Doom-techno duo Gatekeeper:“Holly Herndon’s Movement reminds us of an underground communications network’s final broadcast. The CPU inhales and exhales, approximating human response to digital stimuli. Bio-mimicry has been achieved. It soundtracks the imminent arrival of a computational ice-age, wherein the computer plays the human.”
“The album is very much about futurism, about future humans and where we’re going, and I think you can’t really have that conversation without considering China,” experimental musician Holly Herndon says via video chat from her home in San Francisco. She’s talking about her thrilling debut, Movement, which blends human and computer breathing-patterns with noise and techno exploration. Each expulsion of air is embedded with a different emotion tone; the result is something alive and transportive.
The trailer film for Movement stars two Chinese American dancers flexing their bodies in slow motion between long, sensual drags from e-cigarettes. “When you think about the tobacco industry, it’s like this quintessential American thing – such a symbol of leisure and empire,” continues Herndon. “So to see that being replaced by what is essentially a Chinese invention shows an interesting shift.”
The film was lit by the guy who does the lighting for the iPad adverts. “We really wanted their bodies to look like products, so he lit it like an iPad shoot,” says Herndon. “To me they look like future humans.” Implicit in the video is the suggestion of body and machine working in harmony, the e-cig the sleek machine-solution to human weakness and an aid to the body beautiful. It intimates that China’s rush to embrace innovation is the future.
Funnily enough, having grown up in the rural foothills of the Tennessee mountains (where Dolly Parton and the Carter Family also sprang from), Herndon used to be scared of computers. “When I went to college everybody already knew how to make their own website. I was like, ‘Argh, I can hardly check my email!’” she laughs. Following a spell in Berlin, the lasting impact of which can be heard in the transcendental undulations of “Fade”, she faced her fears head-on with an MA in electronic music, and is now studying computer science at Stanford. “I would say I’m a techno-optimist for sure,” she says of her current stance. “I really take the Marshall McLuhan approach: technology is just an extension of ourselves. Yes, we have to be critical but we also have to see the opportunities offered.”
Movement is out now on RVNG Intl
Text Ruth Saxelby Photography Nick Haymes
This interview was taken from the December issue of Dazed & Confused