Even so, there are individual recordings on the label that didn't hit the mark. The first Monolake full-length, Hongkong, is one such record. Appearing in 1997 as the fourth installment in the series of now infamous metal cases, it originally collected tracks from four singles, three of which had come out as Monolake (which was then Robert Henke's project with Gerhard Behles) and a fourth, "Index," which had first seen the light of day under the name Helican Scan, which was a Henke solo alias. The album has been out of print for years now, and Chain Reaction fans will be happy to know that it's now being reissued on Robert Henke's own label.
Those seeking to complete their CR collection at a reasonable price, however, should know that in purchasing Hongkong Remastered they're not getting the original package or even anything remotely resembling a value-added reissue. The tracklist here offers only six of the original seven tracks, with Helican Scan's "Index" having been lopped off, according to Henke, to create a greater sense of unity. "Index" has since been reissued as its own single, so those who want the full 1997 package have to purchase the vinyl as well, and those who already own the original set don't need this at all. The remastering work by Rashad Becker only marginally enhances the listening experience for an album that never lacked for audio quality in the first place.
Ironically, listening back to Hongkong after eleven years, it's Henke's penchant for revising his own work that is perhaps its core weaknesses. The original ambition behind this collection was to string together tracks from four singles into a bona fide album, and to do this Henke had collected field recordings from a trip to China and used this aural wallpaper of traffic, rain, and street-life to create the binding theme that held the original seven together. But these additions to the previously completed tracks were relegated to bookending the beginnings and ends of each track, with only generic fades feeding them in and out, an approach that grows predictable over the course of the collection. In the end, these field recordings—which obviously give Henke a great deal of artistic satisfaction, as he's returned to them time and time again—are a bit too much of a tentative and discordant afterthought to fully fuse with the material at hand. The Monolake of Henke of Behles went on to produce subsequent sessions that blended together complex digital arrangements with the organic and surreal touch of siphoned surroundings, and 1999's Gobi, The Desert EP, and 2001's Cinemascope succeed in perfecting this blend of ideas more successfully than Hongkong.
At its best, Hongkong presents the strongest dance compositions in the Monolake catalogue: the "Lantau/Macau" and "Arte/Occam" singles are the moment when the Henke/Behles collaboration feels like it really hits its stride. "Cyan," their debut single and most club-friendly track, today sounds like the cross-section of two talents who haven't yet figured out how to best work together; there's a conspicuous non-distinct aura to the decidedly traditional (if wonderfully atmospheric) progression at work, characteristics fleshed out on the next four offerings. "Mass Transit Railway" succeeds most in working in the field recordings because it forsakes a beat for the ambient synth of collaborator Wieland Samolek. The music on Hongkong is headphone candy—not club music for the clubs per se, so much as a way for Henke/Behles to satisfy their preoccupation with the process of building rhythmic tracks.
It's fitting that Henke and Behles went on to develop the highly influential Ableton software. In listening back to Hongkong, you can almost hear the inability of the equipment to handle their complex ideas—namely the Max/MSP patches they were using at the time. Perhaps this is why Henke felt the need to revise these six singles twice. Sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone.