A UFO to take us away
Experimental is tired. Conceptually, the genre is a dry well chock full of avant-garde nobodies continuously clawing their way into obscurity. Once there was a time when the genre blossomed in the shade of movements like Fluxus and Dada, but without a visual contemporary most experimental music has felt aimless, unmoored, and most terrifying of all – unoriginal. Among the few oases in the larger experimental movement is its ever-evolving electronic side, artists like SOPHIE, Amnesia Scanner and Holly Herndon, have rejected the dull repetitive screams of noise for carefully calculated oddities.
Each of the aforementioned artists has their own unique identifier that helps to distinguish them from their contemporaries, SOPHIE has her image and signature blend of pop and noise, Amnesia Scanner is possibly the only group to torture a robot and record it, but Herndon may have the most exciting angle of the three. While others have focused on diving deeper into the limitless well of sound that a laptop provides, Herndon has narrowed her focus on the voice, creating a spectral, haunting vision of a connected future that is bleeding quickly toward the present.
Most interpretations of the future lean toward the idea that the future is less human. Nearly all visions of the near future are dystopian, and either lean on the idea of humans becoming less human, or humans disappearing nearly altogether. Herndon’s music remains steadfast alongside these tropes, but through her use of the human voice, provides an unfamiliar interpretation that seems to say that humanity doing away with itself is perhaps the most human thing it has ever done. This idea culminates in Herndon’s creation of an AI she named “Spawn” which actually helped to generate portions of the record. Her inspirations seem pulled from this dystopian world as well, “Eternal” is startlingly similar in spirit to tracks from Ghost in the Shell, and it carries an arcane, tribal propulsion in its bones. This propulsion is woven throughout the album, constantly capitalizing on the power of the human voice in mind-bending ways. “Alienation” is an early album standout that, were it left unattended, might just tear the earth apart with its crushing synths.
But power and fear aren’t the only elements of this album. Towards the center of the tracklist “Crawler” provides a detour into the natural world, replete with the twittering of birds, and an alien rattle like a UFO settling over the woods of Washington. Were this record not so plainly a standalone work, it could be fittingly slotted into the film Annihilation with little editing required. This theme of invasion comes to a head as the record reveals its thesis statement during “Extreme Love.” A diatribe on the power of microbes, and the legion like nature of humans, is reflected back into the world via Herndon’s myriad voices and exploration of musical methods. Not even the one is one, each of us is many, and so then is this record.
If you find yourself lamenting the state of experimental music, you are not alone. But know that the corners are lighting up. The limits that the laptop removed are finally being explored in new and exciting ways. Herndon is not pushing the limits of something that existed before, she’s creating something new and fascinating. Something terrifying and completely alien, but it’s a UFO worth boarding, and it’ll sweep up all of humanity sooner or later.