"An arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds"

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Elastic tension

The Bundeskanzlerin must be putting something into the water. Leaving aside remasters like Kraftwerk's, 2009 has brought a raft of great new music from apparently reinvigorated Old Masters of several generations of German electronica: the Moritz von Oswald Trio's Vertical Ascent, Mark Ernestus' remix of Tortoise's Gigantes, Jelinek/Leichtmann/Pekler's Groupshow (& here) & Cluster's Qua are just a few prominent examples.

Robert Henke's Monolake project belongs in this elite company too. "Monolake is about complexity, about details, about the elastic tension between beats in the foreground and textural elements in the background."

Three outstanding releases this year - Silence, Atlas Titan & Atlas T++ Remix - are testimony to its vigorous health 13 years on from those pioneering Chain Reaction 12"s (& over 20 since Henke first met Gerhard Behles via Wieland Samolak).

Atlas' energy & atmosphere take a different, more distant turn in the glistening, dense rain of T++'s version (extended by his more abstract Test#10Seed_Bit, "based on nothing"). The cavernous Titan, meanwhile, is something of a dub techno masterclass.

But Silence surprises most. Far from the wispy, ethereal set suggested by its name, its relentless, punchy motion flogs a wealth of found sounds ("field recordings of airport announcements, hammering on metal plates at the former Kabelwerk Oberspree, Berlin, several sounds captured inside the large radio antenna dome at Teufelsberg, Berlin, dripping water at the Botanical Garden Florence, air condition systems and turbines in Las Vegas, Frankfurt and Tokyo, walking on rocks in Joshua Tree National Park, wind from the Grand Canyon, a friends answering machine, a printer, conversations via mobile phones, typing on an old Macintosh keyboard and recordings from tunnel works in Switzerland") into a spare, vital whole - in which whirring zither & click-drum make a kind of continuing marker.

Silence production notes (II): "The music on this album has not been compressed, limited or maximized at any production stage. Why not? Once upon a time, music had dynamics. There were loud parts, and there were more quiet parts. Then came radio. In radio there is a technical limit for the transmittable maximum volume. As a consequence the average level of music with a high dynamic range is lower than the average level of music with a low dynamic range. The loudest possible music in radio is music where every element is constantly hitting the limit, music with no dynamics at all. Radio, and more recently mp3 players and laptop speakers influenced the way popular music is composed, produced and mastered: Every single event has to be at maximum level all the time. This works best with music that is sonically simple, and music in which only a few elements are interacting. A symphony does not sound convincing thru a mobile phone speaker, and a maximized symphony does not sound convincing at all.

Monolake is about complexity, about details, about the elastic tension between beats in the foreground and textural elements in the background. We want to preserve that balance as much as possible in the final product and this is why the music on this album is produced without applying any compression.

About the mastering: Mastering was done entierly in the anolog domain, using a selection of vintage and high end EQs running at 'hot levels'. This implies there is a certain degree of saturation going on in very loud parts due to electrical characteristics of the tubes, transistors and audio transformers involved, but that's it as far as nonlinear behaviour is concerned."

LMYE hacks of monolake.de's samples from the releases into a couple of user-friendly tasters are below. Obviously, after hearing them you'll be rushing out to buy the lot...

On the way, savour the site's many treats. Its host of free downloads include a recommended piece from former Monolake member & Atlas remixer T++ (Therefore_Version 5) & a live encounter between Henke and Hauntologist/Cheap & Deepster Jay Ahern (Termulator X Live in Belgrade).

It also goes some way to suggest Henke's considerable hinterland - his art installations, his pioneering work with software & his deep thinking about sound (check out the fascinating interview between Henke & mastering, er, master Rashad Becker).

Important: LMYE only makes music available that artists/labels have chosen to share freely. Let us know if something here shouldn't be.


Derek Walmsley said...

Wieland Samolak is a real person, I believe. The description of him on the Monolake site is apparently completely accurate.

JL said...

Derek, many thanks for the guidance - had persuaded myself otherwise! Post amended. Best, Julian / LMYE

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