Words by: Ruth Saxelby

The 10 most “whoa” uses of technology, according to Holly Herndon

San Fran artist Holly Herndon thrilled us with her techno-unpacking debut album ‘Movement’ [RVNG Intl.] at the close of 2012 and her subsequent live sets at Boiler Room and Cafe Oto only confirmed her Dummy favourite status. Her embrace of her laptop as instrument rather than just tool – using microphones to play the electricity coming off it – is just the tip of the iceberg in the myriad of ways technology informs her music. Ahead of her live set in London this Saturday with Hieroglyphic Being (details), she told us about the most “whoa” uses of technology – some musical, some cultural and some critical – that have provided context to her work over recent years.

  1. The future replacement of MIDI
    Holly Herndon: OSC is a new protocol developed at CNMAT for communication amongst computers that may one day replace MIDI. It is not limited to the 0-127 parameters that bind MIDI, and can easily be transferred across the internet – which hypothetically can allow for the wireless control of media at any distance. We used basic OSC control in my collaborative piece ‘Collusion’ with Reza Negarestani and Mat Dryhurst to allow an invisible agent to control elements of the composition, and the first networked performance group ‘The Hub’ have been using the protocol for years in their work – I attached a rad video of their world first telematic performance in 1986.
  2. The free tool that enables real-time laptop sampling
    Holly Herndon: Soundflower is an incredible free tool developed by Cycling ’74, the creators of Max/MSP. It allows for applications within your computer to send audio to any other applications in the computer, basically allowing you to sample anything on your laptop in real time.
  3. The latest in facial detection protection
    Holly Herndon: Adam Harvey is an artist based in New York, whose incredible CV Dazzle project uses an advanced understanding of computer vision to develop camouflage to protect people from having their face detected in public. Face detection technologies are a growing reality with dire implications for personal privacy and security, and it is inspiring to see someone combat that shift so creatively!
  4. The artist who projection mapped the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
    Holly Herndon: Barry Threw is an artist, engineer, friend and collaborator who has done incredible things in the realm of instrument design and the development of immersive audio visual environments (perhaps best characterized by his work as technical lead of Recombinant Media Labs). This video is of a projection mapping project he developed with Obscura Digital to illuminate the entire Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the UAE, which is an unbelievable technical and aesthetic achievement.
  5. The Apple shop hack job in the name of art
    Holly Herndon: Kyle McDonald is a media artist based in Brooklyn whose work often touches on the notion of being radically transparent about your daily digital life. His most recent project involves openly documenting his attempt to clear his inbox (‘Inbox Zero Residency’), and he is perhaps best well known for his project ‘People Staring at Computers’, where he covertly installed custom software on Macbook’s in Apple stores to send pictures of people’s expressionless faces to a blog while they used the computer. The series of portraits concluded with a final portrait of an Apple engineer deinstalling the system, and a home visit by the secret service. Watch the video on Vimeo.
     photo PeopleStaringAtComputers_zps6fb26709.jpg
  6. The book exposing Silicon Valley ‘solutionists’
    Holly Herndon: Although not strictly using advanced technology as his medium, despite an incredibly entertaining Twitter account, Evgeny Morozov is doing great things to understand and critique tech. His first book, ‘The Net Delusion’ looked at how despite good intentions, web 2.0 technologies may have in fact made authoritarian governments even more powerful and repressive. In this new book, ‘Click Here to Save Everything’ he acknowledges the elevated role Silicon Valley ‘solutionists’ play in global discourse, and how in many ways these powerful players may be attempting to solve problems that don’t actually exist – unencumbered by a cultural bias that believes more technology is always good thing.
  7. The code-based visual artist manipulating his own face
    Holly Herndon: Andrew Benson is an code based visual artist in SF who develops insane visual processes, usually manipulating himself through his webcam. I’m fascinated by the idea of working with quotidian digital experience as a subject matter, and there is something so compelling about his combination of rich imagery framed within the relatable experience of staring into the network.
  8. The ultimate Facebook game parody
    Holly Herndon: Ian Bogost is a critic, game designer and theorist based at Georgia Institute of Technology, who strongly advocates for the idea that video games can be an expressive medium. His project Cow Clicker is a parody of a Facebook game – in the form of a Facebook game. In mimicking the cunningly engineered trivial pursuits of popular time-sucks like Farmville, Bogost takes these mechanisms to their logical conclusion and exposes the emptiness of many of the social online experiences we are sold.
  9. The artist exploring the social implications of technology
    Holly Herndon: Mat Dryhurst is an artist and collaborator whose work deals with the unfurling social implications of technology. He has most recently begun making work about the predominant (and polarizing) tech culture in San Francisco, last month inviting a local developer (Lee Butterman) to perform in his place at a show, ceding control of his creative process and attempting to bring latent conversations about the friction between arts and tech into a gallery environment. He has a number of projects in the works this year, and his granular focus on big tech and its discontents is a refreshing change from the usual narrative of approaching technology with a sense of wonder and detachment.
  10. The arts think tank using tech to fund work
    Holly Herndon: The Present Group is an Oakland based arts think tank founded by Eleanor Hanson and Oliver Wise, who task themselves to find new ways to use technologies to fund and distribute artistic work. Their project Art Micropatronage invites spectators of an online gallery of work to contribute small amounts of money towards exhibiting artists, and most recently they raised nearly $30k to help develop a free tool to create beautiful e-books. They also run a web hosting service for artists, and pool the proceeds to funds works on art in turn. It is really encouraging to read of projects where people with tangible experience of the art world identify real projects and attempt to use technology sparingly to address them!

Holly Herndon and Hieroglyphic Being will play Basing House in London this Saturday 23rd March 2013 (tickets).

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