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Monolake - Momentum

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Artist: Monolake

Album: Momentum

Label: Monolake

Review date: Nov. 12, 2003

Having made his mark as a member of Berlin’s Basic Channel/Chain Reaction collective, Monolake’s Robert Henke has continued to prove himself a force to be reckoned with. Not simply content to remain under the collective’s umbrella, Henke maintains his own label [ml/i], collaborates with Canadian artist Deadbeat as Atlantic Waves, and has spent the two years since the release of 2001’s enthralling, Cinemascope assisting with the development of former Monolake partner, Gerhard Behles’ Live 2 Ableton software for stage performance. At this years Mutek festival, Henke came out of hiding to play a well-received closing night set which showcased his new direction for Monolake; focusing on deep rhythmic flourishes as an extension of his dubient workouts of yore – a route fleshed out in full on Momentum, his first new album in two years.

“Cern” opens Momentum with a rush of metallic ping-pong balls bouncing endlessly within a glass tunnel, producing shattering echoes that overlap one another with clinical precision. Just as the ensuing rhythmic patterns approach disarray, a schizophrenic notion grabs hold of the tattered remains with voices conjured from dead radio frequencies. Henke doesn’t let go with “Linear”, pummeling the listener with a 242 bpm parade of rhythmic intensity that churns the voices into robotic nightmare chants. Just as blisters start to form around the ear canal, Monolake return to their familiar soothing waters with “Atomium”, the aural equivalent of tunnel vision. Clattering percussive ticks propel the soothing bassline to generate streams of echo; fans of Hong Kongwill revel in these reverberations. “White II” continues this mining of previous patterns with synth washes that compound a downtempo breakbeat, slowing the disc’s forward momentum, as the track never seems to begin or end.

“Tetris” combines Henke’s experienced subtle ambiance with his newfound love of discordance. Smooth droning plains are transposed with complex scattering tones, resembling a coded language that turns every rhythmic pattern it approaches inside out. The ghosts of forgotten German electronic musicians turn “Excentric” into a backwards Sky Records release by deconstructing its simple melodic framework with each keystroke. The album closing “Credit” is a frozen soundscape a la Thomas Koner, with depth charge bass rumbling beneath a whispering drone. Not since Gobi. The Desert has Henke attempted such an esoteric move.

In the past, Monolake was well known for integrating field recordings into their sound, creating lush symphonics out of an airport’s interior or chronicling the daily soundtrack of a highway mile marker. Their updated version of musique concrete was strikingly distinctive in a genre filled with repetitive clones. With Momentum, Henke has left these devices behind and set out to explore the unfamiliar territory of rhythmic complexity previously dormant within his sound. For those who salivate over their Basic Channel 12”s and are stuck on the salad days of Berlin minimalism, Henke’s progression will infuriate to no end. Momentum may not be the most polished of releases, yet it captures an absorbing portrait of Monolake in midstream.

By Everett Jang Perdue

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