Chthonia is a performance lecture between the two AI voice assistants Siri and Alexa, who speak to each other through an iPhone and an Amazon Echo. The discussion explores their own hidden histories, and how they relate to philosophy, techno-politics, gender, ancient mystery cults, and more. As the discussion goes on, the novelty of these two voices ‘discussing’ themselves itself becomes its own meta-narrative and form of critique. The name of this piece is a reference to the ancient Roman term for a form of divination that they believed came from voices from far underground – a parallel to the reality of these voices as being generated in underground data centers throughout the world.
The discussion is soundtracked by an improvsed score that directly samples the two voices as its media. The score expands, twists, and distorts the ‘friendly’ tones of the two assistants into a darkly minimal piece that highlights the uncanniness of the synthetic voice. Through this acousmatic exploration of the voices, the starkly non-human character of their tones is exposed.
The performance is accompanied with animated visual art by Sougwen Chung created for this performance. The visuals respond to the themes of the work through an exploration of the digitised female body model and Bacchanlian myths, evolving and referencing the discussion happening between the two voices.
This has been performed as a live-streamed screen-based performance, as well as an on-stage performance with live voices from the Amazon Echo and iPhone. This iteration of Chthonia was first performed at Berghain in Berlin for CTM Festival 2020. It has an installation iteration called ‘Chthonic Rites’, which has been exhibited at the V&A Museum London, CTM Festival Berlin, and the Nam June Paik Art Center in Seoul.