Working intensively these past months with composer and musician Holly Herndon and her partner Mat Dryhurst has strengthened our belief in Pop as a carrier signal, as a force that can change the critical mass of a politically stagnant cultural field. Pop wants to be out there, heard, seen, shared, liked, and loved—and however superficial and corrupted this tendency may be sometimes, it is at least a basic human impulse that is universally understood. By contrast, within the (especially visual) arts, many seem happy with a position that no longer confronts any outside, but rehearses theoretical concepts inside a (global) inner circle.
Home, Holly’s new single on RVNG Intl., engages the omnipresence of NSA surveillance. As Holly has stated, the Snowden revelations have altered her relationship to her musical instrument, the laptop. The laptop is an object in which much of its owner’s online and offline life gets collected. Since what goes in and out of that laptop is recorded and looked at by agencies like the NSA, using programs such as X-Keyscore, Boundless Informant, and PRISM, the intimacy of a person’s relationship with their laptop can no longer be presupposed. Home suggests what Pitchfork aptly named “a Frankensteinian gadget whose parts have fallen out of sync.”
In Call, a collaborative series of sound-and-motion gifs that were released just before Home, we wanted to allude to a sense of latent (or nascent) collectivism, a call-to-action. We were fascinated by the “whistle” in the forest in the Hunger Games as a wordless sign of solidarity. The Call gifs contain motifs such as hair, moon, trees, Holly’s face, smoke, keyboards, and camouflage. Visual expression in our chaotic times should, we feel, be charged with collective promise, passion, and emotion, rather than the empty rationality of techno-political solutionism.
For the music video for Home we generated a “data rain”—veil-like patterns made out of the logos and icons of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Holly goes obscured behind different versions and iterations of the data rain, each appropriate to the particular phase and mood of the track. The two angles on the artist—one frontal and honest, the other, through the perspective of a second camera, more ambivalent and self-aware—also reflect on knowingly being surveilled. The data rains are a recycling mechanism for these awkward insignia of the surveillance state. Ultimately we believe in Pop’s capacity to devour even the most grandiose forms of totalitarianism.
In his brilliant essay, Post-capitalist desire, the essayist Mark Fisher searches for a Leftism that embraces “quasi-psychedelic crypto-Pop.” We fully agree with him. There are many important precedents, and some inspiring contemporaries. More importantly, there is a future for us all to win.