Robert Henke @ Melbourne Recital Centre

Robert Henke @ Melbourne Recital Centre


Robert Henke’s work sits in a curious twilight zone between cutting-edge technology and creative expression. A composer, programmer and academic, Henke emerged out of the Berlin rave scene, first as one-half of minimalist techno outfit Monolake, then as co-founder of music software company Ableton Live. 20 years into his career, Henke is now obsessed with lasers. Tonight’s performance, Lumiere II, is a symphonic piece for lasers and sound, which are synced perfectly to create a synesthetic effect. It is rave lighting rendered as high art, presented in the austere womb of the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Lumiere II opens with a chain of blue lines spanning across the screen, throbbing and expanding against the rumbling soundscape. The lights fracture into vector graphics, slowly pushing out across the canvas. Every hum, twitch and particle of sound is reflected on screen, sometimes in flickering atomic chains, sometimes in blunt eruptions of shapes and colours. Light explodes out in concentric circles, while above us dozens of laser beams form a luminous web in the fog.

You have to keep reminding yourself that it is not simply a rapid-fire animated film, so it’s useful to look at the beams overhead. In front of us, the shapes and patterns created by the beams swell and spill past the boundaries of the screen, climbing up the walls. This is useful, too. It gives the performance another dimension, anchoring it to the architecture.

A friend of mine downed a handful of mushrooms before the show and I spend much of its one-hour length wondering how she is feeling. I regret my abstinence. Henke’s lasers are extraordinary. They are precise and explosive, and sometimes quite beautiful. They are cool as shit, but maybe too clinical – I don’t feel anything as I watch them. It may be removed to the hallowed halls of the Melbourne Recital Centre, but Henke’s work evokes clubs and festivals; bodies rammed in a field, minds altered in the dark. More than anything, with a spectacle of this scale, I want my heart to explode. I can feel it hovering, just out of reach. Drugs would probably help.


Loved: LASERS.

Hated: Cold, hard sobriety.

Drank: Tedious, life-sustaining water.