Words by Ryan Bridgewater
On Thursday 17th October the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA) hosted Holly Herndon – one of the most forward-thinking artists making music today – as part of Brighton Digital Festival. Herndon probes big ideas with her work and her latest album PROTO explores how Artificial Intelligence can be integrated into music in a way that does not diminish its humanity. While taking a conceptual approach with her music, Herndon’s performance at the ACCA showed that her music is not dryly academic but full of emotion and spectacle.
Accompanied by a mixed gender 5-piece choir who were dressed in period clothing, she sang in front of some striking animated visuals. The fusion of choral music and modern electronic production techniques worked well, with the voices being subjected to various digital processes. Highlights of the set included when two of the singers sang from the balconies on either side of the stage, their contrasting high and low voices merging beautifully, and the wild and joyful dancing during the group’s last number. The only thing missing was Spawn – the AI ‘baby’ created and taught to sing by Herndon and her partner Mathew Dryhurst. Spawn was stuck in Berlin so the audience were encouraged to join in singing a call and response, which was recorded and would be used in the future to aid in Spawn’s training.
By challenging narratives that see Artificial Intelligence and automation as necessarily leading to dystopias, Herndon’s PROTO project can be seen alongside other cultural interventions such as Aaron Bastani’s new book Fully Automated Luxury Communism. In a disheartening situation of demagogic leaders and fear of impending climate catastrophe, Herndon’s music enables us to contemplate visions of a future that seems far brighter than what we might presently expect.
Photo credit: Ground Control Touring