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Monolake - Silence

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Artist: Monolake

Album: Silence

Label: Imbalance Computer Music

Review date: Mar. 11, 2010


Monolake - "Internal Clock" (Silence)


Learning how to be present in your life has become a constant topic of conversation with friends as the mid-twenties and the thirties approach. What draws us out of our lives in 2010 isn’t just the squeeze of social expectations, but also the mediated self-perception familiar to anyone who grew up in the post-TV world. Maybe the Internet is hyper-TV, the thing that instructs us in interpreting signs while also compelling us to cobble together our identities from atomized sources. Who isn’t a digital flâneur, fastidious about everything they consume, despite the fact of actually buying less and less? Is this the repressive-elective? Interpellation no longer takes the form of a Coke can telling you to "enjoy," but rather an above-ground pool party of tweets and status updates that collectively intone, "entertain yourself!" Creating one’s own channel has the same shape as your hypersensitivity to worlds of signs and social markers, and to the ways consuming makes you a certain kind of person or doesn’t. It’s a product of total content overload. You’re paying less for entertainment, but working more for it. Most of the signals you pluck out of the ether for your immaterial moodboard are compressed, meaning they’re limited in dynamic range, but optimized for availability. Compression means variety, and variety encourages you to develop an ever-more-forceful imaginative relationship with the osmotic power of culture, despite culture’s seeming inability to produce something that both looks new and is.

This new album from Monolake, a.k.a. Robert Henke, is proudly compression-free. The dynamic range is indeed bonkers, but Henke’s method produces an album that inserts space into the burnt wicks of our attention spans. "It’s the abundance paradox...Having the choice between 5,000 compressor plugins whilst not understanding what makes a compressor really sound the way it does is pretty much my idea of hell." Henke said that in an interview about the album. As I suggested above, you don’t have to follow electronic music to understand what he means by "abundance paradox" — a notion that’s probably been around since well before Gutenberg — but in the music-gear sense, it’s been in circulation at least as long as artists have been producing their own jams. It’s a rich term, and even if the basic idea that restrictions can yield creativity isn’t a revelation, it has the power to describe why so many would-be musicians are paralyzed by choice. By extension, it also applies to our own constant, undifferentiated consumption. What makes Silence special is the same thing that’s made most other Monolake releases special: it presents an original, convincing and embodied sonic universe without ignoring composition.

Henke’s music as Monolake is, above all else, precise. It’s precise in execution, concept and intention. Monolake’s crispness shouldn’t be confused with the idea that Henke rises above his greater environment, though, even if his latest release seems to throw its body on the gears in a typically German, workmanlike fashion. There’s a clarity to his music that, despite associations with Ableton Live — he was very involved in the software’s development, and former bandmate Gerhard Behles is CEO of the company — and Berlin’s Chain Reaction label, is not just technical, but aesthetic. Silence is focused on a couple of things: exploring the boundary between found sounds and synthesized ones, the tension that emerges from superimposing different rhythmic scales, and inhabiting a huge dynamic range.

Even with these formal goals, the album is remarkable for how present it feels. Henke chooses and creates sounds with great care, then uses tools that typically make elements fit together — things intended to match beats or sync events to the same clock — to give narrative interest to these bespoke sounds. This sense of very active adjustments keeps Monolake from resting neatly in electronic music categories, even as Henke makes use of dubstep-like rhythms in a techno-oriented sound.

All this is not to make Silence sound like a cultural panacea. It is the kind of record that will appeal to those who can place it in a greater continuum of electronic music, but its success at simply being a compelling mix of sounds and rhythms has appeal outside of the genre Henke is nominally working in. Calling Henke a sound designer is accurate, but the associations seem too exclusive. You wouldn’t confuse anything here with a song, and yet, there’s as much momentum here as you’d find on a great pop record. The ordered chaos of everything going on in the upper frequencies of "Far Red" or the title-justifying percussion pools of "Avalanche" seem somehow free in time, with a mobile’s shifting focus rather than a sculpture’s massive finality. Listening to Silence in proximity to an earlier release like 2005’s Polygon_Cities or last year’s Atlas bears out the title’s promise of the spaces between the sounds meaning as much as the sounds themselves. It also seems that Henke’s sabbatical from direct involvement in Live, which he discussed in an interview with The Wire back in January, has given him time and space to focus on capturing new sounds and working within the limitations of his own technology, rather than trying to be software engineer and musician at once. It’s the sound of a deep dive in the sea of information. Though there aren’t many overtly human elements in the music, it’s unlonely and lively music, the sound of taking stock and making sense.

By Brandon Bussolini

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