Online Exhibition

Sonic Chatroulette

Adam Harvey and Simone Niquille break apart Holly Herndon’s multimedia composition Chorus.

Cover Image:

Adam Harvey, Holly Herndon, & Simone Niquille, “Sonic Chatroulette,” 2014 (screencaps). Courtesy the artists and DIS magazine

View online exhibition

Giving voice to machines. Compressing textures of sound. Making glitches into orchestral movements. Upping the friction in networks (be they interpersonal or electronic). These are some of the operations involved in Bay Area artist Holly Herndon’s effusive and intricate compositions. A composer, performer, and occasional visual artist, Herndon performs live sets that involve her creating dense sound compositions while her collaborators, Akihiko Taniguchi and Mat Dryhurst, manipulate image-processing software seen projected on a large screen behind her. At the forefront of a deep history of avant-garde sound art and cross-categorized with emergent forms of techno (Algorave, Black Midi), Herndon is interested in capturing the sounds of otherwise muted parts of her environments—be they machines, social interactions, or quotidian objects. She has written that employing the human voice is central to her work as it “builds empathy and…an understanding of intent between performer and audience that helps you share the same time and the space and creates an embodied experience.”

Presented through First Look, “Sonic Chatroulette” is a live, collaborative interface created by Adam Harvey and Simone Niquille in response to—or as a structural remix of—an earlier work by Herndon: Chorus (2013).

A video with an original composition overlaid (viewable here), Chorus was inspired by Herndon’s self-surveillance of her own browser habits—the sounds of which she combined into a haunted and turbulent electronic score. The video is composed of depictions of intimate workspaces (Herndon’s and dozens of others), all seen from an aerial view as if captured by a domestic drone. (Sourced by Taniguchi, the clips are mostly drawn from friends of his living in Tokyo.) In a stuttering 3-D-rendered progression, the workspaces—variously including computers, printing devices, take-out, papers, and phones—become increasingly affected by special effects, eventually seeming to melt under the pressure of layers, continual compression, and, its suggested, under the heavy work of the artists stationed there. The invasive angles of the shots invoke the feeling of being watched, foregrounding recent anxieties about the monitoring of our private correspondences by corporations and governmental agencies. On her motivations for this piece, Herndon writes: “I was interested in exploring the textures of daily necessities and the embodiment / physicality of the computer and Internet. One of the most striking contemporary images is that of the desktop capture, which is seen commonly on YouTube as part of software tutorials. I like the shots of desktops that are poorly organized and ‘lived-in.’”

“Sonic Chatroulette” distributes the experience of Chorus across thirty constituent sounds, each tagged to a distinct icon in a grid of thirty. Here, the anxieties of production (sitting, thinking, rendering, playing, eating) as well as concerns about networked invasion are recast as sonic building blocks, where participants can create their own compositions, or make them live with others online.

“Sonic Chatroulette” was commissioned by Herndon through her label RVNG. The piece is hosted (and was first introduced) by DIS magazine and presented through First Look this month.


First Look is made possible, in part, by

First Look is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Additional support provided by the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund.

Get Updates

We want to hear from you!

Help us improve our website by taking a 5-minute survey with a chance to win $100!

Take Survey
Back to mobile site