- Holly Herndon's first album, Movement, was an austere but still extremely physical record, one that focussed on her relationship with a physical machine: her laptop. Its follow-up, Platform, comes closer to leaving behind the corporeal entirely. It sees the body as an avatar and concentrates on its potential for digital connection. Here the human is not just with the machine, but in it.
Many of the sounds on Platform are drawn from Herndon's personal internet use, often via an application that records the audio coming out of her browser. These sounds are chopped and layered to create all sorts of new textures and rhythms. In most cases, one is left to imagine what those sounds were originally—email notifications, YouTube videos, pop-up ads? Others, such as the spoken-word overlay of "Locker Leak" (featuring Twitter artist Spencer Longo) take the raw material of internet text and present it without comment. "Be the first of your friends to like Greek yoghurt this summer," Herndon deadpans.
One sound is Herndon herself, giggling during a Skype call with her partner, Mat Dryhurst, who built the browser-recording tool and recorded their conversation surreptitiously. That illicit eves-dropping is echoed on "Home," a track about the potentially intimate relationship between a computer user and the NSA (or rather, one of the NSA's data-processing, voice-recognising algorithms). When, in the same song, Herndon sings the most memorable line on the album—"I know that you know me better than I know me"—the question is not just who the "you" is, but what it is. The laugh collides with a billion other bits of generated data, data we don't even realise we're creating, and it's interpreted by machines in ways we don't understand. Somewhere, we are defined by these unrecognisable pictures of ourselves.
Herndon has talked about using pop music as a "carrier signal" through which she can communicate experimental or progressive ideas. The analogy is a useful one: Platform is full of beautifully corrupted, synthesised signals. The hard-hitting bass and broken-beat percussion of the club meets the graceful choral arrangements of American gospel. The evolving structures of contemporary composition meet the hands-in-the-air euphoria of chart-topping pop. The best tracks, "An Exit" (with Amnesia Scanner) and "Morning Sun," can support all this activity at once, at least in part because of their exceptional sound design.
Herndon's project is one of utopian ideals: the desire to come together, to embrace our generated patterns, and to resist atomisation and alienation. "Why stay apart when we could be together?" she sings. It's a call to recognise the intimacies of digital communication and digital self-presentation. To see these avatars as extensions of the human, rather than something altogether separate, or perhaps to shift the narrowly-defined human off the pedestal in the first place. "Lonely At The Top," a somewhat ironic exploration of the ASMR phenomenon with YouTube-star Claire Tolan, highlights the kind of comfort that people can provide for each other online, where imagination and togetherness are made possible. Depending on your sensibilities, it could seem creepy or uncanny.
Platform is reminiscent of Chris Marker's turn, late in life, to the online community Second Life. In that parallel universe, the great French filmmaker built a museum and a home, a place for his work to live well beyond the commercial, national and institutional barriers that held him back in the physical world. There "the world's most famous maker of unknown films" could welcome anyone from anywhere in the world, and let them see what he'd made of his life. Its aesthetic jumble feels akin to Platform, where the mulch of junk data is reconstituted as utopian pop art, and where the habits, products and dangers of everyday digital life are reflected back at us in the hope that we might see the patterns that the algorithms miss, that we might see what we hold in common.
03. Unequal feat. Colin Self
04. Morning Sun
05. Locker Leak feat. Spencer Longo
06. An Exit feat. Amnesia Scanner
07. Lonely At The Top feat. Claire Tolan
10. New Ways To Love