Berliner Robert Henke, who performs under the name Monolake, is one versatile man-machine. As a composer/producer, he has created a niche as perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the German minimalists who came of age after the premature burial of techno in the mid-’90s.
An academic geek who’s done sonic-art installations for galleries in Canada and Switzerland, Henke contributed to the invention of Ableton Live, recording software that has become the premier tool for laptop composition.
As a techno artist, he helped resuscitate a genre that had become a 4/4 bore by making complex computer music equally adaptable for club or headphone use. No purist, Henke stretches beats and breaks them down, piles on frenetic polyrhythms and dub effects, then soaks it all in a fine ambient mist. The architecture of Monolake’s soundworld is so distinctive that nothing else comes remotely close — an amazing feat when you consider that electronic music is all about processing, sampling or copying what had come before. Henke’s artistry resists classification, making him the kind of serious talent electronic fans have long been waiting for.
For Momentum, Monolake’s fifth full-length release, Henke creates 70 minutes of turbulence and calm, menace and beauty, chaos and control, all framed in nine deliciously long tracks. It contains no vocals — unless you count the freaky, jittery, alien-whisperings on “Cern” and “Credit,” which begin and end the album. Consider those two tracks windows into Henke’s soul: “Cern” punishes the listener with its pounding, irregular heartbeat and darkwave melodies; “Credit” is a slow-developing hush that soothes as it rolls down from the heavens.
Similar tension exists on “Tetris,” “Atomium,” “White_II” and “Excentric,” all minimal yet muscular tracks; witness “Reminiscence,” which starts off rainy and gray before a subtle time change alters the mood completely. Suddenly, it’s an iridescent tech-house romp, easily the sexiest piece here.
Henke’s production work has been solid for close to 10 years, and the best of Monolake stands with Porter Ricks and its enigmatic sound designer Thomas Koner as some of the most essential electronic music ever to emerge from Berlin.
On Momentum, Henke may have created his anxious masterpiece, a sonic journey deep into a digital heart of darkness. Can humans make synthetic music any more real than this?
E-mail Walter Wasacz at [email protected].