– Spring/Summer 2016

Holly Herndon: A Life Across Bits and Atoms

Lina Džuverović

Holly Herndon, Chorus, 2014, video directed by Akihiko Taniguchi, colour, sound, 6min, still. Courtesy the artist and RVNG Intl.

Last summer I attended the now infamous workshop ‘Wasting time on the Internet’, led by Kenneth Goldsmith.1 Halfway into the day, just as we were all starting to become more comfortable, Goldsmith asked us to do something horrible, something that sent waves of panic across the room. His demand was initially met by a collective gasp. A few seconds later, composing ourselves, some of us reluctantly complied, while others became angry, attempting to refuse participation.

What Goldsmith had asked was that we each hand our personal laptop to whomever was sitting next to us. He then gave everyone permission to browse freely through all the files on the laptop just received. Without warning, without the chance to present an edited version of ourselves, he ripped our digital and analogue selves apart – our deepest secrets only a spotlight search away. The one person who declined was asked to explain: What was the worst that could happen? Discovery of a folder full of porn? Nude images meant to be seen by a lover? Obsessive prying into Facebook photos of a friend of a friend? Gossip? Financial details? Of course, we all knew that a single digital file was unlikely to cause anyone’s demise – it

  1. Kenneth Goldsmith runs the module ‘Wasting time on the Internet’ in the English Department at Penn State; see https://www.english.upenn.edu/courses/undergraduate/2015/spring/engl111.301 (last accessed on 21 December 2015). The session I attended took place in June 2015 at Galerija Nova, Zagreb as part of the ongoing ‘Public Library’ project initiated by Multimedijalni institut (MI2) and What How and for Whom (WHW); see https://www.memoryoftheworld.org (last accessed on 21 December 2015).

  2. See N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.

  3. Holly Herndon, ‘Embodiment in Electronic Music Performance’, unpublished master's thesis, Oakland, CA: Mills College, 2010, p.4.

  4. At the time of writing, a YouTube search for ASMR offered over two million results.

  5. ‘everywhere and nowhere’, Kunstverein in Hamburg, 6 August–13 September 2015. Apart from Mathew Dryhurst, other collaborators on this project were the Dutch design agency Metahaven, ASMR artist Claire Tolan and theorist Suhail Malik.

  6. Claire Tolan, quoted in Ruth Saxelby, ‘10 Radical Ideas that Inspired Holly Herndon’s Platform, Fader, 21 May 2015, available at http://www.thefader.com/2015/05/21/radical-ideas-that-inspired-holly-herndon-platform (last accessed on 21 December 2015).

  7. Steven Connor, ‘The Strain of the Voice’ (2004), available at http://stevenconnor.com/strains.html (last accessed on 21 December 2015). This essay first appeared in a German translation by Holger Wölfle, in Brigitte Felderer (ed.), Phonorama: Eine Kulturgeschichte der Stimme als Medium, Berlin: Matthes and Seitz, 2004, pp.158–72.

  8. See, for example, Nina Power’s paper ‘Soft Coercion, the City and the Recorded Female Voice’, available as an audio recording at https://soundcloud.com/uclurbanlab/nina-power-soft-coercion (last accessed on 21 December 2015).

  9. Artaud’s lecture is described in detail in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. I (1931–1934), New York: Swallow Press, 1966, pp.191–93.

  10. The performances, which took place on 12 and 13 October 1990 at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York, are documented on Diamanda Galás, Plague Mass (1984–End of the Epidemic) (Mute Records, 1991).

  11. Julie Dawn Smith, ‘Playing Like a Girl: The Queer Laughter of the Feminist Improvising Group’, in Daniel Fischlin and Ajay Heble (ed.), The Other Side of Nowhere: Jazz, Improvisation, and Communities in Dialogue, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004, pp.224–43.

  12. Herndon is currently working on a PhD at Stanford University.

  13. Pauline Oliveros, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice, Kingston, NY: Deep Listening Publications, 2005, p.92.

  14. John Cage, ‘The Future of Music: Credo’ (1937), Silence: Lectures and Writings, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1973, p.4.

  15. ‘FACT mix 368: Holly Herndon’, FACT Magazine, 4 February 2013, available at http://www.factmag.com/2013/02/04/fact-mix-368-holly-herndon/ (last accessed on 21 December 2015).

  16. The Ada Project (begun 2013) is an installation by Shawcross that involves a series of musical commissions by contemporary composers. It has been presented at The Vinyl Factory Space at The Brewer Street Car Park, London; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; and elsewhere. See http://conradshawcross.com/project/the-ada-project-2013 (last accessed on 21 December 2015).

  17. Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, ‘#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics’, 14 May 2013, available at http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/ (last accessed on 21 December 2015). For a detailed analysis of this view, see Tiziana Terranova, ‘Red Stack Attack! Algorithms, Capital and the Automation of the Common’, in Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian (ed.), #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2014, pp.379–401.

  18. The live work by Herndon, Negarestani and Dryhurst was created for the festival ‘Activating the Medium’, organised by 23five, The Lab, San Francisco, 28 April 2012. A recording can be accessed at https://soundcloud.com/hollyherndon/holly-herndon-mat-dryhurst (last accessed on 21 December 2015).

  19. See Reza Negarestani, ‘The Labor of the Inhuman’, in R. Mackay and A. Avanessian (ed.), #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, op. cit., pp.425–67.

  20. The French prefix sur indicates ‘above’, so that surveillance means ‘watching from above’; sous indicates ‘below’, and sousveillance ‘watching from below’.

  21. Her live shows have on occasion been accompanied by projected images of the event’s Facebook page and the social media profiles of audience members.

  22. Mroué’s The Pixellated Revolution was a performance-lecture commissioned by dOCUMENTA(13) in 2012. A fifteen-minute extract can be found at https://vimeo.com/63916014 (last accessed on 25 December 2015).

  23. ‘“We are at the very beginning of a new epoch:” Chelsea Manning on the luxury of privacy’ (interview by H. Herndon, M. Dryhurst, Metahaven and Jacob Appelbaum), PAPER, 1 September 2015, available at http://www.papermag.com/we-are-at-the-very-beginning-of-a-new-epoch-chelsea-manning-on-the-lux-1427637348.html (last accessed on 21 December 2015).

  24. Cited in ibid.

  25. A. Williams and N. Srnicek, ‘#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO’, op. cit.