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05. March 2012
Robert Henke didn't just live through the beginnings of the Berlin techno scene – he helped shape it as a DJ and sound designer. Since the 90's, Henke has been specializing on electronic music and playing galleries and festivals with soul and concept music, as well clubs and nightlife gigs with his Monolake act. But it doesn't stop there. Besides his performances, Henke teaches sound design at the University of the Arts in Berlin and works as a software developer. His name is affiliated with the development of Ableton “Live”, a new music production software. Developed in the late 90's, Ableton is one of the leading suppliers on the market today.
Robert Henke's new Album “Ghost” was released on February 27.
You have been making music for over 15 years and were part of the early techno culture in Berlin in the early 90's. Do you get nostalgic thinking back on that time?
That's the thing with nostalgia – everything gets tainted. Of course it was cool to go to Panasonic and WMF but there were just ans many unpleasant things. I can live without outdoor toilets and I don't want to listen to 808 bass drums and a C-minor chord with delays for the rest of my days.
How have you developed musically since then?
I rose up from C-minor chords to D-minor. It's such a different feeling! With the old stuff, you can hear how the new technological potential was exhausted. Today, anything's possible so it's more a question of what exactly you want to do with all these possibilities. I can rely on a great pool of musical and tonal gestures that I've acquired and from which I can build new creations. That's the biggest difference: It's not about creating something radically different but about a musical-narrative approach: Which emotions, which timbre do I want to reach and how do I go about doing it? Ideally, I don't have to think about technical problems but just in terms of musical categories. And I don't like to be pushed into one or the other. If I feel like making a song with a drum'n'bass rhythm, then I'll do it, even if that means I can't mix it in a dubstep set.
Club music oder experimental sound installations – what's more your thing?
Every place and every situation can be magical. A club can be just as boring as a gallery and vice versa. That whole differentiation is completely outdated anyway, it's a construct. Sound art: static waves in a space, the experience of a space through sounds, an altered perception through a change of the listener's position. Club: same thing! If it's good, then it doesn't matter where it happens. It's always about experience and overwhelming, and that works in a movie theater, a club or a gallery. It just depends on your event.
You've described yourself as a mix between an engineer and a musician. How is that reflected in your music?
Not significantly, I hope. I don't want people to like the music because it's technologically elaborate – we're way past that! People should listen to it because it's fun to listen to, whether it's a single sinus sound or three hundred million phase twirled nano grains via non linear wavelet synthesis. When making music, it's helpful to know what you're doing, but for listening, it's enough to bang on a trash can.
What do you call yourself? A DJ? A composer? An artist?
Artist is fine. Everyone is an artist.
You're one of the founders of Ableton. How do you explain the program's success?
That's a myth. The co-founder and former Monolake-member Gerhard Behles pulled me into the company shortly after it was founded and a bunch of people thought of Live together. It was successful because we introduced a new conept that other companies hadn't thought of at the time. It was based on the experience that Gerhard and I had developed while making music together, so we knew that it worked and that there had to be many other musicians besides us that would want to try similar things with their computers. It's very easy to develop a good product if you're an expert in the field that you're working on and if you can stand behind that work.
Do you use Live?
Sure, I've been using it practically every day for ten years and if you asked me what I would take on a deserted island, I'd say: A laptop with Live on it and a pair of good speakers.
Another question about your origins: Was it always a dream of yours to make money off your music?
I always thought I'd end up working somewhere in the technological domain. I have an engineering degree and I studied a little computer science. The music and the art developed very slowly and I never relied on it completely. I'm actually very happy that I was never a hyped up celebrity, it's been great how things have been developing very comfortably.
Have you ever thought about doing anything else?
I guess I'm too much of an artist: I never asked myself that question. I keep doing different stuff: I compose, I perform, I work on installations, I teach, I develop software, I write lyrics, I manage a label – so maybe something entirely different would be: A vacation?
Do you still party?
Rarely. But stepping out of a club at dawn once or twice a year is an important ritual!
Favorite DJ/ live act?
There are too many to name. I played a set in Brussels the other day, and Anstam came on afterwards – I really enjoyed his live set. And I recently listened to a set by Electric Indigo at Farbfernseher that I would have liked to dance to if it hadn't been so incredibly crowded.
(interview: abi; photos: Esther Suave/HiPi)