Dancing Around the Morse Code Beeps

By Nicholas Pratley

Many people disagree over what they consider to be good music. The disagreements may be heated, but the music is always relatable; maybe a different drum style, or an electric instead of an acoustic instrument. Even Techno can be compared with more popular music, sharing drum sounds with Punk and Jazz alike. Artists have always borrowed from artists, and genres have most often been set in retrospect. Even classical composers, often seen as rigid, have taken inspiration from popular folk melodies. It makes little sense to describe Robert Henke’s music through the equipment he uses, just as you could never describe a violin’s sound only describing its physical body. These facts describe the science of the moment, but do nothing to communicate the human experience. The part of music that makes you want to listen to the next beat and the next bar, until the song plays itself out; that is the part that is harder to explain.

It is impossible for me to describe the sound and light I encountered without first mentioning my initial expectations. Even as I walked through the door, I found myself in a setting not unfamiliar, but more clinical than I am used to. Where I would usually see a drunk propped up against the pub wall, I saw a modern, slightly disfigured, bust of Beethoven. It felt more like a gallery than the entrance to a concert. I bought a drink at the quiet of the bar, and short after I entered the auditorium.

The room had a wide open spacing, built to fully give itself up to music. The seating, rising around the stage made of clean wood, looked reminiscent of a lecture hall. There was a large blank canvas for the laser projection, and before long Robert Henke was in front of it. He introduced his work by talking about his instrument, namely real-time wave processing, and mentioned briefly the advances there had been in music technology since he started creating music in the 1990s. He also talked of the space for creativity existing within the bounds of limitations; essentially that creativity is about finding a path for expression.

He then asked the audience for darkness. Monitors closed, phones entered pockets, and my surroundings faded away. At first I could barely hear it. It sounded more like my ears were playing tricks on me in the silence, and then light came as confirmation. Dancing around the morse code beeps and growing waves of sound, the light seemed to mimic them, as if in childlike conversation. It became interchangeable with the music, until I started to see the music and hear the lights. As the music made increasingly intricate patterns, the light joined in with its own motifs. As the music grew dim, the light slowed down its beat. When I started listening, I seemed aware of every second, yet by the end, time seemed suspended. In between these two states there was a point of acceptance. An infinitesimal point where I stopped paying attention to what I was hearing and started to simply listen. This, for me, is when it became music.

When I get back from a gig, it is usually with a feeling of homeliness. The comfort of listening to familiar songs. While there may never be words to do justice to Robert Henke’s creation, leaving Lumiere II left me jolted, wondering about the nature of music.  

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