Robert Henke's Latest Audio-Visual Performance Rips Viewers Into A Cosmic Abyss
Today, Robert Henke—legendary producer of Monolake Ghosts fame and out-and-out audio-visual installation maestro—is back with his fifth iteration of Fundamental Forces, an incredible collaborative installation piece with artist and programmer Tarik Barri. Screening at the projection space in IRCAM, a Parisian institute of avant garde sound experimentation, the A/V project incorporates complex visual forms and sonic abstractions in a manner that makes the viewer feel like he's getting sucked into his desktop screen via wormhole.
Using Barri's own computer animation software, Versum, the programmer made a pre-rendered video piece that will be displayed in a ten screen projection room, focusing on objects floating in a 3D space, with numerous modifications and geometric distortions morphing them into a cosmic abyss. In an email exchange with The Creators Project, Henke explained, "The result is a strange world in the middle between outer space, microscopic structures, and purely graphical textures." While the visuals unfold, Henke unearths a deluge of sound experiments in semi real-time that has been adapted and partly created at IRCAM using Ableton Live and Max4Live.
The idea for the title came from looking at the graphs scientists get when they observe traces of nuclear particles in magnetic fields—"the sort of scientific data visualizations you get from CERN or institutions like this," he said. It also refers to a concept of finding a single 'formula' or model which allows to explain significant parts of what we experience as the world around us. "In a way it is the mirror image to the scientific problem that we have the simple formula but don't entirely know the complex results which could be possible...we observe the complex world and hope to get the simple reasons behind it." The audio-visual installation attempts to encapsulate this very abstract, and very heady ideology while simultaneously stunning the viewer. And it does just that.
"It is not very much a performance," he said "But is much closer to a tape concert, or more known, to cinema." It can't be truly live or real-time installation, as the visuals are projected in ultra high resolution, which rely on long rendering times to create the generative shapes and forms.
What makes Fundamental Forces a concert, however, is that "it can only happen at a specific space with a given set of speakers and projections, and that it will happen as a group experience with multiple people in the audience." It is by no means a live performance in the traditional sense of the term, but then again, traditional is never a word that could be used to describe Henke.
Though Henke said it would be possible to envision a variation of this project with live music parts, he'd rather spend time making Fundamental Forces perfect, especially as generative processes require a lot of experimentation and experience.
"It is in some ways much harder than writing a single piece of music or visual art, since you need to build something that is more universal, yet not arbitrary. And that's a very different challenge," the artist said. But with each new version of Fundamental Forces, Barri includes more functions in his video engine, and Henke adds more sonic layers to the work.
When asked why he keeps returning to this project out of his many audio-visual works, Henke replied "It is a way of doing abstract cinema with sound that is highly influenced by contemporary computer music. I like to explore the possibilities in this field because it is using a known format—cinema—with a different concept of sound that is very far from how normal cinema sound works. There is no separation between sound design and music here, and that opens a lot of possibilities."
Though there are no other scheduled performances of Fundamental Forces, by the time the 7th or 8th iteration come about, we're certain the A/V tour de force will have enough sensory layers to actually rip a wormhole in the amphitheater it's screening at—finally bringing viewers to the space realms that inspired this ebullient artwork.
Images courtesy of the artist