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Monolake:
VLSI (Imbalance Computer Music)

Robert
Henke is somewhat of a legend in contemporary dance music. While
neither Henke nor his Monolake moniker may not be a household name
necessarily, Henke’s influence is indeniable, particularly
considering his role in German software startup Ableton. With his
original Monolake partner Gerhard Behles, Henke has greatly
influenced how electronic music is produced and performed in their
development of Ableton Live. Behles focuses his attention on Ableton
these days, while Henke has carried the Monolake torch mostly on his
own (though Torston Pröfrock aka Various Artists and T++ joined for
2005 album Polygon Cities). VLSI is comprised of tracks that have
been previously released on vinyl as a series of 12” EPs over the
last year, reworked, edited, and labeled as “VLSI Versions.”
Those who may have passed on the vinyl in hopes of a CD or digital
compilation now have it, but Henke didn’t include everything from
those releases, only select cuts. Anyone who’s dabbled in Monolake’s
output over the years ought to know what to expect by now, as Henke’s
repertoire is nothing if not consistent. Despite occasional
curveballs (the 30-minute ambient release Gobi: The Desert, for
instance), Henke has seemed less concerned with flipping the script
and more with honing his craft, pushing the sonic fidelity to be
clearer, deeper, cleaner. Twenty years in, and it’s hard to deny just
how damn good he is at what he does. So while VLSI might not pack
much in the way of surprise, it delivers the goods so well that its
tightly crafted production trumps the seemingly constant impulse
toward newness that can hinder appreciating solid, well made albeit
familiar music. Henke’s strength has always been in the contrast of
clean sounds and silence as well as a dramatic range of depth, with
some sounds totally dry and others decaying with big, spacious
reverb.

Consider the punchy drums of “Crash,” its steady dry kick
anchoring stabs that reverbate in the distance, smaller accents
peppered across the stereo spectrum — this to me is Henke at his
finest, touching on familiar dancefloor structures but flexing his
production prowess to achieve a broad sense of space and depth.
Perhaps the centerpiece of VLSI is “Geometry Engine,” released
earlier this summer on the G M O EP. It feels like the convergence of
so many Monolake gestures and staples — skittering trinkets, deep
humming pads, broad space, and even a downright scary wall of
Ligeti-esque drones that swells to capacity. It’s a nice contrast to
the clean, tightly wound beatmaking of “Pio,” characterized by
tinges of electro in its groove but otherwise characteristic Monolake
scientific coolness; it has a companion in the tiny beats of “Unit,”
another mid-tempo track that teeters into more overt musicality by
way of sweeping chords. But perhaps VLSI’s strongest ones feature his
sound sculpting without beats at all. “Inwards” and “Error”
are gaseous clouds of sound, hazy and chilling, while closing cut
“Glypnir” focuses on an undulating S&H synth underpinning
patient sweeps of tones, echoing the futureworld of Vangelis’s Blade
Runner
score but with a particularly glossy sheen. It’s no surprise
that Henke continues to earn the respect of his peers as he
influences music with his repertoire, strengthened yet again by this
series of records and its accompanying album digest.

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