Serial Experiments for a Better Future: Holly Herndon's 'Platform'


Ever the defender of the laptop as a gateway to more accurate and speculative expressions of the self, Herndon goes for the throat of the issues of our contemporary future with her second album, Platform

Having gathered together several collaborators with varied abilities and perspectives, she holds a sort of speculative symposium in the form of ten audio tracks. Her focus is the "exit" to a new "platform," a collaborative space in which possible futures may take shape. There is a brighter future ahead in Herndon's world; technology has the effect not of separation, but of creating a deeply intrinsic closeness and intimacy strewn through collapsed spaces. The laptop: the medium is the message, is the massage.

Drawing on the work of philosopher of design Benedict Singleton, Herndon is proposing a mechanization of "platform dynamics theory.” Traditional planning for the future will always fail in the face of complexity and contingency, the theory goes, so instead we should focus on the design of platforms—the material and social infrastructures we inhabit, which have certain affordances and limitations and therefore open the way to different kinds of futures.

Herndon’s album, as a collaborative space for development, is offered as one such platform. The future is cooperation; Herndon has moved on from thinking about the laptop as an extension of the body to thinking about it as a platform through which a superstructural, collective experience can be had. Along with “platforms,” the album’s other essential keyword is "exits," signaled by the title to Track 06, “An Exit.” Exits leading from our present situation to new platforms, that is, rather than escapes to impossible utopias.


Continuous Partial Listening: Holly Herndon in Conversation


After completing her informal education in Berlin's underground club scene, artist and musician Holly Herndon relocated to the Bay Area to pursue an MFA at Mills College's esteemed music program. Now continuing her studies in computer-based music at Stanford, Herndon has an inquisitive approach to technology, finding common threads among often-divided disciplines and communities: electronic music, academia, the tech sector, and contemporary art. As a result, her work is not easily categorized, whether she's composing music for brass ensembles or working on robotic sculptures with artist Conrad Shawcross, touring festivals in Europe or making dance music with heavily processed recordings of the human voice. This week, she released a 12" entitled Chorus on RVNG Intl

Ceci Moss: Your new 12" Chorus comes out this week. The title track recalls the experience of continuous partial attention in online browsing, using audio samples derived from your own daily browsing. Chorus begins chaotically, taking form with the addition of percussion. Could you discuss the ideas behind this composition? Also, what did you use to sample your browsing history, and how did you technically create the track?


The Lure of an Untold Story: An Interview with Fatima Al Qadiri


WaWa Complex, 2011, Fatima Al Qadiri w/ Khalid Al Gharaballi (From WaWa Series)

There is little distinction between Fatima Al Qadiri’s work as an artist and composer. Her compositions and related performances are intertwined and in reference to the cross-pollination of genres, mediums, and artifacts of culture that infiltrates her video art and multimedia installations. Her most recent musical output, Desert Strike EP, is a testament to this blending of disparate ideas.

Born in Senegal and raised in Kuwait, Al Qadiri studied Linguistics at New York University and has performed and exhibited at the New Museum, MoMa, the Kitchen, and Performa, among others. As a child, she also witnessed the unfolding of the Gulf War. A love for and fascination with video games grew during this period and sustained for years afterward. In particular, the Sega Megadrive game “Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf,” which involves a US army helicopter waging war on a Middle Eastern country, was a frequent source of entertainment. The dichotomy between her own experiences outside of and in relation to videogames shapes the sound of the EP.

Desert Strike is filled with dry, hypnotic beats, cold, 8-bit-like synths and gunshots to create songs that are haunting and ethereal. The all-instrumental work is a deep and heavy soundtrack to a surreal yet familiar game that has yet to be not been created. But most importantly, it is a smart piece of music and work of art. Like her previous work, Genre-Specific Xperience, Desert Strike is representative of a multi-faceted and post-modern consumption of music and culture that fits in seamlessly with the sounds and creators of contemporary society.

Dala3 (in Vegas), 2011, Fatima Al Qadiri w/ Khalid Al Gharaballi (From WaWa Series)


RECOMMENDED READING: Maximal Nation by Simon Reynolds


Simon Reynolds (author of Retromania) writes a long essay considering "maximalism" in electronic music starting with the "awake" sounds of Rustie's Glass Swords: "The overall effect of pulling from all these different phases in the evolution of electronic music technology is a fiesta of retro-futures: as if flashing back simultaneously to all the moments when a bunch of new machines changed the sound of music could somehow redeliver that original shock of the now. But there's no melancholy for a "lost future," just delirious reiteration, thrilling overkill."

Compared with the analog hardware that underpinned early house and techno, the digital software used by the vast majority of dance producers today has an inherent tendency towards maximalism. In an article for Loops, Matthew Ingram (who records as Woebot) wrote about how digital audio workstations like Ableton Live and FL Studio encourage "interminable layering" and how the graphic interface insidiously inculcates a view of music as "a giant sandwich of vertically arranged elements stacked upon one another." Meanwhile, the software's scope for tweaking the parameters of  any given sonic event  opens up a potential "bad infinity" abyss of fiddly fine-tuning. When digital software meshes with the minimalist aesthetic you get what Ingram calls "audio trickle": a finicky focus on sound-design, intricate fluctuations in rhythm, and other minutiae that will be awfully familiar to anyone who has followed mnml or post-dubstep during the last decade. But now that same digital technology is getting deployed to opposite purposes: rococo-florid riffs, eruptions of digitally-enhanced virtuosity, skyscraping solos, and other "maxutiae," all daubed from a palette of fluorescent primary colors. Audio trickle has given way to audio torrent-- the frothing extravagance of fountain gardens in the Versailles style


I got quite a long way into this piece before discovering that the term "digital ...