course, while flash-in-the-pan online microgenres like hauntology and #seapunk might make you think much radical music is in the domain of the digital, it’s in seeing the epic and endless build-ups of YouTube phenomenon Evian Christ’s set, or the exquisite post-millennial DJing of Kuwaitee-American artist and producer, Fatima Al Qadiri, that you realise that just because something is of the virtual world, doesn’t mean it should to stay there.

While ‘digitisation as death to music’ is a question specifically brought up during the H+ talk on Posthumanism at the city’s Bunkier Sztuki, it’s an idea echoed and repeatedly refuted throughout the eight-day Unsound event. Whether it’s the submerged techno insurrection of Vessel or the rattling psychoacoustics of Brooklyn sound artist Ben Vida, there’s no denying the pure physicality of music in a real-time arena. There’s a smashed lamp by pure rhythmic force at Black Rain’s performance in Soviet modernist remnant, Hotel Forum, and brain-dissolving onslaught of Empty Set at the Manggha Museum. That’s not to mention the transcendental collaboration of Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) St. Catherine’s Church. They had the grand Gothic structure quaking to the point of feeling like it really was the end of the world –or at least of the centuries old building that contained it.

Amongst the less affirmative of ideas of endings are the apocalyptic murmurings of the Unsound-commissions by Biosphere’s examination of the first New Mexico atomic weaponry tests in Kijów Cinema, as well as Demdike Stare and the Krakovia Sinfonietta’s abstract excursion into shifting world orders with the revelatory animation from director Michael England in the Tempel Synagogue. But even in those, there’s a powerful sense of expectation and rebuilding; a logical progression from last year’s desperate and helpless overload of the scifi-themed Futureshock. That’s not least because, as Unsound’s rising global reputation reaches a state of transition –contemplating its potential for lateral growth with rising audience numbers and increased funding –people like Jamie Teasdale (Kuedo) and the Quietus’ new music editor Rory Gibb explore ideas of man-made, boundary-pushing technologies in conversation, while artists like LA-based production duo Nguzunguzu and Russia’s drum n bass inspired producer Slava tug, pull and drop their distorted bass performances within the physical realms of live music.


Fatima Al Qadiri and vogue beats-inspired artists Mike Q have the most to offer in this post-internet era, where they inhabit a space that is a step up from the hyper-critical neo-psychedelia of last year’s Not Not Fun artists, for example, but still within a proto state of realistion. That’s where they’re still beholden to distinctions, between pop and the avant-garde, east and west, samples and real-time mixing; all of which you can recognise in a live setting. In fact, it’s the deviant PAN artist Heatsick and Californian sonic intellectual Holly Herndon that offer a more integrated experiences of broken-down boundaries and realising the conceptual sonically, while teetering across the intellectual and the emotional most fluidly. Yet, they too have shortcomings in presenting a homogenous Libertarian world-view, in contrast to the anti-didactic globalism as Al Qadiri’s sophisticated intercultural mixes through Islamic chants and modern pop or Theo Parrish’s genre mashes across time form his early Detroit Techno days, to Nirvana and contemporary RnB in a single early-morning set.

But in making up for the conceptual shortcomings every individual artist is bound to have, it’s the Unsound programme as a whole that utilises their strengths and perpetuates an intertextual conversation, criss-crossing across space and time and mirroring the plural, globalised, post-internet world that drives it. Presenting music, art and ideas in conversation with each other, Unsound 2012 offers a multiplicity of perspectives for a fly’s eye view of the world, all with an ear for asking the question, ‘where to from here?’

Poland’s Unsound Festival runs annually in October.

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