Holly Herndon: Movement
I’m very confused about this record. Over at The Antidote Podcast recently, Dave and I discussed Holly Herndon’s Movement and to be honest, but fair, neither of us understand how this is making so many music nerd’s year-end lists. Strip away her experimental moments and what you have is a straight-forward dance record.
Herndon is currently completing a Doctorate in Electronic music at Stanford. In interviews she talks a lot about a desire to demonstrate that making music with a laptop doesn’t have to be impersonal or inhuman. This is a great idea, and Herndon’s strategy for achieving this is to make a record that uses the human voice as an ‘instrument’ to be manipulated by her laptop.
The trouble is everything on Movement sounds distinctly like it’s come from a machine. The sound is very cold and clinical. Even the glitches are perfect and obviously man made. I can’t find much that’s human here. On the record’s centrepiece Breathe, which revolves solely around the sound of Herndon inhaling and exhaling, this most primitive and essential of human functions has had the life digitised right out of it, which revolts against what Herndon talks about setting out to do.
Across its 35 minutes, Movement slips between fragmented sound collage like the furthest reaches of Autechre, and Acidy Electro dance numbers aimed squarely at the dance floor. Even these come across as ice cold, European nightclub soundtracks or a club-friendly version of The Knife.
Perhaps the issue is with me. Having read a bit about Herndon before hearing this I was expecting something totally different. Less robot programmed to act human, and more Android à la Ash from Alien (minus the whole kill-off-the-entire-crew-to-bring-back-the-Alien thing). Overall it’s not that Movement is terrible, it’s just not that interesting. If you want a record inspired by the human voice check out Bjork’s Medulla – she shrieks a lot while Rhazel and Mike Patton back her up, and it’s kinda awesome. Or better yet, for a completely human sounding electronic record, check out the sinewy gloop that makes up Laurel Halo’s debut full-length Quarantine, which coincidentally made it into my top five for 2012 as discussed on The Antidote.