Holly Herndon: Movement

holly Herndon

Holly Herndon: Movement
RVNG Intl.(2012)

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.

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4 responses to “Holly Herndon: Movement

  1. Not sure if you saw this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp7l3PDws-M

    The whole idea of the sonic deconstruction / destruction of her voice becomes a lot clearer here. Some seriously fearsome audio processing algorithms going on. I don’t really think that the whole idea of Movement was to make “computer music” seem more human, as much as it was to totally explode the signifiers of being human – witness how bodies are manipulated, and specific body parts “used” in the context of a larger composition in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kanNN4RPrgY – in order to totally remove them from their original context and create a record that is simultaneously sourced from humans yet as far removed, compositionally speaking, as could be from anything we’d term “human.”

    Less about making computers seem alive and more about making people seem dead.

  2. First up, thanks for taking he time to read and comment, much appreciated. It’s definitely a fantastic clip, mesmerising. I think your point about her ‘concept’ being more about making people seem dead is interesting, and something that actually hadn’t occurred to me. Still, for me there’s just something missing from the record. I will admit that my knowledge of the algorithms, programming and processing that formulates much electronic music is limited, however I can’t help feeling that if the machine was the driving force here (making people seem dead, or obsolete) the structure and sound of this wouldn’t be so familiar to me. I don’t know, most likely I was a victim of the hype – I can’t find a way to bring together what I anticipated Movement would sound like, and what it actually does sound like.

    Looking forward to perusing your blog. Which reminds me, I’m way over due to update my own.

  3. I definitely was more than a bit disappointed by it upon first listen too, yeah. If every track had been something like Breathe or Dilato it would’ve made for a much more engaging recording.

    There’s a bit more on the theory of it here:
    http://www.tinymixtapes.com/music-review/holly-herndon-movement

    And yeah, thanks for the follow! I only have 4 posts so far but I’m trying to update when I can. Where’d you come across PAN, Laurel Halo, Herndon, etc.? All that is stuff I found through Boomkat, mainly, so I’m curious what avenue you came to it through.

  4. I’ve kinda been following PAN since they released John Weise’s Seven Wands record a few years back (have you heard that? If you’re into experimental stuff, it’s an amazing listen). Great label. Halo and Herndon I’d read a lot about on blogs and music sites. Wire magazine is always introducing me to random and interesting stuff. The Boomkat thing is fantastic too. Hey while reading your blog I wondered whether you’ve seen the film Berberian Sound Studio? The soundtrack was done by Broadcast, the plot revolves around a film studio in the 70s (nostalgia, fetishisation) and a nerdy guy doing sound engineering for a Giallo film. As he slowly starts to lose his mind the images presented to us as viewers start to degrade – the audience is left to question its own reality, the film’s reality and the reality of the film within the film……

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