Holly Herndon

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Movement (2012), 6/10
Platform (2015), 7/10

San Francisco's electronic musician Holly Herndon debuted with the cassette Car (2011) that contained musique concrete.

The album Movement (RVNG, 2012), entirely composed on a laptop from vocal samples and synthetic sounds, displayed the two sides of her artistic persona. On one hand there are sonic architectures of musique concrete such as Breathe (a mesmerizing sonata for breathing, totally worth of Pierre Henry) and the eight-minute Terminal, a cold cinematic soundscape with relatively little of the vocal magic that made her famous. The most austere composition is probably Dilato, which is basically brooding Stockhausen electronic music for processed voices. These are complemented by compositions that wink at popular genres, such as the "danceable" Fade, a feverish Brazilian dance with angelic invocations, and the equally pulsating and almost jovial Movement.

The single Chorus (2014) leaned towards the latter style, although its chopped-up, mutant and refracted melody could hardly be called "catchy", and the background of found noise hardly qualifies as "groove"; but the sound slowly coalesces into something that evokes Enya's folkish singalongs and dancefloor entertainment.

That single worked as an aesthetic manifesto for the album Platform (4AD, 2015), more influenced by Autechre's glitchy melodies and skittering beats than by Stockhausen and Pierre Henry. Herndon joins the ranks of digital songwriters who practice convoluted cybernetic post-pop. Each piece is a kaleidoscopic collage of syllabic vocal fragments matched to unlikely rhythms and incoherent sound effects; and they ride over rhythms that de facto don't exist because they don't serve any rhythmic function anymore. This is a kind of harmony that depends on collision rather than on cohesion; irrational pyrotechnics rather than planned linearity. The method shines particularly in the hyper-kinetic discordant pieces: Interference, a chaotic storm of vocal shards swirling around a twitching stuttering rhythm, and DAO, a disorienting merry-go-round of rapidly spinning audio fragments. But perhaps Herndon's task is even more arduous when it works with a melodic refrain. The ludic potential of the lullaby of An Exit is scientifically dismantled by a jungle of destructive counterpoint. The hymn Unequal sounds like a defective disc of a-cappella convent music. The sweet prayer of Home drowns in a countercurrent of ugly destructive noise. The search for a simpler structures, instead, leads to glaring blunders: Morning Sun, which sounds like a glitchy rewrite of a folk singalong; New Ways To Love that doesn't know what to do with its ethereal voices; the spoken-word Locker Leak, which sounds like a random mash-up of commercial radio; and the other spoken-word Lonely At The Top (ostensibly designed to induce "autonomous sensory meridian response" or ASMR, i.e. a tingling sensation on scalp).

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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