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Holly Herndon – Platform


Holly Herndon makes avant-garde electronic music veering between ambient techno and musique concrète. Her sound incorporates sampled and processed vocals as well as acoustic and found sounds. Individual tracks tend to adopt little structure and offer even less in the way of hook or identifiable tune to grab the listener’s attention. That said, absolute attention is demanded by Platform.

This is a busy record, an uneasy listen, but an undeniably accomplished experiment, with much reward for those up to the challenge. Like new label-mate Grimes (this is Herndon’s 1st LP for 4AD) the experience is presented in cascades of sonic inventiveness. Whereas Claire Boucher adds melodic beauty or hypnotic rhythm with every new layer, however, Holly Herndon prefers to construct and deconstruct unsettling mosaics. She has a Home-Depot’s-worth of kitchen sinks to throw at each track and will probably record them being thrown for inclusion on her next album.

A music composition academic of many years, Herndon currently studies for a doctorate at Stanford, CA. The development here from her previous LP, Movement, shows a shift from a more obviously academic pursuit toward a bold and rounded artistic statement. Although I’m sure by now the thrust of her study is more theoretical than practical, it still sounds occasionally like she is aiming to prove her technical ability. On Platform she may want to make the listener challenge their concept of what music really is – but she also wants to pass Module 16.2.7: Parameter manipulation of a sub-routed effects loop to create an out-of-phase delay return (or whatever).

Opener ‘Interference’ offers more structure than most that follow, coming across all μ-Ziq with staccato rhythms, oozing vocal swathes and sequenced bass. A consistent beat is soon lost though, and through stunning single ‘Chorus’ and the voice-driven ‘Unequal’ Herndon reveals the labyrinth that better represents the album. ‘Morning Sun’ offers a little more humanity than elsewhere, but then ‘Locker Leak’ steals it away with robotic voice inserts and disjointed beats recalling Asa-Chang and Junray.

‘An Exit’ ups the intensity as the second half begins, making its successor ‘Lonely at the Top’ (with its one sided conversation and sound effects) feel like a welcome and overdue intermission. Soon though, the setting (what seems like a futuristic executive massage parlour) actually makes it perhaps the most uncomfortable section of the whole album.

Proceedings are then brought to a conclusion with a trio of tracks that showcase the density and intensity of Platform to a tee. By this stage you are either in or you’re out. Like staring at a Magic Eye picture, if you can get beyond the surface and feel at one with the sound, it can engulf you and start to make a whole lot more sense. However, not everyone can see the palm trees in the repeated pattern of parrots, no matter how long they stare.

As might be expected, the ultimate feeling one is left with is that of commitment to innovation and craft; a selfish creation by a dedicated artist challenging themselves and (but only by extension) their listeners. Isn’t that where the greatest art comes from? No bowing to fashions or concern for commercial viability. And yet Platform is being hyped for a broader audience. This is in fact genuinely challenging, experimental music and as such is a great success. If presented as pop music it can only fail. Jonathan Wallace

is a producer and one of the two MCs in funky hip hop band Olympic Lifts. He has come to terms with his vinyl addiction.