Experimental musician Holly Herndon is no stranger to immersive audio experiences. Earlier this year, the San Francisco-based artist occupied the Guggenheim to perform her eight-channel ambisonic piece, Expanding Intimacy, blending dance sounds, modulated vocals, breathing, and other elements to mesmerize visitors.
For her latest work, everywhere and nowhere, now on-view at Hamburg’s Kunstverein space, Herndon teamed up with Mathew Dryhurst to create an immersive sound installation. Commissioned by the ZKM Center for Art and Media’s Sound Dome, everywhere and nowhere is a 23.2-channel “utopian” sound installation with video, dance, and martial arts elements, that seeks to bridge the gap “between private digital creation and experiments in shared space.”
Herndon tells The Creators Project that everywhere and nowhere originated when she and Dryhurst played Creepy Teepee, an anti-fascist music festival in the Czech forest. There, the duo spent some time hanging out with some friends from Poland, as well as Marek Luzny and Lukas Hofmann, two Czech artists based in Berlin.
“It occurred to us how while ‘internet music’ is often discussed like this apathetic and decadent community, it was really palpable how important those cultures were to the people who gathered there,” Herndon says, “and how in a way it had assumed some political significance to these people, abstracted from its origins in the English speaking world.”
Herndon and Dryhurst then invited Luzny and Hofmann to join them on a recording. Luzny and Hofmann in turn brought their friend Friederike Vogel along.
“We thought of how these web transmissions had the power to create abstract subcultures, and so decided to speculate on a subculture borne from a combination of developments we had seen online,” Herndon says. “Everywhere and nowhere” is a lyric from the track “Interference” (from Herndon’s 2015 album, Platform), and refers to Electronic Frontier Foundation founder John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” which Herndon and Dryhurst also see as having a powerfully compassionate tone with phrases like, “we will spread ourselves across the planet so that no-one can arrest our thoughts.”
Everywhere and nowhere has, as Herndon explains it, two sides. The first was an attempt to imagine a subculture spawned from the “compassionate politics of Chelsea Manning—leaking with love, too much to be contained—and the physical stimulation of ASMR,” for which they infused their voices with tingles so that the audience could feel their struggle.
“We wrote a script from the perspective of this group, whispered and convolved with sounds designed to penetrate the body,” Herndon says. “We liked the idea that all voices coalesce in a whisper; a whisper is somehow genderless, and of course takes on this political significance in a time where one must take extreme precautions in communicating radical ideas.”
The second idea is an attempt to take the same assemblage techniques and fantasies Herndon and Dryhurst use in software like Ableton, but to think of them as events that can be “staged in the world.” The two artists imagined bodies fighting, dancing, dragging, and embracing “amidst an environment of brittle porcelain, broken plates like at a Greek wedding—the battle scene from 'New Ways to Love' on Platform, realized.” This allowed Herndon and Dryhurst to capture unexpected clashes between the bodies and other elements that just wouldn’t happen in a purely digital realm.
“Jone San Martin, a dancer and choreographer with the Forsythe Company, the Jiu Jitsu fighter and dancer Samuel Forsythe, and the artist Brian Rogers improvised these scenarios for us in a room full of microphones that enabled us to capture events from multiple vantage points,” Herndon explains.
The video pieces complement the concept, but aren’t intended to synchronize with the sound piece. Other videos are, as Herndon describes them, “vaporous still lives” that allude to their imagined subculture.
“We are interested in vapor aesthetics, which we think works really nicely with this idea of being ‘Everywhere and Nowhere’,” Herndon says. “It dissipates as fast as it appears, and also nicely complements the whispered ASMR as it represents this direct hit to the body.”
Herndon also brought in frequent collaborator Metahaven, director of Herndon’s NSA breakup video, “HOME.” Metahaven reproduced the everywhere and nowhere script in the form of fortune cookie messages that they littered throughout the space. Visitors are encouraged to move the fortune cookies around the space or take them.
“[The] greater ambition of staging these performances [is] trying to manifest our digital fantasies IRL, and create these fallible and intimate human experiences out of them,” Herndon adds. “Trying to create these new scenarios in the world rather than bunkering away behind a computer feels like a utopian gesture, and feels like a natural progression from the work we have been doing previously.”