The critical experimental musician shows how 'Holly Herndon' came to be more than one person on her new album.
Holly Herndon: “Mat co-produced a bunch of the tracks, he sang on a bunch of the tracks, [and] he was also heavily involved in the curation of some of the people that we decided to work with. He was heavily involved with the conceptual conversations with Metahaven; he was heavily involved with the video making, from shooting to editing to messaging. He developed some custom software that I used. So, yeah he’s all over it [laughs].
“He did the ‘net concrete’ patch. It’s this system that’s just like a self-surveillance system, where you can record what you’re browsing and then smash the samples together to create a kind of musique concrete. But instead it’s net concrete as it documents your journeys online.
“He’s also working on a project called Saga right now that is pretty emblematic of platform thinking. It’s a real piece of software that has big implications for how artworks can be made and spread.”
Holly Herndon: “Metahaven have been massive collaborators on this record. As well as their visual work, ideas we have discussed have helped to sculpt the focus of tracks, and they are easily one of my biggest inspirations. They’re hugely inspiring because they’re like, ‘Okay, we’re designers and we have these specific skills, but we’re really good with aesthetics and we also have these interests that cross over into other fields - how can we use our specific skills to contribute to these other things that we care about, in the service of these other topics?’ It changes the game.”
“People sometimes get really upset by the idea of making music about something conceptual or political- as if that detracts from the emotionality. I don’t believe in this strange separation of the soul and the mind. I think if something’s intellectually interesting, then that can make something all the more emotional.”
Holly Herndon: “Colin Self is a composer and performer. He’s in Chez Deep and he wrote an opera last year. He’s a student at Bard [College] and just like an amazing being. We worked on Unequal together online. We weren’t actually in the same room but it was really seamless, and fun, and easy, and quick.
“Colin has such a specific angelic voice and look, with that long, flowing, blonde curly hair, like a cherub or something [Laughs], so for some reason I got it in my mind that it needed to be a ‘Joan of Arc’ character. I imagined him on a pyre, engulfed with flames - which tied into the neo-feudal themes I was thinking about on this record.”
Photo via VICE
Holly Herndon: “Oh yeah, Amnesia Scanner, they are really awesome. Both of them come from architecture, and are involved in multiple fields.
“I had that track going for a year and for some reason I was really not able to finish it. It was completely stuck so I met up with Amnesia Scanner and I played it to them, and they really helped bring it to life. Also, as with the best collaborations, their input made me revise my own on the whole thing. An Exit is a song for an arduous voyage towards paradise.”
Holly Herndon: “Ben is a designer, theorist, and academic who writes about platforms and is heavily involved in the left accelerationist movement - basically attempting to precipitate systemic change through a tricky and strategic adoption of technology.
“He writes a lot about ‘metis’ or cunning as being the basis of design, and I think that his ideas are incredibly powerful writ amassing a leftist political project from the position of an artist.”
Holly Herndon: “Claire is an amazing and multifaceted artist/activist. She often works as a developer for the Tactical Technology Collective, an NGO that works to educate activists, advocacy groups, and the public about digital privacy and security issues. She’s also working with a group of activists, academics, and technologists to build a video archive of human rights abuse documentation from the Syrian conflict, which will provide journalists and researchers with a secure, centralized repository of material.
“Claire’s also an ASMR-tist with a radio show on Berlin Community Radio, where she regularly experiments with the ASMR form and an exhibiting artist, who presented an installation on ASMR at the CTM Festival in Berlin this year.”
Holly Herndon: “Spencer Longo’s an artist based here in Los Angeles. He’s essentially a visual artist but he also works with text. He used to have a Twitter account called @chinesewifi. That account is not as active as it used to be, as he’s moved deep into the gallery world, but he would put together these collages of words with the idea that you don’t really need to actually make the sculpture of the energy drink next to the Nike Air, next to the whatever, it’s enough to smash the words and let the reader make that sculpture for you.
“That’s what he did on @chinesewifi. He made these little word sculptures, and that’s why I wanted to work with him on a track, because I just loved the way that he combined words. He wrote the text for Locker Leak.”
Holly Herndon: “I did a piece with an artist named Cuauhtémoc Peranda, who’s a modern dancer based in the Bay Area. I recorded him. We did a performance together at the Guggenheim [called BodySound] in the Fall - that’s a cool work where it’s like an eight-channel ambisonic piece. He’s moving around the sound field and I’m kind of like chasing him with his own sounds with a little iPad app that I made. I took some of the sounds of that performance and put that in the track DAO.”
Holly Herndon: “You can also hear Amanda DeBoer in [DAO], who’s this amazing soprano who I worked with this year as well. She was also in the Guggenheim piece. I commissioned Reza Negarestani to write a libretto for this piece and she performed it.
“I took excerpts from that and put that in DAO as well; like her crazy euphoric soprano high notes. Amanda and I had a nice conversation about the annoying amount of new music repertoire with the hysterical soprano trope, usually scored by a male composer. So, it was important when tapping into the drama of those high notes, that we still exuded an element of control in her voice, so that it was more about an assertion than a release.”
Holly Herndon: “Suhail Malik has this great speaker series on YouTube that’s really long [Laughs], but really worth listening to. He talks about the current problems with contemporary art and our need to exit from a paradigm of artworks that seem intent on meaning everything to everybody, and display very little intention of changing the structures that they are celebrated for critiquing.
“I find that really inspiring. Especially, with music over the past couple of years, it’s been very much about escape or retreat within yourself, or retreat within the club, and I just like the idea of music being more active, more proactive, and more involved in the public discourse, not just as a throwaway entertainment mechanism.”
Click on any of the images above to launch the gallery.
Holly Herndon is calling out to artist/producer/collaborator Mat Dryhurst, asking a quick fact check about production duo Amensia Scanner. “Sorry, my partner’s my little Wikipedia.” He also happens to be a huge part of Herndon’s second album, her first for 4AD, and one of many collaborators contributing to the musical, conceptual, and even political project that is ‘Platform’.
Claire Tolan, Colin Self, Metahaven, Spencer Longo, Ben Singleton, and Amanda DeBoer: these are just a few of the artists, performers, graphic designers, writers, thinkers, and activists who’ve inspired what is a fairly impressive piece of creative crowdsourcing. There’s the dark and amusing nonsense of Longo’s lyrical “Twitter sculptures” in the pops, bangs, and gulps of Locker Leak (Be the first of your friends to like Greek yoghurt this summer), and the hollow echo of a non-instrumental ASMR excursion so creepy in Lonely At The Top that I often find myself skipping it altogether. It’s an intrusion that’s jarring, despite its calming intent. Contributor Tolan’s solo spoken whisper engages in a game of opposites that resonates in her assertion to a silent client, You really deserve it.
It’s perhaps in these juxtapositions, or contrasts of disciplines, that ‘Platform’ becomes such a significant and, importantly, relevant work of contemporary songwriting - if you could call this selection of 10 picked, plucked and pulverised sounds, actions, and ideas 'songs'. Instead, with this collection of networked artists attempting an impression of the modern milieu of surveillance, inequality, and global oppression, Herndon and friends offer a blueprint for not only pointing out the problems, but suggesting a way in which to fix them. Together.
4AD/RVNG Intl. release 'Platform' on May 18th 2015 (pre-order).