​An e_mail interview with Mat Dryhurst: is beyond simulacra. [2017]

H C-(M)
8 min readMay 14, 2020

In 2014 Mat Dryhurst wrote a companion text for »Anonymonth«, a project presented/hosted at the CTM Festival that was designed to think and ^habilitate the possibilities of internet as an experimental/anonymous tool to liberate expression precepts found in art/s and music:

One of the great privileges of an Internet era is the possibility of a multitude of effortlessly accessible competing narratives. It provides us with options to express ourselves quickly, cheaply, and in alacritous response to unfolding conditions, which was simply not possible with the release of physical media. The future stability of most independent practitioners in all aspects of musical culture is faced with growing uncertainty, compounded by the global financial crisis, and yet we persist in presenting a facade of confidence, neatly confined debate and trivial chatter. Perhaps we need to shed our identities to accelerate the discussion to where it needs to be.​”

Chris Pexidas, «#heinekenmusichall #hollyherndon», 2016

»Anonymonth« works as an important precedent to understand the wide/collaborative spectrum in which Dryhurst’s projects and statements encounter to awake and trigger conversations around spiky topics such as the problematic infrastructure of streaming culture, decentralized praxis, sound + politics, the evolution/ramification of blockchain technolog/y/ies, economical fluxes at the service of corporate surveillance, and the constant need to converge knowledge/s through the rigid state of cultural spheres.
All these worlds are embedded into his work and thought to become the embodiment of the world alternative/s at its core, from the ever expanding possibilities of SAGA, to his collaborative work with Holly Herndon/Metahaven/Bill Kouligas, or his participation as board-member of Resonate.

In this interview Mat talks about sampling the web, the origins and aesthetic results of Net Concrete (a real time system/software/instrument), performing/touring with Holly Herndon + Colin Self, creative direction through data mining and future/upcoming projects.

Is interesting how as a multiplatform tool, Net Concrete took various roots and context derivations, almost as a growth process.

At least that is demonstrated by the different levels of complexity and implementation that NC showed over the years, first as a self archaeologic sampler/translator, and later on, as a device inserted in the surveillance metabolism.

Even in the live performances for the promotion of Holly Herndon’s Platform around the world, there’s a particular way to expose the relationship between the watched and the watcher that is unusual in music live performances, it’s a moment in which surveillance cycles are challenged and redefined, it’s the opposite of a planned space, is beyond simulacra.

Well basically, I started out experimenting with real time sampling of the web in around 2011. Holly and I had this weird techno project called <body>, where we were experimenting a little with real time sampling of the web, and simple web modules that would run videos behind us using a keyword, and filter the audio through a processing flow we had established. It worked pretty well, just to add this evolving color to the music.

At the same time I was feeling a little anxiety about how much work I was doing for my day job, and how little time I had to work on music, so developed a really simple process to try and make music while I was working. It was nothing fancy, but basically I made a simple tool to sample all my browsing activity at work, and then be able to quickly launch and manipulate those samples in Ableton using a hacked drum trigger system.

I showed some of that stuff at the PAN Festival in New York later, combined with a spoken presentation on how systems like this would allow for artists to match the speed and alacrity of web discourse online — I called it “Dispatch”, and to be honest a lot of the stuff I was thinking about at that time has perhaps become even more interesting in the current context- I brought up examples of what were the beginnings of the alt-right, for example, to show how certain groups were developing this outrage economy by produce these alacritous pieces of media that were designed to trigger and pollute online conversations.

Mat Dryhurst, «Net Concrete™ …», 2014

I also started to use the system to produce works that spoke to the people in the room, by spying on the people who were going to attend shows and then sampling my browsing their online profiles. Over time, these techniques became more refined, and I realized I was developing this very idiosyncratic instrument that was somehow flexible both for recordings and live performances, and had many different interesting applications.

​I guess the first time most people heard it was on “Chorus” with Holly, as we began to experiment to see what the instrument could do in the context of her music. I jokingly called it “Net Concrete”, first probably just because it rhymed, but also because it felt like the palette resonated with people, and reflected something about a common experience for people online — these incoherent but somehow connected sound journeys we all go on. The original Musique Concrete sought perhaps a similar goal, to reflect the quotidian sounds of modernity through custom techniques, and so in a way I thought to name it in homage to that legacy.

In a way the techniques work best when working with Holly, as it interjects this other narrative that glues many of the disparate sounds together, and also creates some tension between what she is doing and this chaotic background — it sounds like a struggle that occasionally consumes her — which is pretty fitting for the themes of a lot of the music we were making at that time.

I’ve since chilled out on using it, if only for the fact that these kind of clangorous sounds are quite ubiquitous now. My ears are a little tired of it. I still try and incorporate the data collection ideas now though, perhaps in more subtle ways, as I think there is a lot more experimentation to be done with this idea that we are all somehow data mining each other in our daily practices — and the process of creative direction through data mining is becoming increasingly prevalent, despite most people being oblivious or not caring about that quite fundamental shift in the process of making culture.

Francesco Binaria, «#hollyherndon #mathewdryhurst #c2c15», 2015

Audio: “Dispatch / Jun 2013 / PAN_ACT Festival, Goethe Institute NYC” by Mat Dryhurst

What is your opinion about considering Net Concrete as a disruptive element in the encrypted surveillance cycles in which we live now?

Well, you know, I almost don’t want to get too hyperbolic about it.
Ultimately, it’s just sampling — with the big distinction being that while sampling is nothing new, there is some consensually understood aesthetic difference between the deluge of information we have become accustomed to (the new coherence), and the process of discreetly sampling one thing or the other. It’s a different experience that people somehow relate to from their daily lives, and it carries with it it’s own rush from the dopamine peaks of our browsing experience. Kindof I guess like the difference between eating one chocolate, and eating the whole bag of chocolates — the experience you associate with eating the whole thing is not really the same category as eating one — and I can remember as a teenager craving those kind of spikes. So I’m not sure how disruptive it is, if anything there is a danger of it being kindof collusive with these cycles! But if anything, it is an honest and somewhat new-ish shared experience, and provides a platform to talk about these things. Similarly with the data mining experiments I’ve done — it creates a space and something honest.

Can you share some conclusions about these live performances (reactions, social behaviors), now that the tour with Holly and Colin Self have ended?

Well it has not ended :) Everything we do is a work in progress, which can be confusing as on the front end we have to somewhat pretend like our practice is oriented around the album cycle.

The live shows have been great. From our side we have built a new family somehow, and that family has grown even bigger with the new material we are developing. We made a pact with Colin from the first show together that we would smile for the whole thing, and I think that the shows have become celebrations in that time somehow. People respond well to this, and honestly I am grateful for this, as I am completely exhausted/disinterested by the dark and brooding kitsch of most electronic music shows. There is no emotional gradient often, and so we are pursuing that by simply being our messy selves at every available opportunity. Almost the best thing one can do right now is resist the temptation to present some kind of coherent, slick, seamless narrative for people.

Hartware MedienKunstVerein, «Konzert Holly Herndon, Mat Dryhurst und Colin Self im Dortmunder U», 2016

People really respond well to the text, to this end. We basically have tried to develop a number of simple devices to communicate with people on different channels to most other shows, and I only hear good things. Perhaps the problem with getting to a certain level is that you only ever hear good things, though.

I’m just overall really proud. Holly and I have been performing together for almost a decade in different capacities, and I could sometimes cry to see how special an atmosphere and community has come together around our work. I sometimes am in awe to look at the confluence of different kinds of people who come to our shows — as you know we have never really belonged to one scene or the other. We don’t really fit in anywhere, and have had no choice but to really push our interests to the front of the project in order to find others who care about what we care about.

We care about these tech issues, or political issues, and spend a lot of time working on them and building community around them, isolated from most of our peers in music. We don’t really party or care about the visibility industry of Instagram or whatever. We don’t spend our time trying to network with music people, or court the attention of famous people. We don’t really do what we are supposed to, and yet our shows are getting bigger, and I kindof want to hang out with every person who comes to our shows. This has taken a long time, but is probably our proudest accomplishment, beyond even the music itself. All these little experiments have created it’s own little weird, imperfect, alien space that somehow the best people seem to drop into.

We are taking this further with the new record, but ultimately we want our shows to be another category entirely. You have to prove yourself and grow alongside people to make that a possibility, but long term I don’t think any of us want for our shows to be something that can be so easily defined or contained, and the small experiments we regularly do shows us that this could one day be a possibility. We definitely have budgetary limitations and so on, but the goal is to always to build something else, and we plan on having a very long and dedicated career in which to eventually do that.

So yeah, no conclusions just yet, but we have ten more ideas we are trying to make happen and the family is growing :)

> @matdryhurst