Holly Herndon’s ‘Movement’

Holly Herndon's Movements

December is a little late in the year to welcome a new candidate into the best music of the year chatter. Efforts released in either November or December of any year are always forgotten or simply assumed to be a part of the following year’s releases: it’s very easy to get swept under the rug. Holly Herndon isn’t letting that happen to her. On November 13 she released her RVNG Intl. debut Movement which has stormed the techno and experimental worlds alike: Holly has stepped in as the genre’s new hope.

The seven track LP is a quick roll through vocal performance and mutation, computer geek techno plays, and electronic music card tricks. The title–Movement–is a suggestion of the body, bringing visions of athletic musculature and vocal exercises: Herndon’s focus is on the human body’s performance. Title track “Terminal” eases you into Holly’s world with a vocal piece that is stretched and stretched and stretched until it is nearly mistakable for the hum of an overworked laptop. “Dilato” is a high art cousin to this LP starter and a clear play on distending the voice to shrill scratches and in-synch pitches. This song was my first introduction to Herndon and was cause to perk up at the thought of electronic music digging and digging back toward the experiments they originated from.

As avant garde as she can get, she can and does turn out some ball busters. “Movement” (at top) runs itself closely with alarm sounds and squeezes beautiful vocal sweeps through a fan. It is essentially the song that you would want to have played if you were escaping from zombies on a dance floor. “Fade” (directly above) is clearly the best electronic song of the year, a surprise you will want to build up from after “Terminal.” The song is a complex, layering of vocal chants (The phrase “Reach out your hand.” is folded and unfolded, over and over itself like vocal origami.) underneath powerful synth kicks, bass, and an ending breakdown that no techno genius in Berlin could ever reach. It is complicated, it is fun, and you feel like you need a cigarette after listening to it.

Herndon is so damned good because she is building her own world of academic electronic atop of an already rich history of music in an often obscure genre. Encountering many interviews with her, you find that she is a Tennessee singer who moved to Berlin, discovered techno, and has since dedicated her life to understanding and challenging what singing and music making can be. She is currently studying to be a doctoral student at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics program. Basically she’s getting a doctorate in electronic music: that is how fucking legit Holly Herndon is.

The album is a treasure and a first effort that dares you to question its power. Movement is an on-trend entry into the “doom” house that Andy Stott, Demdike Stare, Laurel Halo, Shed, and more have been making–yet Herndon’s effort deserves to be installed at MOCA. In repeated spins of Movement, you delve into bigger questions related to electronic performance, the female body, and queer theory: in the male dominated worlds of science and electronic music, where does an extremely experimental American female fit in? Herndon is taking cues from historic female and queer electronic artists like Laurie Spiegel and Wendy Carlos and answering this question. Get ready to hear a lot more from Herndon–she’s just getting started.


December 18, 2012 / By

On Accidents: Thoughts On Creativity from David Huyck

David Huyck's Desk

My drawing table’s natural state. Draw like a photographer: make a lot of pictures, and pick the best ones.

A couple weeks back I tweeted simply, “Is it possible to design by accident?” I had been thinking that morning about the act of design. That it tends to be about problem solving, trial and error, but does that include accidents? Brush strokes can be accidents, pottery can involve accidents, but can Photoshop be an accident?

Thankfully my friend David Huyck – illustrator, designer and professor – had some interesting thoughts on the matter which I found to ring quite true. So he was kind enough to write a piece for the site which I hope you find inspiring.

I love to draw and make stuff. I always have. But there was a long time where, even though I knew I needed to practice, I just couldn’t force myself to even try. I was caught in that gap that Ira Glass describes in this video, where I knew what was good, and I knew that what I was making wasn’t all that good. So I just didn’t draw.

While I don’t exactly regret the eight years I spent making websites and databases, I am sure my illustration career would be in a very different place by now if I had just kept drawing the whole time. Seven years into a career as a college-level art and design professor, I try to save my students from falling into that same gap.

I talk about it with them through a variety of different anecdotes. The Ira Glass video is one. Another is a something Tim Biskup said in a talk I attended in 2005: he had been working as an animation background painter, and he wanted to get better at drawing, so John K. told him that everyone has 100,000 bad drawings in them, and you just have to get those out of you so you can get to the good ones. Similarly, Malcom Gladwell asserts in his book Outliers that it takes about 10,000 hours of anything to become a “phenom” in it. Anne Lamott devotes an entire chapter to “Shitty First Drafts” in her gem, Bird by Bird.

One take-away from all those stories might be “practice makes perfect.” But a more important lesson, I think, is that you have to make mistakes. You have to screw up a bunch and make things that might turn out just awful. It’s what you do with those accidents that can make you great. Knowing that accidents are a part of the process makes risk less scary. You are more willing to try things and experiment and, yes, crash and burn. But that is where discovery happens. That is where you begin to make work that is different and interesting and yours.

All of that applies broadly to the creative process. More specifically, when I teach design, one of the more difficult things to impart is that the finished work is all made deliberately. No matter how much time a student spends on a design, the piece they turn in is up for critique in its entirety – accidents, neglected margins, printer problems and all. If you don’t fix something – whether you notice something is wrong or not – you’ve left it in the design, and your inaction is, essentially, an act of design.

Which is not to say that is all bad. When you make the same mistake enough times, you can learn your weaknesses, and you can wrap them into your process. I once asked Dan Ibarra of Aesthetic Apparatus how to tell the difference between the designs he makes and the ones his partner, Michael Byzewski, makes. To paraphrase Dan, he said, “I’m the moron who makes all these complicated tight-registration designs that take me forever to get right on press. Michael just sets up his designs to be okay if they aren’t printed perfectly.” Wisdom through accidents.

Bobby Solomon

December 17, 2012 / By

Rdio’s Best of the Year 2012

Rdio's Best Songs of 2012

It’s fairly well known that I’m a huge fan of Rdio, my preferred method of streaming music. It’s got an amazing interface design, a spot-on recommendation and just he right amount of social integration so I can see what my friends are currently listening to. That said, the folks at Rdio also have pretty great taste, as evidenced by their Best of the Year playlist.

They’ve got some great categories like “Album That Never Left Your Heavy Rotation” (it was definitely Frank Ocean) or “Best Album to Take on Your Visionquest”. Definitely 12 great tracks to check out, and perhaps find some tunes you’ve never heard before.

On a sidenote I’d also suggest checking out Aquarium Drunkard’s 2012 Year in Review as well. He’s got a selection of pretty amazing but obscure albums that you’ve probably never heard. Justin’s taste is always on point so I’m sure you’ll find something new to listen to.

Bobby Solomon

December 17, 2012 / By

It’s New, It’s Old, It’s A Chalet: Villa Solaire by JKA and FUGA

Villa Solaire by FUGA and JKA
Villa Solaire by FUGA and JKA

Villa Solaire by FUGA and JKA

Last week we looked at what happens when built work gets old. We saw work that got old to the clients rather quickly, old work documented across continents long after intended use, work that is getting older and more public, and a new future for an aging office complex. What you see here is a farmhouse from the nineteenth century that has a new purpose and appearance.

I’m not fancy enough to know what the proper definition of a Chalet is, but allegedly this is an example of one, but it may better be described as a luxury rental unit for folks visiting Morzine, France. The original farmhouse was built in 1826, which is insanely old to me as an American (there were only 24 states at the time!) The architects responsible for the structure’s revival, JKA and FUGA have been mindful of the significance of such an old structure– the town declared it a landmark – and used architectural vocabulary from yesteryear to inform their work.

“In typical Alpine barns the gaps between disjointed wooden planks would allow air to circulate round drying hay, but at Villa Solaire the gaps between each panel simply let extra light into the rooms inside.”

Alex Dent

December 17, 2012 / By

A great video by Pablo Maestres for Fur Voice’s ‘All That’

Fur Voice - All That 2

Fur Voice - All That 3

There seems to be something exciting happening in Spain at the moment. Just last week I wrote about the excellent video and track by Barcelona-based duo PEGASVAS and today I have another excellent video from Barcelona-based group Fur Voice.

What really turned me on to this band was their amazing video. Directed by the Spanish filmmaker and photographer Pablo Maestres, the video is an atmospheric piece filled with beautifully composed shots and a strange, surreal tone which owes a lot to the photographic work of Gregory Crewdson. It’s clear to see that Maestres is definitely a talent to watch, and this video is his first collaboration with the excellent London-based production company A+. Fans of the band can pick up a free copy of the single from the group’s bandcamp page, or check out their album, Onto Endo, here

Philip Kennedy

December 17, 2012 / By