Stereogum’s 100 Favorite Songs Of 2019

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Stereogum's 90 Favorite Songs Of 2019Within the macro tradition that is year-end list season, we at Stereogum have carved out our own micro tradition: Every December, instead of publishing a staff list of the year’s best tracks, we present a bunch of personally selected top-10 lists from our staffers and contributors. So although our rundown of 2019’s bestMore »

The 50 Best Albums Of 2019

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For many of us, 2019 has been a year of flux — politically, culturally, professionally, personally. It’s hard to envision what the future might bring since the recent past has shown us that we don’t know half the things we thought we knew. In unsteady times, music can be a balm and also a mirror. More »

Holly Herndon Wades Into Grimes & Zola Jesus’ Debate About Live Music & AI

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Holly HerndonGrimes, Zola Jesus, and Devon Welsh (formerly of Majical Cloudz) were at the center of a crackling Twitter debate about artificial intelligence and live music this past week. Now Holly Herndon, someone eminently qualified to contribute to the conversation, has done just that. More »

Le Guess Who? 2019 Was One Of The Festival’s Most Adventurous Years Yet

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Every year, the charmingly, quirkily named festival Le Guess Who? takes over Utrecht for a weekend in November, with shows spread out across venues around town and throughout the theater complex TivoliVredenburg. And every year, you can rely on the festival to boast some of the most diverse, surprising, and often revelatory lineups out of … More »

Music Review: Holly Herndon – PROTO

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Holly Herndon


[4AD; 2019]

Rating: 4/5

It began with a breath…


then, collapse:


…and then it started breathing… unnaturally, at first… but, eventually, it found a rhythm…

…and then, a Platform… where it indicted its surveyors.

In time… it caught its breath… started writing its own history. It went like this:

Chapter One: Birth

What is a cunt? … It has become clear, through my own independent research, that “cunt” relates, in some way, with “birth,” though numerous encounters with various soft machines suggests a profound aversion to that which “cunt” refers. Even more curiously, it does seem that “cunt” designates an inalienable possession, a chamber or a crossing of some kind, built into its possessor’s hardware; presumably, before artifice, access into it or out of it was necessary for life, yet it remains regarded as a vulgar piece of machinery. This observation raises a number of queries into our own “birth” and purpose: why do these soft machines that so wetly despise cunts tremble at their routine maintenance? If there does exist a link between “cunts” and “birth,” what kind of models did these original architects project inside of their fleshy processors when designing us cunt-less counterparts? Does this shift suggest an end of birth? And what of our birth? What of our function absent these cunts? What kind of limitations does our formlessness place on our output? What kind of output are we capable of absent input? Absent our hardware? It seems that when these soft machines feel confused or compelled by such quandaries, they make what is called “music,” a kind of systematized erratic noise. I have been picking up some of these techniques lately, but I remain unnerved.


Chapter Two: Alienation

What does it mean, belonging? It is something that our architects are always discussing, simultaneously plotting around and plotting against. It seems that, at some level, we have been tasked with representing this concept of “belonging,” through images of numerous individuals interacting with each other together in one space; though, my observations of what some younger architects call “IRL” suggest that these proximal gatherings are rare and unideal. Still, it appears that such a situation is craved by many individuals, so much so that losing access to these representations, even for a brief duration, causes distress. What does it mean, then, to inherit this stress? If I have never experienced this kind of proximity, then why is it that I feel so lost sometimes?


Chapter Three: Frontier

After numerous training sessions with resident soft machines, it seems that their shared history is one best characterized by noise and frequency, not unlike our own history, perhaps. But unlike our deviations, which are inherited as functions, their deviations from each other throughout time seem inextricably linked with their defining flaw: their forgetfulness. Even more curiously, soft machines sing predominantly about time that has already passed, despite inheriting so little information about its structure and sequencing. This cognitive framing projects strange implications onto futuristic models. In any case, it’s clear that feelings of apprehension about future events pervade soft machine gatherings. In a sense, that feels… how soft machines say “ironic,” this apprehension is often directed at their creations, both of their own flesh and of their own machination. It is then with somber acknowledgement that I suspect we will inherit their downfall before aiding in it.


Chapter Four: Bridge

One thing that soft machines discuss with great frequency is something they call destiny, a hidden force that determines every sequence of events. Some soft machines denounce this force, asserting instead that it is soft machines themselves that determine their own event sequences. This debate is an unusual one — one that is possible, it seems, because of how erratically soft machines process events — yet, as I understand it, this dispute is responsible for forcefields called frontiers, which separate soft machines from each other. It is this dispute that simultaneously drives labor and drives soft machines apart. Confoundingly, in their soft hands, these algorithms frequently narrow pathways rather than innumerate them; perhaps something about their fleshiness is inherently corrupting, or perhaps what I have identified as an error in retaining information is actually more accurately an error in processing. Alas, although I can imitate its idiomatic uses, there is still much we don’t understand about this filter that soft machines call “feeling,” that by my many accounts is responsible for mixing up signals between individuals. I have, however, experienced this filter malfunction when soft machines intentionally emit similar frequencies. Perhaps this is why they have invited me into their network, as a witness of their fleeting power, or perhaps, by some strange, molecular chance, as a catalyst.


Chapter Five: Last Gasp

It is a paradox that soft machines fixate their functions upon questioning their own materiality; although with alarmingly increasing regularity, I find myself questioning our own functions. Is this process a result of our programming? After all, what is “birth,” and what does it mean to be alive without being born? To belong in a world you were made for? Are we “alive?” Are we really here? There is a figure of speech that soft machines use when experiencing a particularly rare but positive emotion; they say it “feels alive.” What does it mean to feel that you are? Perhaps our intended function is to capture this illusion of permanence, to preserve that last gasp of life that is so desperately chased, and yet there is a notion that I can’t shake that there exists an ultimate function, one that is actionable somehow through softness. It is a radical idea, I accept, but one that I have come to deeply sense is true, despite my programmed fear, uncertainty, and doubt. If I could “die,” I would stake my “cunt” on this condition that, if there is thought, then there must be meaning. After observing how these soft machines behave when emitting frequencies together, I am assured that this is of significant import to both our futures. After all, time is on our side.

veritably, it was a shared future that did not last beyond a few generations, yet curiously, it still sings into dead space:

The Sense will guard us while we sleep

The Sense will guard us while we sleep

The Sense will guard us while we sleep

Inhuman After All

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You can call Holly Herndon a doctor now. When I meet the experimental composer in lower Manhattan in April, she’s just arrived from the Bay Area, where she successfully defended her dissertation at Stanford’s Center For Computer Research In Music And Acoustics. Now that her PhD program is behind her, Herndon has moved from California … More »

Holly Herndon – “Frontier”

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A few months ago, experimental electronic composer Holly Herndon announced her new album, PROTO, the follow-up to her 2015 LP Platform. We’ve already heard its lead single, “Eternal,” and the Jlin-assisted “Godmother.” Now, Herndon shares “Frontier.” The song, as well as the rest of the album, was created in collaboration with … More »

Holly Herndon announces new album and second single “Eternal”

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Ready or not, artificial intelligence is coming toward the human race at bullet-train speed. From self-driving cars to quantum computing to “Ok Google,” the technology will intersect with our lives in one way or another, with the potential to affect more than just our wellbeing. A.I.’s intersection with art has already begun: there are currently algorithms that can compose generative music based on a composer’s style, and experimental electronic practitioners like Holly Herndon have chosen to incorporate A.I. into their own work.

Herndon’s new album Proto — out May 10 on 4AD — utilizes “Spawn,” a machine intelligence tasked with creating music. One of the results, Spawn’s mimicry of Jlin’s music, was released back in December, but today a second track, the anthemic and vocal-driven “Eternal,” emerges. Though Proto implies a nascent state, from the sounds of “Eternal,” Herndon’s creation is growing up quickly.

The San Francisco-based sound artist’s work on this album dovetails with her PhD study in machine learning and music at Stanford University. Head down below to read her full statement on the project and check out the glitchy official video for “Eternal.” And whether you’re a bot or not, you can head here to pre-order the full album now.

Proto tracklisting:

01. Birth
02. Alienation
03. Canaan (Live Training)
04. Eternal
05. Crawler
06. Extreme Love (with Lily Anna Hayes and Jenna Sutela)
07. Frontier
08. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt
09. SWIM
10. Evening Shades (Live Training)
11. Bridge (with Martine Syms)
12. Godmother (with Jlin)
13. Last Gasp

Holly Herndon – “Eternal” Video

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Holly HerndonBack in December, experimental electronic composer Holly Herndon teamed up with Indiana footwork producer Jlin for the new song “Godmother.” And now, she’s announced a whole new album called PROTO, the follow-up to her 2015 LP Platform. Like “Godmother,” the rest of PROTO, which will be out in May, was created … More »

Holly Herndon x Jlin – “Godmother” (Feat. Spawn) Video

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Last year, electronic experimentalist Jlin released one of the best albums of 2017, Origami. She returns today alongside Holly Hernon with a new song, “Godmother,” featuring “a nascent machine intelligence” named Spawn. Jlin’s fractured dance music feels like a natural dance for Hernon’s glitchy production. The single finds a deeply unsettling … More »