#35. Holly Herndon: Platform

The quote this blog pulls its title from reads “There’s music in all things, if men had ears.” While many men might not have the ears to hear music in the seemingly mundane sounds of the world, one woman does. Holly Herndon uses computer programming to create her music, but also samples acoustic sounds like footsteps, a refrigerator door closing, water pouring from a garden hose, and the pitter-patter of fingers typing on a keyboard. Platform adroitly mixes these with sounds from her computer (either created from music software or generated mechanically, like the sound of her computer’s fan).

Platform is experimental, but it’s not as bizarre as one might expect. Herndon’s sound is in the same general realm as techno—it’s much more metric and rectangular than the only other experimental electronic music on this list, Oneohtrix Point Never’s bubbling vaporwave album Garden of Delete. Herndon also plays the role of singer on Platform, something Garden of Delete doesn’t have.

Platform begins with “Interference,” which is the closest Herndon will allow herself to veer towards techno. It’s the most straightforward electronic track on the album, and it’s counterbalanced by the strangest track, “Lonely At the Top.” Devoid of any sound that the average listener would identify as “music,” the track stages a strange, oddly sexual scene between a silent businessperson (played by the listener) and a woman. The physical sounds of their meeting create a duet with the woman’s soft-spoken monologue. “Lonely At the Top” is Herndon’s attempt to trigger autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) in the listener—a mild physical euphoria most commonly triggered by non-physical stimuli like audio or visual recordings.  

Her audio samples from the physical world don’t stand out like sore thumbs, because she electronically manipulates them to conform to her synth and drum textures. Sometimes the original source is instantly identifiable. Water flows throughout “Locker Leak,” and the sound of her iPhone unlocking turns into a drum on “Morning Sun.” But often Herndon alters her samples so much that their original source is unrecognizable, and they become hybrid sounds that exist in the gray area between the naturally occurring and computer-generated. Are those crackles and bangs towards the beginning of “Chorus” totally electronic, or from something in Herndon’s house? The correct answer according to her is probably that it doesn’t matter, because it’s all ultimately the same thing.