Monolake: Momentum

Monolake's music is distinguished immediately by its unique sound design and pristine aural sheen. From the group's Chain Reaction debut Hong Kong to Cinemascope, each of its releases has impressed as electronica of the most sophisticated and elegant kind. In truth, the rather intimidating Monolake image developed since 1995 by its music and visuals is one of cold severity and machine-like, Teutonic precision. It's hardly surprising, for example, that Robert Henke (the sole Monolake member since Gerhard Behles' departure) is credited as having 'constructed' Momentum, as doing so acknowledges forthrightly the technological root of its musical genesis. Yet, in spite of the music's cool digital façade, what gives it its deeper, humanizing dimension is Henke's guiding presence. This was borne out especially at MUTEK 2003 where Monolake gave a stunning performance (one Henke has acknowledged as the group's best concert in years) that was received rapturously by an adoring crowd. Whatever cool reserve the music has on record was completely overturned by the impassioned funk that Henke showcased that evening. It shouldn't surprise that this tension between the human and the machine pervades the group's music, as Henke typically finds himself split between performing concerts and developing Ableton LIVE software at his Berlin home base, an immersion he admits has profoundly influenced his music.

Momentum is a collection of nine massively reverberant tracks, some of which hark back to the vaporous soundscaping of Cinemascope while others, like “Cern” and “Linear,” evidence a newly aggressive attack and emphasize a deeply funky techno feel. “Linear” features a pulsating electro beat, whereas “Excentric” pairs a techno-funk rhythm with a deep bass, and then adds squawling synth accents and percolating percussion patterns. Similarly, the opener, “Cern,” is a powerful piece of futuristic techno besieged by an incessant barrage of percussion, chordal stabs, and garbled speech. A thudding bass figure anchors “Tetris,” while a magisterial beehive of shifting patterns constellates around it, sometimes subsiding to leave the bass alone and at other times collectively accumulating to generate a dense web of grinding tones, shimmering washes, and bubbling percussion. Simply put, “‘Cern,”' “Linear,” “Tetris,” and “Excentric” are some of the strongest tracks Monolake has ever created.

Evoking Monolake's established style, “‘White_II” punctuates a prototypical Monolake mid-tempo groove with percussive accents and streaking vaporous chords. Reminiscent of both Cinemascope and Porter Rick's Biokinetics, the hypnotic pounding beat in “Atomium” is used as a base for surging waves that emerge and recede. The aptly titled “Reminiscence” also evokes Monolake's roots. Its thunderously deep bass and simple hi-hat pattern establish a minimalistic groove that, when paired with billowing keyboard washes, resurrects a classic Chain Reaction style. And, in customary Monolake tradition, the recording eases up towards the end of “Stratosphere [Edit],” and then closes on a chill-out note with the becalmed “Credit.”'

As in the past, Monolake's music is less about conventional chord progressions and melodies and more about subtly mutating grooves and rich textural atmospheres, key stylistic qualities the group's music shares with dub. At times, Henke constructs sound sculptures, tracks that are both suspended in time and stretch across it for minutes on end. He typically creates a distinctive beat pattern whose predictable repetition is subverted by the layered accretion of electronic accents and percussion patterns. The amount of mesmerizing detail in a given track prevents the listener's attention from ever flagging; in essence, the absence of conventional melodic material is compensated for by the frenetic level of activity that becomes each track's hook. Fittingly, Henke has noted the commonality that exists between beauty in nature and machinery. Both, he believes, contend with a balance between chaos and order, between structural determination and the uniquely idiosyncratic variations that deviate from it. Monolake's music too shows a similarly effective rapprochement between order and freedom, resolution and suspension. It's a music that's both architecturally engineered and sculpturally shaped, a brilliant sonic artifact that draws equal strengths from the human heart and the scientific mind.

September 2003