Robert Henke: Layering Buddha
Imbalance Computer Music

Anyone still clinging to the belief that digital tools handicap an artist's ability to impose a personal signature upon his/her work need only consider Robert Henke's recorded output as a case study. His indelible signature imprints itself upon all projects, regardless of whether he's operating under his given name or Monolake guise. Nowhere is that more evident than in Layering Buddha where Henke produces ten pieces using sounds solely generated by FM3's (Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian) renowned Buddha Machine. For those unfamiliar with the device, it's a low-fi miniature case that plays nine pre-recorded loops; due to its low sampling rate and bit resolution, the machine's sound is thin and rough (not unpleasantly so, however, as its crude quality induces nostalgic recollections of early video games and childhood toys). Though most of the album's pieces are based on a single source loop, Henke generated permutations by filtering, pitch-shifting, and layering the original loops, and by creating new ones from parts of the originals.

What results is Henke in classic soundscaping mode, with Layering Buddha's slowly unfurling waves of shimmering sound closer in spirit to Signal To Noise than Polygon_Cities. The ten pieces are dense, subtly morphing masses that are predominantly steely in character though an aquatic dimension appears in track four. Admittedly, as magnificent and meditative a sonic experience as the hour-long work provides, it also in some ways goes entirely against the innocent spirit of the original. Henke, for example, used state-of-the-art recording equipment to draw sounds out of the Buddha Machine device that lie outside the normal listening range and in doing so exposed previously hidden aspects of the original material. Consequently, while the sonic results are far richer by comparison, the quaint charm of the device vanishes in the process. Though occasional traces of the Buddha Machine's grainy buzz surface, more often than not Henke's majestic, sweeping settings seem light years removed from the modest loops one hears emanating from FM3's original.

Note that the release is available in two formats: as a CD where the ten pieces function as an extended travelogue, and as a limited-edition vinyl box set containing five grey vinyl seven-inch discs (so long as one has multiple turntables, the latter allows the listener to play two or more records simultaneously just as one might using multiple Buddha Machines).

January 2007