The most important aspect of Robert Henke‘s productions is that sound and vision are treated as one absolute unity. As part of Melbourne Music Week, the German audio-visual artist will debut Lumière II in Australia. A progression from Lumière I, Lumière II is a laser show that morphs and creates geometric figures and organic structures in sync with sound. Inspired by the constantly expanding possibilities of applied computer science and technology, Henke explores new territories between musical composition, performance and installation.
He will also perform under his Monolake moniker later this week for MMW. First established as a duo with Gerhard Behles in 1995, it later became to a solo project, while Behles focused on running the music software company Ableton. Maintaining a strong relationship with Behles, Henke went on to become one of the main creators of Ableton Live; the first music software for performance.
Lumière II is presented by the Melbourne Recital Centre and Melbourne Music Week in association with The Goethe-Institut Australia. This performance is apart of The Goethe-Institut Australia’s Urban Subcultures; a curated event series that showcases the ‘Brilliant Dilletantes’ subculture in 1980s Berlin and across Germany.
Ahead of his two performances, Robert Henke chats about his inspirations, building an alphabet for Lumière II and the progression of audio-visual art over time.
What is it about computer science that drew you to combining it with sound engineering?
I come from a family background of engineering, and I was always interested in the arts. When I was young I discovered electronic music and decided this is what I’d like to do. once I understood that sounds and structure can be created using computers, I knew that there is a path from the technical side to the creation of art.
What is the connection between sonic and visual elements of your performance?
They are not separated, but rather two aspects of the same process. I am not interested in ‘writing music for a film’, or ‘adding visuals to a song’. I try creating works in which the two aspects act as one unity. That involves coding and setting up technical systems which allow me to treat the two things as one and it also has to do with a conceptual thinking. Lumière is an interesting example here, I build a system for it that does allow me to compose with ‘audiovisual events’, which are notes that at the same time create a specific sound and an assigned shape. I basically created my own alphabet for it.
How would you go about creating a particular sequence?
For Lumière II I started with building the alphabet, which implied finding interesting shapes and assigning sounds to them. Then the composition began from the very outside, with the overall shape or narrative of the whole performance, and then diving into the details of each segment, down to the timing of every single element.
What inspires you to make music under Monolake that is different to that in your lighting design? How do you balance between these two disciplines?
I like club music, I like techno, and Monolake allows me to continue working in this field and contribute to the evolution of this still interesting genre.
I have phases in which I spend a lot of time in the studio, just doing music and other times where I work with the lasers and envision large-scale installation projects.
Do you think that visual art (like the lighting and stage setup) have an impact on how people experience an event today?
We have multiple senses and the perception of music always was and will be connected to the visual presentation of it and the social environment. Think of grand opera houses, churches, techno temples. The media might change, the ideas do not.
Do you think there is a greater emphasis put on multidisciplinary art today?
No, there is just easier access to technology. In earlier decades doing large-scale multimedia works was limited to a handful extremely successful commercial productions, think of e.g. Pink Floyd live shows. Again, theater, opera, dance, it has all been there since very very long times.
What sort of impression do you want to leave viewers with after experiencing your performance?
Something which is new to them and that touches them on an emotional level because that’s what counts at the end, despite all the technology.
How do you see the genre of visual-auditory art developing in ten years time?
Ask me again in ten years. The more technology becomes available for everyone, the more the focus has to be on the results. It will not be possible to impress people with technological advanced artistic nothing anymore. I hope.
The original Lumière debuted in 2013 in Poland. How has that performance and Lumière I evolved into Lumière II?
Lumière I was much rougher and more improvised, and I did hit limits on how complex and refined it can be, thus I decided to re-do it completely and develop a much more refined version, that is more precomposed. That also implied a complete rewrite of the software, which took a very long time, but was absolutely worth it in retrospective. Lumière II is a lot of carefully crafted moments and developments, but I still have lots of ways to shape it during the performance, because I need to be able to react spontaneously or I get bored.
What have you got planned for Melbourne Music Week? Have you prepared any differently to another country or venue?
Each venue requires a certain degree of adaption for Lumière. A lot of architectural drawings have been sent back and forth to ensure we can present Lumière in the best possible way in Melbourne. I am quite confident it will work out very well!
Monolake + Echo Inspectors + Spilt Silo
Wednesday, 18th November
Robert Henke – Lumière II
Thursday, 19th November
Melbourne Recital Centre
For more information, head to thatsmelbourne.com.au/mmw