Robert Henke's Lumière, in the simplest terms, is an audio-visual laser-show. It uses state-of-the-art lasers, pushed to their limits, to rapidly draw constantly morphing shapes, lines, and interconnected points, while intense minimal techno music provides a potent counterpoint. Lumière is a project with many iterations, spanning the world. Through these iterations Robert Henke is constantly refining what can well be described as his masterwork. Lumière links a deep interest in light and sound with mastery of a piece of world-renowned software – Ableton – that Henke founded and developed. Ableton is arguably the seminal software for live electronic music performance.
In Lumière the sounds control the visuals and the visuals control the sounds. The same set of attributes controls both the lasers expressed as light, on remote machines, and the lasers expressed as sound. Even the sounds are controlled by shape commands, the laser computers interpret these commands as visuals and movements, and an audio computer interprets them as sounds. Though this sounds very simple, both the software and hardware implemented are quite involved, requiring a substantial amount of programming by Henke. Fully realizing Lumière involved innovating the laser technology beyond what the laser company had previously been doing, beyond even commercial capabilities. It takes a lot of hard work to make something look so simple and work so gracefully. Lumière is a tour-de-force, each iteration seeking the cutting-edge, the full potential of the technologies involved.
Though Lumière might have elements of a technical demonstration, creating something beautiful and stunning for its own sake. Henke addresses this subject himself, saying:
“For me, working with computers or technology is not just a rational process. I find this a very strange construction, this whole idea that technology has nothing to do with emotions – that's not true. An organ pipe is technology, a guitar string is technology, a grand piano is technology, that's all technology, research and science. Mixing colours for painting – that's science, that's chemistry. There's so much science in art anyway. So we are constantly using science to create beauty, it's a normal part of a process.” Nakaitė, Radvilė (undated) “Chasing ghosts in the machines - the exclusive interview with Robert Henke”
The lasers in Lumière draw shapes and lines and even words by very rapidly flashing single points of light while moving with incredible speed. This allows the imagery to retain a crisp accuracy, but it also points toward an underlying communality and emotionality in the work. This is further emphasized in the end of the performance as the words “CODE” and “LOVE” appear; the only words depicted in the entire piece. The words and their pairing point toward a multitude of possible interpretations. While “code” as connotations of precision and the technological, “love” suggests the shared experience of the audience, the way they have just been brought together by witnessing Lumière in a shared physical, mental, temporal, and emotional space. Just as the imagery of Lumière is impossible without a coalescing of countless points of (laser) light, the amplified emotional event itself could not happen without the presence of the crowd; points of light creating a whole.
NoiseFold 2.0 by the creative duo NoiseFold deals with a similar level of technological mastery, in this case MaxMSP, and audio-visual complexity. The core of NoiseFold is Cory Metcalf and David Stout. As in Lumière, NoiseFold 2.0 is also performance-based, incorporating stunning visuals and audio responding to one another. In NoiseFold 2.0 these components are skillfully wielded through the use of various sensors and physical response interactions. NoiseFold 2.0 is nearly ecological in scale and form. Though NoiseFold 2.0 may also have strong formalist elements that point toward elaborate geometric abstractions as an end in themselves, it pushes deeper. While Lumière maintains conventionalized or even popular song structures, such as; 4/4 time, repeating forms, sectional composition, etc. NoiseFold's structures are more abstract; they compose with textural washes, exotic tone shifts, and sustained drones, often punctuated by wild complexity. The patterns, both visual and audio, of NoiseFold 2.0 are a form of biomimesis (emulating natural models and systems toward understanding complexity). The drama of the performance unfolds as Metcalf and Stout collaborate with one another as well as the environment of their own conception.
David Stout, writing for “Media-N” the journal of the New Media Caucus, and reflecting on NoiseFold's practice draws together a number of the topics above and those to follow:
"In our work noise exists simultaneously as both a concept and a tangible material. Noise is manifest in various mediums, as a dynamic visual state, as a sonic field, as a data stream, as a collective cultural expression, as particle bombardment and as a condition of life." Stout, David (undated) “Noise, Art, and Weaponized Abstraction”
Fundamental Forces, also by Robert Henke (in collaboration with Tarik Barri), also has no explicit narrative; rather it consists of interdependent and self-reflexive audio and visual components that exist and change, getting more complex over time, and through multiple iterations. Fundamental Forces can be presented as a single-channel video that describes these arcs of development through elementary forces, or as a multiple-screen, generative installation with interminable length, potentially endless. Fundamental Forces begins as points of light in infinite space and then perpetually elaborates on its own forms. Additionally, the project can have and has had multiple iterations scaled to its specific location. As Henke is continually developing the software for Fundamental Forces the universe that it creates is similarly evolving. This can be seen as an example of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” in other words the sequential development of something expresses all the consecutive forms of the evolution of its predecessors. Again there is a fascinating parallel with the work of NoiseFold. The software is being constant tuned and adjusted, as is the universe it creates. Due to the intricacy of the operations involved, even the most highly abstracted events portray a form of realism. This abstraction of the cosmos provides an opportunity for the audience to reflect on their own development and increasing intricacy as well as that of the world they inhabit. Fundamental Forces, NoiseFold 2.0, and Lumière all facilitate this potential to understand what happens beyond our own experience by being deeply immersed in what happens right here and right now.
140328 FutureEverything - Robert Henke: Lumière
Lumière No 6 Excerpt II
NoiseFold 2.0 on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/31887716