Holly Herndon: Platform

Photo: Suzy Poling

The nexus of surveillance paranoia and sound architecture resides in Holly Herndon's mind.

Holly Herndon


Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2015-05-19
UK Release Date: 2015-05-18
Label website
Artist website

Being a cynic isn't easy. On one hand, you may be the closest thing to a "voice of reason" in many situations. On the other hand, few people will want to hear you out, favoring instead the power of positive thinking. Holly Herndon is a San Francisco-based sound architect who is keen on having it both ways. The laptop, her weapon of choice, is the double-edged sword on display for Platform, "celebrating its capacity for memory-storage and lamenting its vulnerability in light of revelations of mass surveillance." Herndon has adopted a highly original slant to creating dance music, but how and where her political views impact the music is obscured at best. Evaluating Platform as a purely listening experience proves just as patchy since it feels like "scattershot" is Herndon's default mode. That's likely intentional, but the album still plays out like a high-minded concept pointing to an illusory part of the sky.

Platform makes it its mission to "tackle a host of topics ranging from system inequality, surveillance states, and neo-feudalism." It's also "a rupture, a paradisic [sic] gesture." Sometimes it's tough to tell where the inequality stops and the rupture starts when the few vocal performances of the album include lines like, "I begin the fall into your arms" and "be the first of your friends to like Greek yogurt this summer". Musically, Herndon's electronic quilt of noise recalls Aphex Twin, Amnesiac-era Radiohead, post-Kraftwerk Karl Bartos, and just about anyone else who has managed to successfully create musique concrète from a wide array of highly-processed sounds.

The most unique parts of the single "Chorus" are assembled from samples of (presumably) her voice, uttering sounds cryptic enough to avoid commitment. "Unequal" and opener "Interference" seem less musically-motivated as they are sound-motivated, which goes a long way in creating atmosphere. "Home" may be one of the moments where surveillance paranoia explicitly enters the picture, but it's difficult to tell. "I want you to show your face", she sings timidly, as if she's afraid to return the favor should the opportunity arise. Sounds, voices, clicks, and beeps bounce back and forth. The message is shoved to the back -- or the side -- or perhaps it's right in front of you. Declaring its location feels like an imposition.

One track that needs to be mentioned is "Lonely At The Top" because it baffles. It's a four-plus minute monologue of an important person getting a massage. The receptionist, I think, greets the person in a breathy, mousey voice. "Yeah, I know how busy you are." The small nuggets of bland praise and encouragment tumble out of the receptionist's mouth so frequently that you can almost hear her switching to autopilot. The small voice follows the narrative to the massage room where the masseuse continues to dribble out warm fuzzies like "you're giving the world your ideas and from what you've told me they're incredible." There is no "music" per se, just awkwardly hushed speaking and various foley sounds. I don't know if this is Herndon's voice and I don't know what her intention was, but I don't feel like its out of line to say that it mildly disrupts the listening experience. It could be satire, the ass-kissing of those who are "Lonely At the Top", or it could be sincere.

Or it could be an exercise. Holly Herndon is currently a doctoral candidate at Stanford' Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. In its least engaging moments, Platform feels more like a homework assignment geared to some equivocal set than an album. In its better moments, it's electronic music for the fourth-dimension. The sooner Herndon wraps up her candidacy, the sooner she can get back to not splitting the difference.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.