Atom/Document, the first new album under any name to show up since 2006's Layering Buddha, certainly appears to back that up. The music here first began as part of an audio-visual installation with German sound conceptualist Christopher Bauder, who has a history of turning ordinary items into sound-producing sculptures. Bauder's previous works include a "Toneladder" that you play by walking up and down, and a "midiGun," which allows you to shoot your way through a live performance with Ableton Live or other software.
For "Atom," Bauder built one of his most ambitious instruments to date: a large matrix of 64 helium-filled balloons attached to LED's, which are used to trigger sound and light to create a constantly evolving sound-and-light sculpture. Robert Henke produced the sounds for this balloon-machine, working within a framework of tight restrictions. And, over the course of 2007 and 2008, Henke got pretty good at finding his way around the conceptual limitations.
Atom/Document, then, is simply that: a document of various ways Henke learned to play Bauder's balloons and it offers the most diverse sound palette the veteran producer has ever committed to one album. "[_flicker]" works with the speaker-rattling drones of 2004's Signal to Noise, but by the time we get to [quad_planar]" and "[shift_register]" we're into a side of Henke we haven't heard before, with the former dub-techno impresario melding loops of tinny percussion and piano to concoct hypnotic cycles that have more in common with Steve Reich than Surgeon. By "[metropol]" and "[diagonal]," we've moved further yet, into the distorted contact mics more suitable to the Raster-Noton crew. Henke's all over the place here. For a producer who often sacrifices a range of sounds in order to focus on atmosphere, the approach is utterly refreshing.
Atom/Document may be one of Henke's more conceptual outings, but it's also one of his most successful in recent years. In his own way, Henke sounds like he's having fun again after years of pursuing the same path. Given that most listeners who come to this record will have a specific notion of what to expect from Robert Henke, the sheer range of directions pursued is quite possibly one of the most compelling reasons to listen to this album over and over again.