Holly Herndon – Platform
by Anu Gulati (Computer Science/Math), published July 7th 2015
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Holly Herndon’s Platform, a creatural awakening sandwiched between thumping techno and intricate electronic glitch, maximizes the potential of human voice by contrasting it with a future dominated by technology. Herndon has always been interested in this computerized vision of the future; her previous two albums, Car and Movement, somehow communicated both the fear and beauty of a technologic tomorrowland. Platform is an imagination of contemporary life in a completely mechanical-dominated world, where voice becomes the physical manifestation of emotion.
I recommend listening to Platform with headphones; hearing every little sound bounce from ear to ear is an indescribable pleasure. Herndon uses the visual programming language Max/MSP to craft instruments and vocal processes to her own liking, and the precise moments of each of her sounds create a sonata of drum machines, voices and noises from nature that is still somehow accessible. Her intelligent music is neither intimidating nor clear; it’s like this constant challenge where she asks the listener to switch gears as she steps out of the romantic electronic dread created by Laurel Halo or Oneohtrix Point Never and into this new, post-human world crafted by Berlin techno and UK garage. In “Morning Sun,” she looks forward in time towards a world where the sun opens up like an iPhone lock screen. Her fascination with the voice shines in “Locker Leak,” where she uses phrases like “wet bar wax” or “grass lasts longest” just for the way they sound against her urgent electronica beats. It’s almost inhuman to hear her say phrases like, “Be the first of your friends to like Greek yogurt this summer,” like an outsider alien imitating human qualities and trends but still sounding like an otherworldly Julia Holter.
“Lonely at the Top,” the album’s centerpiece, begins with Holly asking us to please sit down. Her voice is creepily close to us. “You’re doing such a great job,” she says in what seems to be a kind of recorded massage session. Each breath she takes and each syllable she delivers sounds exaggerated, and every time her lips touch to enunciate a word it feels like my headphones are shaking. This is called ASMR, short for autonomous sensory meridian response, and it is a relaxing, mental massage triggered by whispers, tapping and personal attention. People make ASMR videos on YouTube, and the phenomenon is gaining traction although it’s still pretty niche and has some negative connotations. However, the experience is overall very positive and ASMR is interesting in that it fully embraces technology yet directly appeals to the sensibilities that are furthest away from the grasp of technology. Herndon’s decision to use ASMR, a comforting, tingly sensation for some but a mostly claustrophobic, strange experience for me, is brave and relevant to Platform’s endeavors into the human voice.
“DAO” is a juddering awakening after our therapy session, and Herndon’s message and reason for taking us through some terrifying laptop-created landscapes becomes evident: the future isn’t a place we should fear. The future is an ever-growing, colorful cloth weaved together by the beautiful intricacies of Platform’s songs: the Purity Ring-like vocals, the cyborg-esque glitch-pop and the loosening but pleasantly positive ASMR. Herndon’s synthesis of glitch and noise can make us feel threatened by what lies ahead; the openness and ambiguity of the future has a way of doing that. However, her mingling of genres and sounds accompanied by a voice (something we all have) is so optimistic, and our fears are diminished once we hear the arrestingly gorgeous and bold academic computer music that is Platform. The album ends with voice clips of a person running, catching their breath and laughing as we hear their footsteps walk out to what feels like the light at the end of a tunnel. The future looks so bright from here.
Recommended Tracks: “Morning Sun,” “An Exit,” “Interference”