di Giulia Sarno
[Robert Henke is a composer, artist and software developer, born in 1969 in Munich, Germany. He is mainly known for his contributions to contemporary electronic music, for his laser works, and as co-creator of the music software Ableton Live. He will be performing his work Dust in Florence for Tempo Reale Festival on November 29]
In 1995 you founded Monolake. The same year, the Wire magazine published an article titled Stockhausen vs the “Technocrats”: journalist Dick Witts contacted the German composer and asked him to listen to music by four young artists of the electronic/techno scene (Aphex Twin, Scanner, Plastikman and Daniel Pemberton) and comment on that. Three of them then replied. As Simon Emmerson points out, «to most readers this must appear to be a hilarious document». Nonetheless, the piece well photographs a friction moment in the long and complex history of Western “academic” music and “popular” musics. Where do you think we are now in this respect? Has anything changed?
I am not an expert in popular music, and neither am I one of the academic world. I never considered my own work to fit in one of those bins, I saw it as rather experimental, and somehow influenced by a lot of very diverse sources. And as with every more radical practice, once it starts resonate with a lot of people, it becomes part of a main stream culture. The merits of this are more exposure, more festivals, the ability to reach more people. The downside might be that finding a personal language without the feeling all has been said before is more challenging. But given the fact that there is so much amazing music happening now especially from very young artists all over the world, and that this music so effortless merges club culture and musique concrete I would say a lot of things changed in a pretty fantastic way.
Your path as an artist combines research on technology and on music. What technological developments you find most promising today?
I don’t see myself anymore as ‘technology driven’ artist. I use what i like to use, and i don’t care if it is the latest or if it is 40 years old. I do observe what can be done with AI and machine learning, I notice how far we got with source separation algorithms (which for instance allow to isolate a singing voice or any other instrument in a mix in previously unheard precision) and such things, but I do not feel the immediate need to use those in my own works, simply because I am not nearly done exploring the tools I already have. I am not particularly impressed by art that follows a ‘more is more’ approach where the impact seems to be so much defined by how many lasers, pixels, screens etc. are present at an event. I’d rather find beauty in small details. If technology can help me doing this, it is very welcome.
What kind of music do you find most interesting these days? Could you suggest three artists / albums / works?
I never answer this question, my personal taste is quite irrelevant, and I am not nearly well enough informed about the vast landscape of current electronic music to provide a good answer to that. I listen to a lot of different things, sometimes I am coming back to a few specific records from the past, re-evaluating if I still feel they are relevant for me or ‘good’ in a more absolute sense, and sometimes I just dive into very new things, especially when going out with friends and exploring artists live. The very last thing i saw was Shygirl here in Berlin in a small club and that was definitely powerful and fresh. The last thing that made me think about current practise was a feature about Billie Eilish, in which it became apparent that the production is mostly done in a bedroom with a PC. So much for how technology changed and what that means for music production and enabling artistic expression. Who needs walls of hardware anymore?
What are we to expect from your Florence performance?
My piece Dust is a slow drone piece, quite harmonic most of the time, and very improvised. If it goes well it creates a state of elevated timelessness. I slowly navigate through complex sonic textures, in surround, with the audience and myself in the middle. I am not even sure if it counts as music, it is more like painting with sonic textures, very ‘visual’ without having visuals.