Monolake: Robert Henke and T++

Robert Henke and Monolake

Robert Henke and Torsten “T++” Pröfrock came to Japan to perform as Monolake at the Soundz from Germany festival 2005 in may, one of the more experimental events organized by the Goethe Institute for the German Year in Japan. Robert and Thorsten sneaked out for a little interview at IMGSRC, before they had to go back to the club to start their show.

Interview by Uleshka

Robert- you are a musician but also a successful programmer having various music software you developed, bridging over to visuals. How and why did you get into programming in the first place?

I actually come from an engineer’s family, so I guess that’s sort of in my genes. I got into making music and was most fascinated by electronic instruments. When I then moved to berlin I was often at the Technical University Berlin, an amazing research place, where I descovered Max, which later became Max MSP. Since I am always open for new technologies and had some ideas of where I wanted to go with my own music, the logic conclusion for me was to write software for making music, which allowed me to produce music I could not do otherwise.

You joined in with Gerhard Behles developing Ableton Live. What did all the existing music programmes lack, that you felt the need to create Live?

Screenshot Ableton LIVE

Screenshot Ableton LIVE

Historically, music software was designed for engineers and not for musicians. It was more of a construction tool, rather than an instrument. Live was actually the first software which was made for musicians, designed for playing and immediate results. Our first priority was to create something that could be used on stage- Live.

How did Live change since its beginning and what is likely to change in the future?

At the beginning, Live was clearly defined as a tool for playing on stage. Then we realized that a lot of people also use it in a studio, so we adjusted to that as well. The main idea now is a software that functions as the center of your studio, but still is not nearly as complicated as the existing solutions. We tried to keep it simple and at the same time make it more complete.

I am actually very curious to get to know more about the Atlantic Waves project. As far as I know, it is a very easy to operate software, which can be played from two different locations (e.g. over the internet) using a fixed set of sounds. The whole idea is, that people who are physically separated from each other can still make music together and influence the resulting track at real time. How did you come up with that?

Basically, I wanted to make music with my friend Scott from Deadbeat. He is in Montreal and I am in Berlin, so we had to come up with something that solved that problem. “What would be the most simple thing to do in order to play together?”, is what we asked ourselves. We made a very rough sketch on paper and there it was: the internet solution bridging the Atlantic Waves between us.

Screenshot Atlantic Waves

Screenshot Atlantic Waves

You have done a couple of performances with Atlantic Waves already. What were your experiences?

It is actually quite amazing, how simple the tool is and yet, how much there is still to learn. We are still in the testing phase and I must say that every time we play, we improve a lot.

Once, I was playing at my studio in Berlin while Scott played in Detroit in a very very big club. It was really strange for me, to chill in my little room with “room acoustics”, knowing that at the same time in a different space, Scott played in front of masses of people, hugely loud. At one point Scott wrote to me using the chat function on Atlantic Waves: “Everyone is crying now!”. That was a very nice moment!

Screenshot Atlantic Waves- Montreal

Screenshot Atlantic Waves- Berlin

You told me, that you also use Atlantic Waves for visual projections, some kind of VJ substitute maybe?

Yes. It is actually quite funny how well that works. Everyone can follow exactly what we do. You can see the tracks and how Scott or I put in new sounds and take them out again. We can play little games with it, like writing words (which sometimes sound really well) or teasing each other, by switching off the sound layer the other just prepared… Making it obvious for the audience what’s happening on our screens is very simple, but enough visual stimulation it seems. All of a sudden, you can follow the process of making music. It also breaks the image of the musician just staring in a box and not doing anything.

I heard you also made an installation using Atlantic Waves in a church? How did that work?

Atlantic Waves installation

Atlantic Waves installation

We actually developed an installation version of Atlantic Waves. For the church one, we installed two terminals in two rooms, far from each other. Each terminal had a trackball and a display, where the visitors could just look and play with the sounds themselves. It was great for everyone to modify the music so easily and especially to experience the difference of sound, when you change your location within the church.

Atlantic Waves installation

Atlantic Waves installation

You told me the story of your first time playing in Japan and how much you liked it. Being asked what visuals you preferred, you answered: just make everything blue, nothing else. Being a musician, what do you think about visuals in general? Do you find them necessary?

I think if you are playing alone with your laptop, it can easily feel a little empty, because it is usually not obvious what you do and there is not so much to see for the audience. My ideal of visuals in a concert situation is to have something very simple and abstract that is just enhancing the existing, something that does not necessarily work without the music.

Again, I started to develop some software… generating simple geometrical shapes linked to the music – which look like a huge machinery sometimes. The video work is still very much of a prototype. It is just the beginning of what I am interested in.

Monolake visuals

Monolake visuals

Momentum is an album, which you produced entirely at home. What is the studio in the future going to be? What kind of hardware do you need?

Oh- I am always fighting about that! Using nothing but a laptop has the big advantage of having it all in one. Perfect, actually! I believe that in the future, people in the electronic field won’t use anything else anymore. However, I am from a generation where the ultimate tools of making music have been huge machines, so I have a very strong emotional relationship to these machines. It is not only the tactile experience of twisting knobs, but also the fact that I like working with machines which in some period have been “state of the art instruments”. You can simply feel, that some people spent an incredible amout of love and dedication to create these products.

Momentum cover

Robert Henke’s studio

With your Signal to Noise album, you started a “Robert Henke solo”, which appears to bit a bit of a sound study. How does that differ from Monolake?

I currently think that Monolake is a project of research into club music and future club music whereas Robert Henke is just me and whatever I find interesting apart from that.

I played as Robert Henke at the Mutek Fesival in Mexico last year: an open air concert with 4 channels, very wide apart in some kind of landart sculpture with volcanic origin that made everyone feel, like being on the moon. It was amazing! Playing there felt like celebrating some kind of hyper-nature.

Signal to Noise- cover

Mutek Festival Mexico

Just recently, Torsten joined Monolake again. Are you catching up on past projects?

Everything you do is a logic progression and it cannot be totally different from your usual traces. We extend the genre of techno music into a new direction, by avoiding the classical techno groove. We try to create music which is somewhere in between techno and electro: it sounds different, has a different rhythmical structure, but works in the same context. This is hopefully a futuristic approach towards techno music.

It is actually amazing to see, that there are more possibilities for creating new music now than ever: endless effects, which mostly turn out to be the same, boring music. It might be better to limit your possibilities and try to master only a few instruments.

That is an approach, we really like: exploring what you can do, with a limited amount of things.

Monolake Polygon Cities cover

Robert and Torsten researching

Next monolake performances 2005
July 7, GB, Manchester, tba.
July 8, GB, Newcastle
July 9, GB, London
August 4, DE, Berlin
August 27, USA, Museum of Modern Art, New York
and many more to come

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