Lasers taught to dance in Robert Henke’s Lumiere

Robert Henke - Lumiere

Robert Henke - Lumiere - Credit: Archant

Berlin sound artist and producer Robert Henke is bringing his latest audiovisual performance to the Barbican. Using a software developed and controlled by Henke, Lumière features three white lasers drawing objects, seemingly floating in space, while the data used to produce the shapes is transformed into music.

How would you explain Lumière and why did you decide to put it together?

“I decided to work with lasers four years ago for an installation. I wanted to figure out what I can do with this medium, and how much my results could be different from what I have seen before. During my work on it, I came across many ideas that did not make sense for the project, but pointed towards a different, more concert-like approach.

“Lasers have a bad reputation, as too colourful, too cheesy, too much ‘effect’. What I do is much more abstract, much more focused on a very minimalist approach and almost entirely devoid of colour. I use special white lasers to draw rapid successions of simple abstract shapes on a screen, and synchronize sonic events to it. I create some sort of audiovisual rhythm. I use very modern technology to create a timeless, even archaic experience which is ephemeral, fragile and massive all at once.”

Why is the relationship between sound and light so interesting to you?

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“It is a very primal connection, and provides an immense potential for stimulation. You see the flash of light and you wait for the thunder. You hear a sound behind you and turn around to see what goes on. Separating sound from image and then finding ways to recombine them is the magic of cinema, and for me early abstract films are strong reference for this project. Lumière is in many ways a ‘montage’ project.

I’m able to improvise and perform with a set of pre-defined shapes, and manipulate them to form a larger shape.”

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Do you think that with the music industry’s increasing reliance on live performance, audiovisual productions are the future?

“Ideally, artistic decisions should not be dictated by marketing needs. I do concerts where the only valid performance method is darkness with minimal visual distraction. I also make installations where a sonic component is not necessary. On the other side, technology allows us to create immersive audiovisual worlds completely unthinkable years ago, and I am happy to embrace those.

“For me the interesting question is about performance practice. What is the role of the performer? Is it necessary that the performer is still visible on a stage? How much does it matter if what happens is pre-recorded or improvised?

And, also, who is the author of what we see and hear? Is it the artist, an unknown production team, or is it preset content from a software package? For the judgement of artistic achievement I find these things essential.”

I’ve seen you before talk about how the most innovative music comes from working on the ‘edge of sound’. Do computers allow you to do this?

“Computers allow us to explore many things quickly and without spending too much money. Therefore they enable us to experiment. Unfortunately, spending a lot of energy learning new tools all the time is the perfect way to avoid experiment. The risk is high that new tools are simply used to replicate old ideas. Lumière is quite a challenge in this regard.

“I decided to learn a new instrument, and to find a new language with it. And I will need to replicate known concepts first, in order to get to new results later. I need to force myself to be patient with how it develops. In my head there are so many ideas and I am only exploring a fraction of them yet. But in every single performance there is at least one moment where I know I’ve moved a step further, and the result gets closer to my ideals.”

Robert Henke’s Lumière is at the Barbican on Saturday, July 19. Tickets are £10-£15. Visit

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