Holly Herndon Movement

[RVNG Intl.; 2012]

Styles: techno, FM synthesis, experimental
Others: Laurel Halo, Björk, Autechre, Colin Stetson


Body as Subject of Analysis: body deconstructed and mangled into pre-codified state

To be codified is to be positioned within a set of rules or boundaries. For the body to be codified, it must adhere to a certain set of functions or have a particular type of make up. The body is made up of organs, and within and around those organs are blood and bones. Below the muscles and other familiar parts are the cells, and even smaller than that is the soul(?): the essence in which Herndon is trying to draw out in the open. The body itself is a microcosm, and outside of it is the macrocosm: everything that is, but is related to the body. The body sits in place, ensconced by things like time, space, and allegedly consciousness.

The existence of codes gives way to the presentation of gender, gender roles, and gender tension: the body functions according to its rules. The idea of gender discourse is explained much more eloquently here1:

Cyber feminists believe it can as they hope to reject a science of origins and embrace multiple overlapping subjectivities (Hables Gray and Mentor, 1995: 229) Sadie Plant notes that patriarchy is ‘an economy, for which women are the first and founding commodities.’ (Plant, 2000: 266) […] The body itself is invested by power relations (Foucault, 1977: 24) The soul is the effect and instrument of the political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body (Foucault, 1977: 29) By escaping her body, Lain is able to escape the power relations invested within it. Gendered power relations are often inverted […] genders can be blurred and identities can become fluid. (Plant, 2000: 266-268) […] However, the gendered discourses that encode our physical and imagined bodies are not as easily discarded.

Assimilation into Context

It can be assumed that the notion of the physical form and its implications is a subject dear to Ms. Holly Herndon (soon to be Dr.). The first moments of the album, “Terminal,” unveils a wash of white noise and silence, and out of that emerges a voice, stuttering, pulsing, writhing. Herndon not only reveals here that the body itself is a disgusting thing, full of fluid, mucus, and other things that we would consider alien if it were visible to us, but also seeks to expose those parts, the meaty, nasty bits. With “Terminal,” Herndon rips out the roadways of our insides.

In the groundbreaking book, The Culture Industry, Theodor Adorno meditates on the voice as a fetishized signifer. To quote him directly, he states, “Voices are holy properties like a national trademark. As if the voices wanted to revenge themselves for this, they begin to lose the sensuous magic in whose name they are merchandised.” This proclamation is fascinating, because it questions the very nature of the voice, calls it on its own narcissistic attack on the physical. The voice is the easiest indicator of humanity because of its familiarity, and for Herndon, that is an issue. While the voice implies or refers to humanity, it never proves it. The voice on its own is but an abstraction of the body, its constituents, and its output. The voice must justify itself; for Herndon, it can’t merely get away with being a referent to “human-ness.” The voice is the product of many cogs and gears twisting and forging its presence, its meaning dependent upon the repugnant things that are unseen. Herndon mentions in her Master’s Thesis the notion of posthumanism, quoting directly from Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman. The embodiment of forms (technological or situational) is explored with the help of that text: they together build the case for the finite body trapped by time and place, but also slowly merging with them to appear less so, projecting, in an attempt to birth new context, a hypercontext.

Appropriation Within Gendered (Territorialized) Codes

After constructing the body piece by piece, the gritty tubular entrails and all, in “Terminal,” Herndon moves to mechanize2 it in “Fade.” Immediately cluttered, dance-ready beats drop and Herndon’s voice flows, though not without struggle, over them. One can imagine a body in mid-flail with a blurred head: the face, the second most fetishisized signifier, ripped out of place, phasing in and out visibility. Familiarity distorted, disjointed, and disoriented. The hypercontext leaves the body mangled and shapeless: disembodied, which obviously relieves the body of some of its functions — particularly those that are constrained by gender. The Body without shape is gender-less, therefore context-less.

The tension of the self, in relation to communication as a whole, is a prerequisite of the tension of social situation combined with the chemical tension that is inherent to the person and is affected/swayed by the social tension. Conversation in this sense is based solely on opposing forces. When gender is brought into the equation — or skewed and disfigured in the way that Herndon presents it — the opposing forces are left at a point of pure essence or function. The code of the gender being removed takes away an aspect of the social tension, but because we know that there was once a face and a codified work before us, we can only shudder at how those codes are shredded mercilessly in “Interlude” and “Dilato.” Truth emerges, rises topologically out of the tension of communication and receiving. So when the male chorus’ vocals are pitched up and transfigured into a female chorus, the results are ultimately unsettling3.

1. This essay relates to Holly Herndon because of its focus on the (de)territorialization of the body and the scrutinization of gender roles. The mind, essence abstracting itself from the physical as a means of defining it (by negation, I suppose) is something that I thought Herndon would relate to and is trying to allude to with Movement.

2. This essay on experimental dance and experience discusses the notion of situationist artistry in relation to the body. The body posits itself inside of a series of situations (the moment) and it reacts based solely on its a priori knowledge, its function. The notion of a priori in terms of dance is particularly interesting because it implies that the body can mold itself to a place and time without context or conscious recognition of the situation: the body simply “is”, and reflexively inhabits and transfers between times and places.

3. “The idealization of the Lady, her elevation to a spiritual, ethereal Ideal, is therefore to be conceived of as a strictly secondary phenomenon: it is a narcissistic projection whose function is to render her traumatic dimension invisible. […] Deprived of every real substance, the Lady functions as a mirror onto which the subject projects his narcissistic ideal.” –Slavoj Zizek (Courtly Love, Or, Woman As Thing) This quote should sum up more eloquently why the female overcoming time and space in the way that Herndon does with Movement is so frustrating and frightening.

    01. Terminal
    02. Fade
    03. Breathe
    04. Control And
    05. Movement
    06. Interlude
    07. Dilato

Links: Holly Herndon - RVNG Intl.


Some musical ruptures are so penetrating, so incisive we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and test the boundaries of what exactly discerns ‘music’ from ‘noise,’ others complement or continue anachronistic traditions that have provided new forms and ways of listening. We consider the section a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.