Robert Henke: Atom/Document

Sixty-four white balloons never sounded so intriguing

Robert Henke


Label: Imbalance Computer Music
US Release Date: 2009-01-20
UK Release Date: 2008-12-15

Atom/Document is the fourth solo release from the brilliant mind behind Monolake and the Ableton software, yet it’s also a soundtrack. The music heard on the album, as stunning as it often gets, is only half of the story. Part of a collaboration between Henke and visual artist Chris Bauder, the original performances involved a configuration of 64 balloons with LED lights inside of them each triggered via MIDI through Henke’s manipulation. As Henke manipulated the lighting with his textural audio canvas, Bauder controlled the balloons spatially, moving them vertically, horizontally, and three-dimensionally for audiences within the installation space. The result was an impressive piece of improv with an interface that varies every night.

With this in mind, Henke’s album is all the more impressive for capturing just one such dynamic performance, full of electro-acoustic hinterlands, dulcet passages of reservation, and polygonal edifices of expert engineering. “[Quad Planar]” sounds like a marble rolling around inside a pipe for three and a half minutes, but Henke is the kind of prodigy who can make such a thing a standout. This track is followed by “[Shift Register]”, which initially recalls some of John Cage’s unprepared piano tracks. As the track gets more rhythmic, it goes from lullingly discordant to ominously melodic with the addition of sheets of echodroned bass. Meanwhile, “Metropol” is like Disjecta or Autechre at their most industrial, intensely rhythmic but far from the dance community Monolake has often courted. Ghastly floats of ambient reverberation make the listen a consistent one throughout all this, which is perhaps Henke’s most mature release to date.

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