"Music for me is ooooold Tom Jones," croaked the homeless man with a weathered smile. He'd boisterously wandered into Robert Henke and I's conversation a moment ago. He mumbles a few other lines -- classic no doubt, but indecipherable -- before we tell him that we need to get back to our interview before Henke's lecture that evening. Jarring as it was at first, I felt that the old man's last quotable words were hilariously relevant to the talk I was having with Henke. As Henke and I talked about the evolution of music production and consumption as it relates to the tools involved with both, the old man was a reminder of just how far everything has come.
Henke has much to say about the use of engineering and interface construction as creative mediums -- ones that are practiced by unsung hierophants of the esoteric arts of electronics and software development. Being the last man standing of influential minimal techno pioneers turned multi-sensory space voyagers, Henke is a learned man on this subject. His electronic dance project Monolake is world-reknowned for its 6-channel, audio-visual performances, and his work as one of the principle designers behind Ableton Live has contributed to making the music software an industry standard. One could even say that Henke has had more influence over the last ten years on the way millions of people create and perform their music globally than any bigger-selling musicians or producers, simply because he helped build the instruments we're all using to bring our ideas to life. Not that he would jump to point that out, mind you; Henke isn't quick to list his accomplishments, but he is sincere in noting his place in the lineage of artists who have fashioned their own tools. Out of the joy of solving puzzles and the need to make that sound, image, etc. their own way, those engineer-artists have inadvertently come up with novel technologies that the rest of us can not only enjoy, but use to create our own works.
"I see a lot of similarities between fascinating engineering and fascinating art. Both have to do with craftsmanship; both have to do with finding a simple solution for a complex problem. And it has to do with elegance and needs inspiration. It’s underestimated how much inspiration goes into good engineering, and how much artistic thinking is involved in good engineering." - Robert Henke