There are those existentially troubling moments when your phone can’t recognize your face. Is my software outdated? Have I suddenly become hideous? Is the lighting in this apartment so bad? Never do we consider how the software feels. Holly Herndon’s video for her dizzying new song “Eternal” follows the lonely journey of a machine as it analyzes and connects to a human face. It’s blurry and disorienting: a collage of eyes, ears, and mouths materializing in front of the camera, soundtracked by one of the most direct melodies Herndon has ever composed. Synth-orchestra blasts beam in from Y2K pop radio. A dance rhythm keeps stalling out while it’s buffering. “Right in front of my eyes,” a choir sings, slowly, in unison.
Herndon’s process involves filtering human experiences through a maze of modern technology. For her new music, she developed an A.I. program called “Spawn” through which she feeds samples of her own vocals to retrieve alien renderings of herself. In her previous single, “Godmother,” a collaboration with Jlin, the result was abstract and alien—a spiral of buzzing gnats and gasping breaths that, in the video, culminated in both artists bursting into laughter. In “Eternal,” Herndon is still gazing in awe at an unfamiliar machine, learning its defining characteristics and tracing a pattern. Only now, you can now see her more clearly than ever.