Is the future a triumph of sound over music? Monolake's new album, Ghosts, as reviewed by Justin, seems to point in that direction.
“For me, it's all about the details and I like to work on the details and that's why it takes forever for me to release a new album.”
Robert Henke might be addicted to detail, but it certainly didn’t take him forever to come up with his latest record after 2009/10’s Silence. Nonetheless, here he’s managed to attain the usual, intimidating level of technical wizardry that we’ve come to expect from the father of Ableton Live himself.
Per tradition, melody and structure is eschewed for sculptures of the finest design, as he pushes home yet another proper statement on the infinite range of sounds potential to the electronic music realm. Another Monolake trademark is, of course, the use of field recordings. And while Ghosts is suitably marshalled by an army of found sounds, the album is yet distinctive in Henke’s inaugural employment of these elements in manipulating rhythm and percussion - bringing to mind Tommy Four Seven’s approach to his Primate long-player last year.
Such densely intricate aural environments are kneaded into short bursts of sub-six minute tracks (with the exception of ‘Hitting the Surface’); a fleetingness all the more acutely felt when compared to his past oeuvre of majestic, near half-hour pieces. Unfortunately, this paring down also brings with it deficiencies beyond the temporal: gone are the once vividly atmospheric soundscapes, or tough, dynamic beat physics; now drained and draped in diluted wallpaper tones.
So what went wrong here? From being born into what he dubs a “classical background of a family of engineers”, Henke has voiced doubt over his musical abilities - “I see myself as a.. lousy composer”. In 2010, he told The Wire how he overcame these insecurities with the collaborative aid of Gerhard Behles and Torsten Profrock (aka T++), who were members of Monolake at different points in time, and on albums which yielded its best-loved classics.
Since Silence, and on Ghosts, Henke has operated solo, with said vulnerabilities laid bare. The result is an unwitting retreat to the comforts of his sound design roots, with precedence given to surprise surprise – the crafting of sonic detail over composition.
Sure, some will argue that the Monolake aesthetic shuns tried-and-tested nostalgia for innovation and experimentation; that it’s about the reverent Robert Henke expressing himself in new ways, discovering fresh terrain, and pushing things forward. But if Ghosts represents the future, then it’s a future of sound, absent the experience of music.
Henke is not wrong to believe in detail. But he’s wrong if he believes that detail alone will suffice to have someone “listen to his tracks ten times” over. It’s an observation he’s made himself: “If you spend enough time, you can conglomerate enough detail. But you might end up (with) some highly complex IDM record which nevertheless is arbitrary. It's an arbitrary collection of amazing details.” Ghosts is, then, haunted by self-fulfilling prophecy.
04. Hitting the Surface
06. The Existence of Time
08. Unstable Matter
10. Aligning the Daemon
11. Foreign Object