Monday, June 04, 2007

Robert Henke "Layering Buddha"

Artist: Robert Henke
Album: Layering Buddha
Label: Imbalance Computer Music
Release date: 27 October 2006
Genre: Electronic
Style: Ambient

01. Layer 001
02. Layer 002
03. Layer 003
04. Layer 004
05. Layer 005
06. Layer 006
07. Layer 007
08. Layer 008
09. Layer 009
10. Layer 010
Total running time: 59' 05"

[Robert Henke - Layer 001 - Video Clip]

"Some years ago now, there was a long eBay saga involving a haunted box. Details aside, what struck me was the lose-lose nature of buying the box: if you buy it, and it’s not haunted, you’re always going to feel ripped off. And if you buy it and it is haunted… well, then you’re stuck with a haunted box, and all its eerie powers. How comforting then, that FM3 (Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian) have invented the perfect ‘haunted box’ for today’s hectic modern lifestyles, one which won’t give you nightmares, bloodshot eyes and fill your house with the smell of cat urine, but can function as an incredibly cool toy, is a perfect gift for the sound-geek who has everything, and can even be used to meditate with while waiting for your next international flight.

For FM3’s Buddha Machine is just such an enchanted object: the product of everything profane and rationalised in the world – small, plastic, mass-produced in China, running off AA batteries, available in several colours – it has nonetheless (or maybe because of this) captivated thousands of people around the world: not just the sound, but the whole object is so perfect, so apt. Musically, the Buddha Machine is just a very simple FM synthesizer that plays two different loop sequences – one direction with a very warm, ‘paddy’ sounding dronescape, and the other with a minor-key attacking/retreating loop which sounds like a hammer dulcimer. Although the loops are objectively very simple and low-fi, they produce a haunting, shifting atmosphere which you can concentrate on, vague out to or just ‘set and forget’ – I once left it on all day as an experiment. Depending on how much you crank up the output volume on the unit and the volume and EQs on your amplifier, you can get a wide range of sound effects and atmospheres. It’s an ingenious artefact, and something I’m not sick of ‘playing’ even a year or so after first getting my mitts on it.

No small wonder then that the Buddha Machine has also haunted the musical imagination of Robert ‘Monolake’ Henke. Given Henke’s two decades of experience working between the academic end of musical synthesis and the deeper dancefloors of the transnational technoscape (not to mention Henke’s work developing Ableton), it’s appropriate that the Machine ended up under Henke’s microscope with the stated aim of uncovering the secretive little ghosts within. Henke’s fascination finds its parallel in contemporary physics, where scientists are gaga for ‘God particles’ and so forth – if you pursue the fundamental building blocks with rational, objective analysis, the theories seem to suggest, if you observe closely enough, you will see ghosts, gods, spirits. It’s a fascinating concept for Henke’s new project, ‘Layering Buddha’, but… does it sound any good, in this case?

The answer is a reserved yes. There are moments here, plateaus of intensity where the obviously ‘generated’ noises begin to sound like human choirs, slowly subsiding into choruses of insects – is that water? Who’s that whispering? ‘Layer 004’ is a highlight. Likewise, in ‘Layer 007’ I perceive a rattling pulse like a cold diesel engine; a distant string section; a slow rumbling motorcade; a braying audience at a political rally. In this way, ‘Layering Buddha’ offers the audio-equivalent of cloud watching. I doubt whether any two people would offer the same analogies for what ‘it’ sounded like for them, but likewise, I doubt many people would be able to listen to the layers without conjuring their own evocative sense of shifting shapes, textures and effects.

Interestingly though, a lot of the material has an appreciably ‘Monolake’ sound to it, with Henke’s predilection for cold, barren, deserted landscapes in full effect. You can’t help but wonder if the material itself has become secondary, if not tertiary, which is question-begging: does ‘Layering Buddha’ ultimately reveal the ‘hidden details’ in the machine, or testify (first and second) to the incredible power of DSP and Henke’s specific tastes in sound? Are we focusing on what’s under the microscope, or awestruck by the instrument itself, its powers of magnification? Ultimately, the results of this experimental process are much more striking for what they are rather than how they sound. And even at their most captivating, they don’t de-mystify the object. Somehow, in exposing the ‘hidden details’, something of the holistic mystery of the Buddha Machine itself has escaped, suggesting not so much that Henke has ‘failed’, but that the Buddha Machine is possessed by a spirit which can’t be captured, even by the most dedicated, rigorous scientist. Not bad for a crummy little plastic toy, eh?" [source]

[Download.Buy Album.Buy Buddha Machine]

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