CMU Approved

Approved: Holly Herndon & Jlin – Godmother

By | Published on Wednesday 5 December 2018

Holly Herndon

Holly Herndon has been relatively quiet since the release of her last album, ‘Platform’, in 2015. There have been various live performances and installations, but on the recordings front there has been very little on offer. Not that she hasn’t been busy though. Busy, busy, busy.

New track ‘Godmother’ is the result of experimentations with AI-created music and a system dubbed ‘Spawn’. That AI actually created the music itself by listening to the voice of its ‘godmother’ – Planet Mu-signed producer Jlin – whose 2017 album ‘Black Origami’ Herndon featured on. Spawn has then been re-interpreting Jlin’s music in the voice of her ‘mother’, ie Herndon.

“For the past two years, we have been building an ensemble in Berlin”, says Herndon. “One member is a nascent machine intelligence we have named Spawn. She is being raised by listening to and learning from her parents, and those people close to us who come through our home or participate at our performances”.

“Spawn can already do quite a few wonderful things”, she goes on. “‘Godmother’ was generated from her listening to the artworks of her godmother Jlin, and attempting to re-imagine them in her mother’s voice”.

“This piece of music was generated from silence with no samples, edits, or overdubs, and trained with the guidance of Spawn’s godfather Jules LaPlace. In nurturing collaboration with the enhanced capacities of Spawn, I am able to create music with my voice that far surpass the physical limitations of my body”.

Creating music in this way, she says, raises many questions about the future of the medium. “The advent of sampling raised many concerns about the ethical use of material created by others”, she notes, “but the era of machine legible culture accelerates and abstracts that conversation”.

“Simply through witnessing music, Spawn is already pretty good at learning to recreate signature composition styles or vocal characters, and will only get better, sufficient that anyone collaborating with her might be able to mimic the work of, or communicate through the voice of, another”.

However, she says, there is still a long way to go: “I find something hopeful about the roughness of this piece of music. Amidst a lot of misleading AI hype, it communicates something honest about the state of this technology; it is still a baby. It is important to be cautious that we are not raising a monster”.

Listen to ‘Godmother’ here:

Stay up to date with all of the artists featured in the CMU Approved column by subscribing to our Spotify playlist.