Holly Herndon has been making headlines this year with the release of her third album Proto, a project built from the ground up using artificial intelligence technology. In Herndon’s own words, the record is a newborn AI baby that she would feed with her written compositions. In turn ‘Spawn’, as the baby is named, would repurpose the music and regurgitate the output back to Herndon, who would then continue work on it, and so on until she felt it to be complete. On stage tonight, she is joined by five singers, an apparent break from tradition for her live performances. The result is a polyphonic wash of sound that is as challenging as it is absorbing. It is an internalised experience – take the journey into the depths of your own listening experience and you begin to tune into the interplay between the strands of Herndon and Spawn’s compositions, and the rewards come in on a tidal wave of revelation. Judging by the huge reactions after each piece, it would appear that many in the room are finding the same. Momentary vocal harmony breaks call to mind the great records of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, before jolting us off in a brand new direction once again. It is a form of deep musical therapy.
The headline slot is owned tonight by Indiana producer (photographed, top) Jlin, the modern standard bearer for the Chicago subgenre of footwork. Her set is a locomotive express, a maniacally syncopated and turbocharged body of music that inculcates you into its speed of life, like your heart has been wired up to her drum machine and you have to keep up to stay alive. Taking on the traditions established by the late DJ Rashad, Jlin is out there on virgin ground now, a true musical trailblazer. Her set is enhanced by flashes of sound, light and ideas, each one shattering the moment that it appears. Chopped up snatches of vocals form the basis of the tone but clarify nothing. Jlin herself remains behind a stage-obscuring veil throughout; realistically, we are all behind Jlin’s veil when it comes to understanding her music. On an experiential level, though, it is an essential experience for fans of experimental music, something that can be said of this festival event in general. In this age of reckoning for gender balance in festival booking, MIF has shown itself to be once again setting the agenda, rather than catching up with it.
O2 Ritz, Manchester, Saturday 20 July
Photos: Festival / Gemma Parker / Priti Shikotra
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