CTM is pleased to announce the Berlin debut of Holly Herndon’s new AI AV choral ensemble show, which will follow the release of her highly-anticipated third LP, PROTO. Set for release on May 10 on 4AD, PROTO sees Herndon and longtime collaborator Mathew Dryhurst bring together their contemporary ensemble of vocalists, developers, and an inhuman intelligence. The new performance will arrive at Berlin’s Volksbühne on June 14, accompanied by a programme curated by Herndon and Dryhurst themselves.
The PROTO show will open the stage to attendees, experimenting with and extending the traditional concert format. Featuring an extra soundsystem and additional stage, the show invites audience members to engage further with its material and experience it in an embodied, direct way.
PROTO spans live vocal processing and timeless folk singing, placing an emphasis on alien song craft and potential new forms of communion. It features contributions from Spawn, an AI housed in a DIY souped-up gaming PC, initiated in partnership with Dryhurst and ensemble developer Jules LaPlace. Live training ceremonies were held in 2018 in Berlin, during which hundreds of people gathered to teach Spawn how to identify and reinterpret unfamiliar sounds in group call-and-response singing sessions—a contemporary update on the religious gatherings that Herndon was raised amongst during her upbringing in East Tennessee.
Referencing what Herndon calls the protocol era, PROTO considers the ways in which rapidly surfacing ideological battles over the future of AI, networked, personal, and political protocols compel us to interrogate who we are, what we are, what we stand for, and what are we heading towards.
“There’s a pervasive narrative of technology as dehumanising,” says Holly. “We stand in contrast to that. It’s not like we want to run away; we’re very much running towards it, but on our terms. Choosing to work with an ensemble of humans is part of our protocol. I don’t want to live in a world in which humans are automated off stage. I want an AI to be raised to appreciate and interact with that beauty.”
Lead single “Eternal” was premiered by Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC 6 Music, and named Best New Track by Pitchfork. “Godmother,” featuring Jlin and Spawn, was featured by NPR, the New York Times, The Guardian, and more.
Joining the Holly Herndon Ensemble are Berlin-based artists Jenna Sutela and xin. Sutela, who features on PROTO’s “Extreme Love,” works with words, sounds, and other living materials. Her installations and performances seek to identify and react to precarious social and material moments, often in relation to technology. She will perform nimiia vibié, with contrabass recorder player Miako Klein and flautist Shin-Joo Morgantini. Channeling a Bacterial-Martian culture, the performance presents the sounds and a narrative of machine learning and interspecies communication.
xin is a polymorphous producer, artist, writer, and DJ, who has contributed to compilations on Genome 6.66Mbp, suspension, and others. Their debut solo release came out on Subtext in 2018, solely via independent platforms, and their forthcoming LP mangles and strangles the sounds of neurofunk, hardcore, and dubstep.
The PROTO Berlin concert is presented in the framework of #bebeethoven, a multi-year long project considering radical changes that will shape music in the 21st century. Herndon and Dryhurst are among the 12 fellows that #bebeethoven is supporting alongside six renowned partners including CTM. A project by PODIUM festival and supported by the Federal Cultural Foundation, #bebeethoven culminates in festival finales in 2020 in Esslingen and Bonn.
For further context, listen back to Dryhurst's talk on protocols at CTM 2019; or Herndon, Dryhurst, and LaPlace in conversation at CTM 2018.
Holly Herndon: PROTO at Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz is part of #bebeethoven, a project by PODIUM Festival Esslingen in the context of the Beethoven anniversary program BTHVN2020, funded by the Federal Cultural Foundation of Germany, and supported by the Federal State of Baden-Würtemberg, the Baden-Würtemberg Foundation and L-Bank.
The PROTO Volksbühne show is supported by media partners Crack Magazine and Ask Helmut.