Boomkat Product Review:
Holly Herndon returns with the conceptually top-loaded ‘Proto’, an interesting and multi-layered attempt at humanising technology, featuring her A.I. “baby”, Spawn, and a stacked ensemble of guests including Jlin and Amnesia Scanner’s Ville Haimala, plus co-production by Mat Dryhurst.
With one eye on her background in East Tennessee, and the other tracking a future where A.I. aren’t feared but integrated into society, ‘Proto’ is heavily focussed on the voice, both Holly’s own, that of Spawn, and also 16 guests including Stine Janvin, Colin Self and Annie Garlin, in a fusion of folk-wise, hymnal arrangements rendered with computerised tunings. As you can see from the massive list of guest contributors, the hi-def glossy artwork, and an “emphasis on alien songcraft” and existential questioning of “who we are, what are we, what do we stand for, and what are we heading towards?”, a lot of time, thought and effort has gone into this one...
"Holly’s third full-length album ‘PROTO’ isn’t about AI but much of it was created in collaboration with her own AI ‘baby’, Spawn. For the album, she assembled a contemporary ensemble of vocalists, developers and an inhuman intelligence housed in a DIY souped-up gaming PC to create a record that encompasses live vocal processing and timeless folk singing and places an emphasis on alien song craft and new forms of communion. ‘PROTO’ makes reference to what Holly refers to as the protocol era, where rapidly surfacing ideological battles over the future of AI protocols, centralised and decentralised internet protocols and personal and political protocols compel us to ask ourselves who are we, what are we, what do we stand for and what are we heading towards?
You can hear traces of Spawn throughout the album - developed in partnership with longtime collaborator Mathew Dryhurst and ensemble developer Jules LaPlace - and even eavesdrop on the live training ceremonies conducted in Berlin, in which hundreds of people were gathered to teach Spawn how to identify and reinterpret unfamiliar sounds in group call-and-response singing sessions; a contemporary update on the religious gathering Holly was raised amongst in her upbringing in East Tennessee. “There’s a pervasive narrative of technology as dehumanizing,” 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 ”
Just as ‘Platform’ forewarned of the manipulative personal and political impacts of prying social media platforms long before popular acceptance, ‘PROTO’ is a euphoric and principled statement setting the shape of things to come."