October 19, 1987. Against the volatile backdrop of US bombing in the Persian Gulf and a Great Storm forcing European financial markets to close, the Dow Jones suffers its heaviest percentage loss ever. As thousands of buy and sell orders inexplicably flood the New York Stock Exchange, an hypothesis strengthens: computers are crashing the market—”demons of our own design”.
Demons is a live reenactment of the stock market crash of October 19, 1987 executed 31 years after the original event. In Demons, New York Stock Exchange trading data from the day of the crash is translated into sound using custom software.
On that Black Monday, responding to a set of strange and seemingly unconnected events unfolding at the time of market opening, the computers of NYSE institutional investors executed a choreography of trades in an effort to protect the values of their portfolios against volatile market conditions. A domino effect was triggered as computers followed a herd trading logic, dictated by the analysis of each others’ trading patterns.
As a rich network of information, the market was flooded by the orders resulting from algorithmic trading, a novel technique at the time. The accident of October 19, 1987 marks the first instance of a financial market being crashed under nonhuman pressure—a pressure of machinic agency, felt for the first time then and which has yet to subside.