ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Gianluigi Marsibilio 




Holly Herndon ‘PROTO’
(4AD) 10th May 2019

A digital kingdom in which it is possible to establish a pact between man and machine, a maternal connection that gives a precise identity to a record that becomes human, android, cyborg, consciousness.

A continuous and hypnotizing dialogue between Holly Herndon and Spawn (the name given to the digital creature) that lights up in PROTO through a vocal that uses the voice as “an instrument rather than a lyrical vessel”.

The characteristics of spoken words are deeply influenced by the human touch, deep or graceful, of a voice that communicates to us, through its confession, a state of mind. The reflection contained in the minutes of the duration of the record does not really deserve a review but an entire vocabulary, and not only from a musical point of view. There is a universe, a new ethical impulse that seeks new paths, in places where there are not yet beaten grounds.

In “Proto” there is a study, a flow built on a voice that doubles and accentuates its presence in a series of virtual choruses.

The idea of a vocal riff built by an AI is a perverse geometry that connects as much to the ideas of Mozart as to those of Radiohead or the Aphex Twin. “Proto” is a transversal work that focuses on a founding theme of the next, probably 100 years (except after our extinction).

The rationality, or rather the scientificity of the work, is submerged by the poetish spectrallity of songs like ‘Crawler’ or ‘Birth’.

The global regularity is an explosion of inventiveness that connects Holly Herndon to visionaries such as Steve Wozniak, Kevin Kelly, and links her to an artistic tradition that starts from a Space Odyssey and also a dialogue with Laurel Halo or Oneohtrix Point Never.

On the album there is a universe of reference: “Proto” is a cultural and germinal space that connects to the “Digital Stone Age” recalled by Krista Stevens in the New York Times.

The only flaw in this record is in the deep, perhaps extreme, hermetic syncretism of Spawn, which proves it can talk to each other, but still in Morse code. After all, Spawn is just an “AI Baby” who still needs to take some important steps before developing a clear and more complex language; meanwhile we have to rethink humanity and our idea of A.I.

In the beautiful book of Jeff Hawkins, concerning the theme of A.I., he reminds us how: “If a new song violates these principles – in reference to the common canons of western music -, you know immediately that something is wrong. Think about this for a second. You hear a song that you have never heard before, your brain experiences a pattern it has never experienced before, and yet you make predictions and can tell if something is wrong. The basis of these mostly unconscious predictions is the set of memories that are stored in your cortex. Your brain can’t say exactly what will happen next, but it nevertheless predicts which note patterns are likely to happen and which aren’t.”

Holly and Spawn don’t completely break the rules but they skillfully play with them in an artificial waltz.




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