From Ian Houston
Robert Henke, also known as Monolake, is a musician, but only just. He explores that area of music on the very edge of becoming sound or perhaps he explores that area of noise, just on the edge of becoming music. His particular interest is the amorphous – clouds of detail, atoms of sound, grit, dirt and patina or as he puts it, “fragile structures, morphing timbres constructed of millions of microscopic sonic particles, cathedrals of filtered noises”. His works are long meditations in which he explores in exhaustive detail a single aspect of tone.
Last Wednesday in the grand court of the AGNSW he performed Buddha Layers. No need to worry, he’s no hippy, or at least not the bad sort. This hour-long performance consisted of the manipulation of samples taken from a $2 FM3 Buddha Machine a device he acquired in China, that is used to aid meditation. In essence it is a machine that plays very low quality four bit loops to accompany chanting. There are six loops ranging from ten seconds to a minute long. Henke recorded these loops at the highest possible resolution using a state of the art audio digital converter. He was then able to transpose the loops, slowing them and exposing extraordinary levels of detail in the sound. He then layered different elements of the sound building up enormous reservoirs of information. Some “pads” of sound would involve as many as one hundred layers of samples. Phasing, delay and other manipulative techniques would add further depths creating transparent “oceans” in which interlacing sounds would accrete in standing waves of harmony and dissonance. These recordings formed the basis of his performance.
Henke sat at a simple white table upon which was his lap top, digital audio converter, pre amps and an eight band equalisation device. The audience was arranged around him throughout the soundfield, roughly in a circle but all facing in the same direction as the composer, as if they were on seats in the magical mystery bus.. The music was reproduced on a high quality Meyer sound system using a dolby 5.2 system. To the left and right were two fridge sized sub woofers and then in a circle around the audience were another five large twin fifteen speakers. Once the audience was seated, Henke pressed play on his laptop.
The sound emerged as clouds of granulated digitised rust. Something just beyond white noise. Cycles of fuzz would move through the sound field, acquiring structure and form then spin away into the distance. Gradually the volume increased as larger waves of harmony developed. Intricate plays of resonance grew and diminished both adding to and subtracting from other sound structures that would evolve, morph and then disintegrate leaving only an after image. Most members of the audience chose to close their eyes as the music searched for form in a space closer to the imagination than the visual field. Henke achieved control of the soundfield through manual sweeps of the equalisation band and manipulation of the software running on his laptop. At times intense peaks of volume were realised, with mighty surges of bass rumble so deliciously thick that its effect was genuinely visceral.
Once the audience had surrendered to the apparent formlessness detail became highly apparent. The satisfaction was to be attained in a kind of timelessness, a trance state of pure timbre and tone beyond any notion of rhythm or melody. Toward the end of the performance needles of sound danced in stacatto lines, trailing figure eights in lines of tracer light through the sound field. Loops of bass wound into knots of belly rumbling thunder until we were left with nothing but the after burn of white noise and reverberation. He pressed the space bar and stood up. The performance was over.