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About Holly Herndon
Crafting electronic music that bridges pop and academia, composer/producer Holly Herndon's music comments on how technology affects humanity (and vice versa) in thought-provoking, sometimes unsettling ways. On 2015's Platform, she combined the intimacy of her voice and samples from her everyday web browsing into songs that questioned notions of online privacy, voyeurism and identity. With her third album, 2019's PROTO, she took her artistry in even more ambitious directions, developing an A.I. capable of creating its own music based on her input. In all of her projects, concepts and emotions are equally important as she explores what it means to be a creator in the 21st century.
Born and raised in Johnson City, Tennessee, Herndon grew up in a religious family and attended church frequently, learning to play guitar and singing in choirs that ranged from youth to adult groups. Along with her vocal training, while growing up Herndon also took piano lessons. In her late teens, she moved to Berlin for five years as part of a high school exchange program. During her time there, she immersed herself in the city's techno scene, working in clubs and taking in 12-hour sets by Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos. She also explored Berlin's noise and experimental music communities, performed with the band Electrocute and took contrabass lessons in order to be taken seriously as a composer.
By 2008, Herndon felt she had reached the limit of what she could learn in Germany, and returned to the States to study at Mills College in Oakland, California. As she learned the Max/MSP programming language and studied under Fred Frith, Maggi Payne, and John Bischoff, she discovered the versatility and intimacy of making music on laptop computers. While earning her MFA in Electronic Music and Recording Media, Herndon won the Elizabeth Mills Crothers award for Best Composer, for her 2010 vocal-generated piece "195." The following year, she issued "Car," a lengthy track of automotive sounds released on cassette.
After her graduation from Mills, Herndon worked at a children's museum during the day and on her music at night. In 2012, RVNG Intl issued her debut album, Movement, which united her vocals, intricate samples, and club music roots. To make her art her main focus, late in 2012 she became a doctoral candidate in composition at Stanford University. Collaborations with artists as varied as Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani and Chicago footwork producer Jlin -- who became one of Herndon's regular creative partners -- followed. In 2014, she worked with British artist Conrad Shawcross on The Ada Project. A multimedia work dedicated to pioneering mathematician, writer and computer programmer Ada Byron Lovelace, it featured a robot built by Shawcross to perform a set of choreographed movements to Herndon's music. Following its exhibition at Paris' Palais de Tokyo, The Ada Project's score was released as a limited-edition 12" by The Vinyl Factory.
Herndon also returned with new music of her own in 2014, starting with the Chorus EP in January and the single "Home" in September. Songs from both releases appeared on her second album, Platform, which arrived in May 2015 and explored the increasingly connected, and complicated, relationships between people and their electronic devices. The album featured some of Herndon's most structured and accessible songs, as well as a track ("Lonely at the Top") designed to trigger autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). She followed the widespread acclaim she earned for Platform by appearing on Jlin's 2017 album Black Origami. The following year, Jlin's music provided inspiration for "Godmother," the first release Herndon made with Spawn, the A.I. program she developed with her partner Matt Dryhurst and developer Jules LaPlace. After letting Spawn listen to the producer's body of work, the program attempted to recreate Jlin's sound on its own. Spawn also played a major part on Herndon's third album PROTO, which was inspired by her wish for A.I. to appreciate the beauty of human artistic expresison. To that end, Herndon trained Spawn's voice by using hundreds of vocalists in call-and-response singing sessions akin to the composer's choral roots. 4AD released PROTO in May 2019. ~ Heather Phares
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