Robert Henke: Atom/Document

Imbalance Computer Music, 2008

Atom/Document cover

On the dancefloor, he’s known as Monolake, but my favorite Robert Henke compositions were designed for art installations or performances. Atom/Document was adapted from a collaboration with visual artist Christopher Bauder. The two improvise live by controlling a grid of 64 lit, tethered helium balloons. As Bauder changes the balloon heights, Henke triggers LEDs inside with percussion. The resulting music stands surprisingly well on its own.

The album begins with a heavy, multi-layered drone which crescendos, then subsides. Next “[quad-planar]” ticks like slightly off-kilter clockwork. “[shift_register]” alternates between high piano notes and industrial percussion. There are beautiful moments of melody.

I wish I could hear the second transition, “[_convex],” a storm of panning, howling digital wind, in its original quadraphonic sound. “[metropol],” is gritty and harsh with hisses, beats, and hums pushed to distortion. “[first_contact]” is lush with texture. Piano pulses, bass thrums, and clicks rattle. “[diagonal]” and “[crossing]” are the most techno pieces here, with minimal sounds but no clichés. Finally, “[_exit]” provides the ideal cool-down, its sustained notes leaving behind phantom shapes.

I didn’t set out to write about every track, but they’re all so distinctive, I couldn’t help myself. This is the type of album that will reward multiple careful listens. The sounds are more unearthly than emotional, but this music has depth.

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