Monolake is the musical output of one man named Robert Henke.Monolake began in the mid-1990's as a duo comprised of Henke and Gerhard Behles.Behles left most of the musical duties to Henke after their 1997 'Hong Kong' album.Both Henke and Behles are also programmers and founders of the software company Ableton.
Why does this matter in the context of this review?Because Ableton has made a software application called Live that is honest to god the best thing since sliced bread.Live is a revolutionary program in which the user can play audio clips in time with one another regardless of the tempo at which they were originally recorded.All of this can be done live (hence the name) in real time with effects and outboard processing as well.This has not been terribly easy to do before and this is why Live is also just about the best thing to come along since digital audio began to be commercially viable.It is also the main program used to create the latest Monolake album, 'Momentum.'
Monolake's music has been progressing steadily since their beginning.Having started as part of the Berlin Dub scene (Basic Channel, Chain Reaction and Hard Wax being some of their compatriots), Monolake's music began as very ambient, house and dub influenced tracks.Quiet and subtle, their music flowed along while peacefully throbbing away with beats and simple melodies.But things changed soon after with the release of 'Interstate' and the 'Gobi Desert' EP, which blazed the trail for Monolake's developing sound, leaving melodies behind for the most part and going straight into sound manipulation and distorted beats.
CERN opens the CD with a kick!This is good jumpy techno.We are being sent into a high-speed futuristic city by this tune.It almost feels like a Blade Runner-esque chase scene with the fast pace and sonic stabs and smears that roar by as the song progresses.The drums are different form the usual Monolake beats in that they are much more insistent, a pervasive trend in the album.This album has a greater edge to it than other Monolake efforts.We are aware a transformation is underway.Swirling pads come in at odd angles like flying cars sweeping in and out of traffic jams in a city of tomorrow.
- LINEAR is like a robot rebellion dance party.Gary Numan once wrote a song called 'When the Machines Rock,' but this is what it'd really sound like.The drums rattle, bang and hiss along all at the same time.A sound like a synthesized voice calls from around corners to its fellow digital brethren.Tracks like this truly emphasize the more 'technoid' approach Henke says was involved in creating this album.Ain't a lick of melody in sight on this song.
- ATOMIUM sounds like those very machines plotting for war, amidst a stormy night.Hissing spitting rain pours out from left and right while the beat is less aggressive but still insistent.Insect-like sounds emerge alongside the sound of marching feet.Something is stirring inside the machine and it sounds angry.
- WHITE II is a slow journey by train through dusk-lit lands.Vistas begin unrolling to either side as you make your journey.Again, rattling insect-like sounds emerge as your journey progresses.Swelling, shifting swaths of sound emerge as the soundscape spreads out around you.A lone hand clap emerges to round out the beat as this journey continues (This track originally appeared on Opensource Code compilation from DeBug).
- TETRIS opens and death looms.Be afraid.Very afraid.Little beasts crawl everywhere in this song as a low heartbeat and the sounds of bells ringing tell of impending disaster.An atmosphere of unease pervades in the track.Good listening for dark and stormy nights.
- EXCENTRIC drags on a bit long, but is over by the time you notice it.It's simple bass-like riff plods through the background while scratches and rattles move and skitter about the airspace.This is my least favorite track on the disc, but it's still better than many songs by others in this genre.
- REMINISCENCE is about as full on techno as Monolake gets these days.This track harkens back especially to Hong Kong era monolake.More melodic than most Monolake tracks, which are usually more atmospheric nowadays.This is a nice blend of dance floor and soundscapes.Henke's methods are quite evident here with a simple beat holding the fort so that sounds can mingle and fold into one another.A very simple melodic element comes in to play every so often to flesh out the pieces.This and CERN may be my favorite track on this CD.Very dark and insistent.
- STRATOSPHERE opens with what sounds like an old-fashioned beatbox chugging away along with oil drums.Echoes pan out from left to right and white noise washes through in classic Berlin dub style.
- CREDIT is the albums closer and it takes us out in total darkness.A chorus of cold voices illuminates deep, dark caverns as robotic voices break down, trying to tell us their story.These soon degrade into swirling oil slicks of sound as the darkness draws deeper.
'Momentum' is classic Monolake and classic German techno for the 21st century.And it's not unlike fine German beer:Very dark, very strong and very good.Henke is continuing to expand his craft and work with technology to take our ears and minds into new territories.