The much awaited Bristol debut by Holly Herndon welding together the human and machine in a night of visceral electronic music. With video programming by Mat Dryhurst.
Holly Herndon’s provocative, future-minded music inhabits an uncanny interzone between the human and the technological. This is work fascinated by the human body, and the contemporary mutation of the human body as it grows ever closer to technology.
Often her vocals are artfully deformed by software, transforming by turns from a vulnerable sigh to an eerie atmospheric texture to a mutant growl. Disquieting and darkly thrilling, her work derives much of its power from its claustrophobic sense of intimacy. For Herndon, the most pervasive form of contemporary intimacy is being alone with a laptop rather than another person. She told The Wire last October: ‘It’s this ‘always-there’ piece of machinery. I want to see what it can do and how I can push it.’
Her commitment to modern hardware feels like part of a deeper fascination with technology’s effects on what it means to be human. This sense of cerebral intensity is coupled with the physical rush of her music. Sensual and stark, it reconfigures familiar elements of contemporary electronic music and, more discreetly, maintains a sly dialogue with a wealth of modernist composers and electronic pioneers from the 1950s onwards.
Live performance is a crucial part of its operation. Her shows usually possess an air of experiment and research, the spark of improvisation and invention, as she uses them to test new material, rework tracks from her highly-praised debut Movement (RVNG Intl, 2012), and explore the outer reaches of her mudiv. (Recent performances have seen her employing touch-sensitive software to manipulate the contents of her hard-drive with the merest of movements. The deeply physical, sharply choreographed videos of her frequent collaborator Matthew Dryhurst add another disorientating energy to her performances. Other collaborators have included the sculptor Conrad Shawcross, the Iranian theorist Reza Negrestani and hallucinatory Chicago house producer Hieroglyphic Being. All of this is part of a coherent project. In her master’s thesis she wrote, outlining the concerns of her music: ‘In my work, technology in music is not about replacing my human body; it is incorporating my body and working out where my unique physical body fits in this complex technical world.’ Watching her work this out is a wholly singular, thrilling experience, unlike much else in contemporary music.
Buy a joint ticket with Notations for £10 – numbers limited. Call Arnolfini box office 0117 917 2300.