Much has been made of Holly Herndon’s use of visual programming language in the creation of her largely vocal-based experimental electronic music, and rightly so. It’s a natural extension of the overarching theme of her work as a whole. Subsuming her voice within these programs and processes of her own creation, the two become one, an extension of herself and vice versa. It’s a commentary on our contemporary, technology-saturated culture and our burgeoning overreliance on machines to express our emotions. “I know you know me better than I know myself,” she coos.

Either via text, email or tweet, the expression of human emotion has been largely surrendered to and lost within the means by which we now seek to interact with one another. Adopting this notion within an artistic framework, Herndon on Platform uses Max/MSP software to manipulate her vocals to varying degrees. With this merging of woman and machine, she seeks to create a new level of emotional expression through technology.

Crafting her own programs to replicate, distort and manipulate her voice, Herndon becomes as much a part of the technology as it is of her, a product of her imagination that has since fused in a sort of symbiosis that could rightly be viewed as more parasitic than partnership. Losing herself within the machine, Herndon represents that next step in the unnatural evolution of our increasingly co-dependent relationship with the various technologies running our lives. The music is confusing and disorienting, but precisely constructed in a way that feels less like form following function than function following form. It’s a utilitarian approach to fusing the organic with the inorganic to create the next level in the evolutionary process.

While this might sound more highbrow than the average electronic musician, Herndon’s MFA in Electronic Music and Recording Media from Mills College in Oakland, accounts for her more academic approach to composition. Thinking beyond the basic framework of pop music, applying her knowledge of programing and background in vocals, Herndon melds these disparate elements to create a new form of music that borrows as much from the past as it relies on the present.

“What is emotion in the 21st century?” she seems to be asking. We’ve developed an electronic shorthand to express how we’re feeling, no longer able to truly convey deeper emotions without the aid of technology. This basic idea is summed up in “New Ways To Love,” as Herndon’s voice is rendered unrecognizable. Chopped and fragmented, it delivers non-verbal cues designed to evoke specific emotions. The overriding emotion received, however, is one of intense anxiety and dread. It’s a terrifying reminder of how much we’ve surrendered of ourselves in the adoption of modern technology. Without it, we are liable to breakdown and lose our ability to function. So dependent are we now that there is little to no delineation between where our lives stop and our technologies begin. Herndon personifies this, processing her vocals to near unnatural extremes, searching for her one true voice now lost in a vast technological web.

There’s a brief, mercifully fleeting moment in “Morning Sun,” a swirling vortex within which a tiny, pained voice emerges, pleading, “Help me.” It’s a deeply unsettling moment that serves to sum up much of the struggle between woman and machine on Platform. Having fully embraced the technologies of her own creation, she has succeeded in losing herself fully within the music, splintered and often wholly unrecognizable yet still retaining traces of her humanity.

Structured like the choral works of Josquin des Prez and similar early music composers, “Unequal” is filtered through the myth of history and processed within a fractured contemporary framework. Her vocals functions in a sort of frayed counterpoint while sounds of implosion and ominous simmering move across the speakers. It’s an unsettling take on an ancient style of music updated within a modern framework; an unholy mass at the church of the new technology. “To change the shape of our future/ to be unafraid/ to break away” a voice intones; a fragmented hymn performed surrounded by the smoldering wreckage of humanity.

“Lonely At The Top”s intimacy and, by contrast, startling humanity is eerily unsettling as Herndon’s unprocessed voice coos uncomfortably close in a type of eroticism rarely captured on record. Given the fractured, avant garde nature of the other tracks, it’s haunting how the wholly organic nature of the track is far more off-putting than the seemingly human-less electronic explorations. “Why wouldn’t you take the opportunities presented to you?” she questions in a manner all too intimate.

This is not music to be listened to and enjoyed, rather felt and experienced. It demands a full immersion of the senses, a wholly experiential approach that produces a visceral response to these non-songs. It’s an upsetting listening experience as you begin to realize all we’ve lost in what we’ve sought to gain through advances in technology. It serves and an elegy for the world we knew and preview of a dystopian future of our own making, one in which the human form has been rendered all but recognizable through its dependency on technology. Post-apocalyptic nightmares you can dance to.

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