Hydrangea grew out of a series of performances emphasising conspiracies and the designer realities that they generate. Navigating a tangle of digitally induced subjectivities and relationships, Hydrangea sees Holly Childs & Gediminas Žygus amidst a continuously evaporating world in which narratives dissolve, leak, fold in on themselves and loop.

As individuals are siloed online, can rifts in reality ever be reconciled? Is history a form of science fiction? And are narrators ever reliable? The process of creating Hydrangea (Subtext Records, 2020) was defined by the search for a form to bind fiction, poetry, and musical experience. Its narrative is influenced by technical instructions, lectures and whispered conversations, in which slippage and floating focus can create new meanings in the listener that weren’t intended by the speaker.

Hydrangea is also influenced by both artists’ lifelong experiences of rave culture, beginning for Žygus during childhood in newly independent Lithuania, spending time juggling Disney and happy hardcore cassettes on the family stereo, and for Childs as a preteen in Australia, tagging along with her sisters to doofs and warehouse parties. Initiated while the artists were both working between Amsterdam and Rotterdam in 2017, the work also draws on Dutch gabber music. Hydrangea’s development has been influenced by collaboration with artists and filmmakers Metahaven, who created the album art.

Listen to Hydrangea
and support the artists, here.

Hydrangea, cover design by Metahaven

The new album, Hydrangea, seems to bring out multiple dimensions of interlaced meanings, ranging from myths and conflicting narratives, evolution and mutation, conspiracy and truth. Can you tell our readers more about the main theme(s) of the album?


One of the starting points for Hydrangea was Troy Conrad Therrien’s “The Age of the Architect” course, which he taught at Columbia University in Fall 2017, but that he also uploaded online. The course reflected on the role of design and architecture to have become almost theological with developments of platform capitalism. We made a reading group in Amsterdam using Therrien’s course as a starting point. A particularly revealing conversation around the course was understanding the design of user experience becoming holistic, in the sense that platform design starts to prescribe a life plan for the user. Like, when you start using a platform, there’s a surrender to the platform reshaping your sociality that is rarely consensual or fully conscious.

The social media industry does all of the same things as the culture industry, but closer to each user’s body. We’re also seeing a similar mainstream reckoning with social media, as with fast food in the 1990s and tobacco in the 1980s-now; where we’re recognising the intense effects of it all on individual users: global corporations creating addictive materials for mass audiences.


How has this collaboration between a musician and a writer come into being?


We have worked together since 2017. We work together everyday across time zones, Gediminas’ morning and Holly’s evening. A musician and writer working together is not unusual in cinema, or even in music itself. Neither of us are neatly fit into our descriptors, in our practice we have worked with film, performance art, curation. Holly has been involved in music and Gediminas has collaborated with writers quite a lot. The tension with conventionality in art forms is there throughout both of our practices and the Hydrangea album is no different. It’s something that could just as well be positioned as either a film or a book.


Hydrangea is extremely multi-layered, possibly seeking to provide a critical framework to what the digital world means to contemporary society. Can we talk about experimental music as a catalyst, or perhaps as an inspiration, for progressive paradigms of thought?


Hydrangea is not seeking to provide a critical framework for what the online layer means to Western society. In the case of this work, it belongs to the traditions of literature, poetry and cinema as much as it belongs to musical traditions.

Music has the capacity to nurture collective mentalities; and as such it can be used as a tool for getting people on the same page, whether for good or for bad. Music can also be a container for information, energy, feelings, a storage space for research, and a shorthand version of complicated information that may be more easily digested and enjoyable than when in other forms. It also has the dimension of affect and embodiment, that can offer energetic passages in social situations or conversations where there is blockage. Music can mobilise and inform people, as a popular art form.


Music has a long history of involvement with the political dimension, from the black blues in the 1940s until the Tbilisi raves. While you may be wary of the term protest music as well as of an over-politicisation of your work, can we talk about the emergence of an updated sort of wave of cultural revolt through music, one that has technology and digital culture, as well as a sensible desire to understand the past and challenge the status-quo at its core?


It’s true that a solely political reading of this work would mean not seeing the whole of the work. We are not sure if this work fits into protest tradition as it’s a tradition that maybe embodies different traits from our work. But if viewed through this lens, Hydrangea could be framed as a private upheaval, rather an attempt to change something global. 

It has more to do with the emotional experience of what we would call spiralling narratives. We’re working with our individual experiences. In this way we feel that we can be answerable from that perspective instead of purporting to talk about everyone. Hydrangea is not about broadly resisting “digital and platform culture”, but more about the particular details of the experience. We are not interested in the work being read as a moral panic surrounding technology. 

We think that there are (always) multiple waves of cultural and political action created by or reflected through music and art and artistic communities, but the ways in which this relates to Hydrangea is tangential at best.


There is an extremely diverse melange of influences and people involved in this collaboration (Australian writer/artist, Lithuanian musician/sound artist, Dutch filmmakers/artists), working across scenes and the old “East-West” divide. Do you position yourself within a wider geopolitical field? (Or, alternatively, do you even think of yourself and/or your work through such a framework?)


We met in Amsterdam, where we were both studying. Regarding the diverse melange of influences, we take for granted that we have access to an almost infinite amount of material online, in libraries, in shops, on friends’ bookshelves, on the radio, in the stories of the people around us, etc. The diverse melange is an upside to information saturation. The trick is taking notes on what has meaning, resonance, importance, etc.

We are interested in creating a global culture that moves out of colonial/imperial comfort bubbles or social arrangements created by their violence... There are very interesting things to be found in moments of cultural collision and kind of deconstructing personal aesthetic preferences; and discussing also why some stories and cultural signifiers are perceived to be more universal than others. Why some reading of stories  are more important than others, why something “should be” more “naturally” apparent than something else. 


We often talk about a de-localisation of contemporary soundscapes and we are aware that an emphasis placed too firmly on regions, scenes, communities can risk further fragmenting them. However, at the same time, do you think that these discussions can possibly create a competing master narrative to the Western hegemonic one, an empowering framework of solidarity, a pan-peripheral movement, united through their ontological condition as marginals rather than anything else?


In my experience the thing that matters is to find one’s own language to deconstruct your relation to Western stories and how you are framed by them. It can be a frustrating and schizoid journey full of misrecognition and misinterpretation. I think that any attempt to deconstruct the hegemony of the Western narrative matters, to kind of fight the naturalisation of the power relations as a fact of nature rather than something achieved by a history of violence.

I have mixed feelings about solidarity in the case of the post-Soviet region, as any attempt of solidarity between the post-Soviet countries essentially just recreates the violence which created the region; I think it’s one of the reasons why the region has little solidarity because this identity and sociality is historically so painful.

Holly Childs is a writer and artist. Her research involves filtering stories of computation through frames of ecology, earth, memory, poetry, and light. She is the author of two books: No Limit (Hologram) and Danklands (Arcadia Missa); and has presented her work at ICA (London), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Trust (Berlin), Elam School of Art (Auckland) and more.

Gediminas Žygus is an artist working within the fields of sound, documentary and performance. Their practice assembles a spectrum of influences deriving from architecture, ecology, ethnography, science studies, and media theory. As J.G. Biberkopf, their releases have found homes on Knives and Danse Noire. Žygus has performed at Barbican Centre (London), Berghain (Berlin), Sonic Acts (Amsterdam), and Centre Pompidou (Paris), among others.

Lyric videos and artwork by Metahaven.

Cover photo: Juan Arturo García, Performance in Amsterdam for Sandberg Institute