Monolake - "The Existence of Time" (Ghosts (ML026))
With a title like Ghosts, it seems obvious that Robert Henke, best known as Monolake, has been casting a beady eye over the numerous and varied developments in the hauntology and horror noise scenes of late, from the Ghost Box guys to Demdike Stare, via Failing Lights and Burial. The temptation to commune with or conjure up the spirits in our machines is a strong one, and to be fair, it’s an approach that has resulted in numerous exciting and, crucially, unsettling results over the years.
I wasn’t sure, however, how Monolake’s music could be made to accommodate the airy, phantomatic elements that characterize the music of a Broadcast or a Raime. After all, Henke’s realm has always been that of minimal, robotic techno, akin to compatriot Carsten Nicolai’s work as Alva Noto: cold, precise and intensely claustrophobic, a modernization of early Industrial. But Ghosts fits neatly into the chronology of Monolake’s previous output, sitting somewhere between dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass and techno, the throbbing bass lines making nice with cold synth noise and stuttering melodic structures.
As such, the ghosts in Monolake’s latest creation are more subtle -- bubbling, evasive presences that unsettle the equilibrium of each track without derailing it. Henke deftly uses samples, bringing them into the motorized momentum of his pieces, the mysterious elements adding to the uneasy minimalism of Ghosts rather than detracting from it. The title track features Henke’s own voice repeating the words “You do not exist” in a Mallinder-esque rasp, darting between the musical components like a gust of wind. On “Taku,” what sounds like a ball bearing in a metal bowl is seized and repeated, an uneasy stab of disjointed percussion that unhinges the track’s central combination of restrained beats and digital white noise, and bringing to mind abstract noise composers like Helm or Mike Shiflet, with beats added for good measure. Meanwhile, “Hitting the Surface” features atmospheric field recordings, distant and echoing industrial sounds, and a woman’s voice looped and superimposed on itself until it becomes a baleful, indistinct chorus. Again, as unsettling as they may be, these sudden surges of “ghosts” do have a place in Monolake’s highly-mechanised world, as if the machines and spirits are intricately intertwined.
In some respects, this precise approach connects Ghosts most to the aforementioned Burial, whose music may be more overtly haunted, but which nonetheless melds mournful synths and distorted vocals with electronic bass and rhythms in a way that never removes it completely from its dancefloor modus operandi. Less club-centred, Monolake’s music nonetheless shares this dedication to its techno/drum ‘n’ bass roots, and whilst there may be ghosts in these machines, they seem neither threatening nor invasive, instead adding extra presence to textures and shades of sound that Henke has mastered for more than 10 years.