Monolake: Ghosts
Imbalance Computer Music

Despite obvious advances in production technology, the Monolake style has retained a very marked sense of consistency throughout its tenure; there are moments on Ghosts, musically speaking, that wouldn't, for example, sound out of place on 2001's Gravity. Of course, that consistency of vision is easily explained, given that Robert Henke has been the driving creative force since the project's inception, even if Gerhard Behles and Torsten Pröfrock also have participated since the act's 1995 birth. As he did with 2009's Silence, Henke has included a text with Ghosts that offers some interpretive reference for those desirous of such context; other listeners might be inclined to disregard it so as to concentrate on the music alone. At the very least, the text's paranoiac and frantic tone matches the character of the music, which is so dark it might be deemed venomous. As he has done with previous recordings, Henke composed, edited, and recorded Ghosts entirely using Ableton Live, and his mini-arsenal of vintage synthesizers also figured heavily into the music's creation (a Sequential Circuits Prophet VS, a NED Synclavier II, a Yamaha DX-27, a Oberheim Xpander, etc.).

From the album's first moment, we're in familiar Monolake territory, with Henke's inimitable sound design immediately asserting itself in “Ghosts.” Scalpel-sharp beat structures, synthetic blasts and smears, and electronically altered voice utterances (“you… do… not… exist”) come together to form a foreboding overture whose mood will carry over into the album's subsequent settings. The also brooding “Toku” conjures a tropical rainforest of insects and creatures when not sprinkling the audio field with the mutating clatter of a rich percussive array that Henke generated from recordings of two empty glasses clinking together (paper, plastic sheets, and pebbles also were used as sound sources for the album's material).

“Afterglow,” “Hitting the Surface,” “Lilith,” and “Aligning the Daemon” are signature Monolake tracks: urgent, ominous, and often stripped down to skeletal rhythmic form and sprinkled with enigmatic voice transmissions and arresting sound design (an echo-drenched tear during “Hitting the Surface,” for instance, and the incessant pounding of industrial clangour during “Lilith”). As the album progresses, we're presented with variations on the theme, with each setting augmenting an aggressively insistent and ever-mutating percussive core with all manner of synthetic colour and effects. “Unstable Matter” pushes the Monolake sound to a new experimental extreme, with Henke crafting a macabre sound collage from a host of transformed source materials (cymbals, hi-hat, voice, metal plates, singing bowls, bells). Apparently created in three hours after Henke decided to move the title track from the closing slot to the start, “Foreign Object” merges a near-subliminal and thus suitably ghost-like medieval chant (a radically transformed Macintosh system voice) with one of the album's hardest-hitting beat patterns to end the album on a noticeably aggressive note. The way sounds fill the space provides a major source of pleasure as one absorbs the hour-long album, and Henke's handling of echo and reverb adds greatly to the music's impact and the listener's experience.

May 2012