Live Reviews - Reviews

Holly Herndon @ Spiegeltent, Dublin


It’s hard to think of an appropriate introduction for Holly Herndon. Her latest album, Platform on 4AD/RVNG, blends vocal explorations, teasing ASMR and the occasional burst of full-on techno. She’s also got an academic bent to her work, studying for her doctorate in composition at Stanford. In recent months she has been involved in Infiltrate with Love, a fundraiser in support of imprisoned whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. All this might lead one to believe that her performances could carry an air of dry or overly cerebral seriousness, but instead, her appearance at Dublin’s Fringe Festival was at turns playful, dream-like and, put simply, banging.

Herndon and her husband/on-stage partner Mat Dryhurst have been drily amusing audiences with typed messages displayed in stark sans fonts. This show was no different. The first words we see typed above our heads are thanks for coming out on what is a dank and cool evening; in California this would have eliminated even the pair’s closest friends. The opening sounds are of a plane or spacecraft taking off, and once this introduction has passed Herndon begins to speak and sing wordless utterances, all to be chopped and spliced into new sounds, which eventually give way to Platform’s opener ‘Interference’.

While she performs with her Macbook and her controllers, Dryhurst sits to her right, a closeup of his face filling screens to each side of the stage. He begins to create a digital world filled with aspects of the social media presence of those attending the gig. I recognise my own pinned tweet, which features me standing beside a Picasso painting in Venice’s Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and notice some friends up there too. It’s a gleefully garbled world, 2D faces and forms spinning in a 3D landscape alongside cropped images of fruit, uncooked meat and dry noodles. Windows 95 and Geocities by way of Tumblr, as a friend said. All this excitement draws attention away from the on-stage performance, instead creating an audiovisual aspect lacking in many “laptop artist” performances. Moving into a steady acid jam, the visuals change to a plethora of isolated desk arrangements, as if peering inside a forbidden world, exposing the lack of privacy in the digital sphere.

Herndon’s visual persona is of a wide-eyed robot, a physical body traversing a digital world, and yet her humanity is laid bare by some issues with monitor feedback – her head literally spins at one point. Her bemused face at the crackle of the speakers around her speak of remorse at any potential damage caused. “Witness real life struggling with ones [sic] computer,” we see on the screen at one point.

She creates arresting and fascinating layers of sound with simple breaths and gasps, during which the unusually staid audience is thankfully silent. Last year’s single, ‘Home’, is addressed to the unseen audience that is the NSA, to whom Dryhurst cheerfully types a “fuck you” on screen (the whoops of the Dublin crowd seem futile, however). The set’s finale is a looping jam that feels like a conflation of Kassem Mosse-style percussion, metallic trance synths and a syncopated prog house bass line, all tied together by Herndon’s aforementioned vocal chops. The pair leave the stage, thanking us again for our presence and promising a return with a new set-up and full band alongside collaborator Colin Self. Herndon then returns for one quick number, an experimental run-out showing the potential for manipulation of her bare voice. It’s a stunning moment that is both invigorating and frustrating, coming at the end of what at times leaned too heavily on dance-floor plod, especially given the audience’s disinterest in getting down. That said, it’s a wonderful insight (and introduction for many) into an essential artist and her work. Aidan Hanratty