ALBUM REVIEW: Holly Herndon Pushes New Boundaries on ‘PROTO’

The Berlin-based experimental artist’s latest work was recorded in collaboration with a unique vocalist: an AI computer named Spawn.

I’ve spent most of the week listening to Janis Joplin’s discography, a perfect example of a the raw human voice with little to no overdubs or studio trickery. With this mindset in place, it was interesting to review Holly Herndon’s latest album PROTO, which was recorded in collaboration with a truly unique guest vocalist: an AI computer named Spawn.

Continuing her highly experimental work, which has included creating her own instruments using computer programming language (on 2012’s Movement) and the first track designed to trigger ASMR (“Lonely at the Top,” from 2015’s Platform), Herndon has mixed human and AI voices to create an album that’s at times ethereal, danceable and very unusual. The fascinatingly conceptual project seeks to illustrate how AI can not only be used to advance the tech world forward; it can also be a powerful force in the world of art.

With driving beats and haunting vocals, tracks like “Alienation,” “Eternal” and “Frontier” show off the San Francisco-born, Berlin-based artist’s established flair for dark, sophisticated electronic music. Spawn’s first track is appropriately entitled “Birth,” a haunting, strangely beautiful start to its life as a recording artist.

As comes with such experimental territory, these track aren’t always easy listening, and some of them are downright noisy and directionless. Ultimately their digestibility depends highly on your own appetite for the avant-garde. But for someone pushing the boundaries of music, and the world’s first notable AI recording artist, it’s a mighty first step.

With all the fear and skepticism that Artificial Intelligence attracts, perhaps Janis Joplin’s “Down On Me” is also in order?

Score: 💻💻💻/5