Thursday 1 July 2021
Herndon’s AI will be put IRL for some sublime and experimental pop harmonies

Does technology enable relationships and liberate us to be more human together? Or does it do that exact opposite?

Let’s ask Holly Herndon – one of the most important experimental artists around – that very question.

Since her arrival in the music scene in 2012, she has successfully mined the edges of electronic and avant-garde pop. Her laptop has become her most intimate instrument, she has claimed. Using it as an instrument, she built her own voice processing systems to be used for live performances.

Holly Herndon recently received her PhD in composition from Stanford University, and with her club music connections and Radiohead support slots, she straddles the divide between academia and pop culture in very exciting ways.

For her latest album, PROTO (2019), she put together an ensemble of singers. She also made an AI and named it Spawn. During rehearsals with her human choir, Spawn listened to what the group was composing and mimicked it to create music of its own.

As you can imagine, the human voice is the central instrument in this project. And it works in many mysterious and wondrous ways. If you listen to the heavenly pop anthem “Eternal”, you can’t really make out the words but the sound channels something divine. At other times (“Bridge”) it sounds a bit scary, like a female version of HAL 9000 under water.

All the voices are often heavily digitally processed, blurring out the division between human and robot. The question is if it’s comforting or the opposite?

When Holly Herndon sets up her gear at Roskilde Festival, Spawn will be there somewhere in the sound. This concert will be living proof that AI and art can co-exist in non-predictable and exciting ways.