Holly Herndon Movement
Conceptually, Movement is more or less as straightforward as the double meaning in its title—this […]
Conceptually, Movement is more or less as straightforward as the double meaning in its title—this is a good thing for an LP whose press-release hook is something about straddling the frequently convoluted worlds of academia and techno. Instead of offering a fixed position, the album is more about moving back and forth across a gradient with accessibility on one end and sonic R&D on the other. Marking those extremes are tracks number two and three—”Fade” and “Breathe”—respectively. The remaining five selections are situated at distinct points in between.
“Fade” whirs to life irregularly, Herndon’s voice leading the charge as volleys of percussion on worrisome arpeggios rush to join. It’s a pumping track with a sense of dissociation to the arrangement, a kind of core numbness that recalls Louderbach’s “Shine” while being a bit more messy and unresolved. “Breathe” provides a sharp contrast as Herndon shifts gears to a more austere “new music” vibe, working with extended vocal technique (gasps and sighs, but no yowls or ululations) and FM processing to create a soundscape of hills and uncanny valleys. Despite the emphasis on human sounds, it’s a strangely unevocative and mechanical piece that seems like it would be more successfully interpreted by a dance troupe than a home listener. More successful in this vein, but still something of a headscratcher, is droning closer “Dilato,” where Herndon splits and tunes operatic swoops.
The album finds traction more consistently in the spaces between. “Terminal” opens and basically summarizes the album, working out the stereo field with blasts of white noise as if tracing the line from musique concrète to Raster-Noton, then forging an unholy alliance between Planningtorock and Ben Frost. Movement is seemingly crammed with allusions, quoting a variety of sources without really calling attention to the fact.”Control And”‘s bassline seemingly nods to Laurel Halo’s “Carcass,” while “Movement” gets mired in a sludgy, Andy Stott-esque chug, with a Plastikman acid line thrown in for good measure. It’s possible that these citations are subconscious on her part, but Herdon’s sound is as much pastiche as dissertation, giving the album an overall sense of tonal control that contrasts with the moments of guided experimentation.
That contrast is overly literalized in Movement‘s sequencing. The freefall between “Fade” and “Breathe” or “Movement” and “Interlude” is jarring. Curiously, the build-ups between “Terminal” and “Fade” and “Control And” and “Movement” are logical and exciting. These disruptions are unwelcome, particularly on a 36-minute album, but may be inevitable given the range Herndon is trying to cover. Very little of this is viable as dance music per se, just as very little of it comes across as dessicated or stifled by its learning. So, sure, at many points it’s more about the body than embodied, but such are the stakes of music this purposefully inconsistent. It requires a good amount of shifting around—one might feel engaged, lulled, bored, and revived by Movement about three times every listen. Ultimately, the restless movement here doesn’t help the “classical” tracks connect to a non-specialized audience, but it does make for an inventive dialogue between the club and the ivory tower.