Robert Henke is recognized as a world-leading composer, performer, and technical innovator in contemporary electronic music. In 1995, he founded the Monolake musical project with Gerhard Behles, with whom he also developed Ableton Live—music software that is now widely accepted as the premier platform for electronic music production. Henke‘s recent solo live performances such as Lumière combine his original compositions with computer-programmed laser imagery. Henke was a member of the music faculty at Berlin University of the Arts, and was selected as Mohr Visiting Artist at Stanford University in 2013.
Henke is also known for his sound installations, including the latest Ritual, commissioned by the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook University in New York. The sound of Ritual was transmitted to visitors through a column of seven Meyer Sound MM-4XP self-powered loudspeakers.
Here is a Q&A with Robert Henke on his vision for Ritual, the importance of sound reinforcement and room acoustics in his work, and how a noise can provide an amazing spatial experience.
What prompted the name “Ritual” for this installation?
The process is very simple: Just cut out a slice and replace it with a slice from a different channel. The name “Ritual” came from the very stubborn way to take a piece, a slice and move it from one buffer to another, and then do the same with a next one. I realized that this was some type of ritual. There is no explanation. There is a rule and you simply follow it and observe the outcome.
As the installation cycles through, the pure tones become mixed and develop rhythmic patterns until they become almost blended—before cycling back to the beginning. But why did you need a separate loudspeaker for each channel?
In later stages of the process, when all the buffers have changed, it seems very noisy, though there are certain aspects in it that are rhythmic. When getting closer to a single speaker you suddenly hear all the rich detail going on inside that one source.
When the material devolves into noise, does the imaging of the detail matter as much as it does for discrete tones?
Henke: Yes, it’s amazing how much more dimension you get from the seven speakers. It is a noise that is extremely satisfying; it is not like pink noise or white noise. It is more like the sound of the ocean, where there is a dimensionality to it—a width and depth. It is an amazing spatial experience. If you take a stereo field recorder, go to the beach, capture the sound of the ocean, then take it home and play it in stereo, it does not have the same sense of space. You cannot resolve it simply in stereo.
So, what you’re saying implies that a high-quality loudspeaker is needed to resolve the subtleties, correct?
I wanted to have a very precise translation of what is going on in the sound files into the room. If you get close to the speakers, you can hear astonishing details. For example, you have clicks that are only one sample long. These are signals with extremely precise transients. The fact that the transients are resolving so precisely adds to the overall impression of the installation. The precision of the process is transmitted by the loudspeakers, so it is preserved. In a way, the loudspeakers help me to put sounds under some kind of microscope.
Which makes the MM-4XP loudspeakers an obvious choice. How did you find out about them?
If you draw nearer, you are moving closer to a point source, and not into the close field of a three-way system where you always lose coherence. That’s another reason why these speakers are perfect for this installation and this content.
You are careful to specify high-quality loudspeakers in tech riders for your performances. But in most interviews about electronic music performance, the focus tends to be on the software and controllers. Loudspeakers are rarely mentioned.
In my opinion, there are actually two basic parts that are never discussed: the acoustical space and the loudspeakers. You can’t really separate the two. It seems that the notion is, “Here is my output from my sound card; you take it from here.” So the responsibility of the artist ends with an XLR connection to the mixing console. For everything else, some anonymous sound person is responsible. For me, that never really worked out.
For example, I often play at event spaces that were not meant for musical performance in the first place, such as a former factory that does not have ideal acoustic proportions. Yet somebody decided this is the right PA for it, and sometimes you have to deal with that. But I prefer to think about what I am doing in a much more integral way where I understand the room, the placement of the speakers, and the quality of the speakers themselves. I like to have the ability to choose what speakers are used for a specific situation. I’ve learned that this has a huge impact on how the final result works out.
What qualities are important in choosing a loudspeaker for your performances or installations?
Also, I really like to have precise transients from a system. That’s why I do not use compression, which is probably very rare, especially in electronic dance music. For example, I don’t like a sound where the kick drum is modulating the bass line because the system is compressing. For me it is exhausting to listen to.
I would rather have a sound system that is so powerful that if I have a sharp transient in the bass I can really make use of it. I would rather have a bass drum and a moment of silence, instead of the bass drum, bass line, and snare all at 0 dB constantly. For that reason I need a larger PA than artists who work with compression. I need the headroom for the clean transients.
The original article can be found here: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/MeyerSoundNews/~3/3HJvF_PnO-o/
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