Inside a computer, digital music is entirely unseen. But translate it into the tangible world, and it can be anything you imagine – not limited by acoustic reality or practicality, music can become three-dimensional sculpture.

For artist Christopher Bauder and composer Robert Henke, ATOM’s light and sound sculpture found a three-dimensional matrix of balloons as its medium. Flashing in hypnotic patterns and moving into different configurations, accompanied by live laptop music from Henke (aka Monolake), music and visuals become an inseparable fusion.

ATOM received its North American premiere at Montreal’s MUTEK in May. That turned out to be perfect programming, as it placed ATOM in a week that featured complementary work from artists Artificiel. Henke says some of his matrix manipulations – and even the specific Max/MSP patches from ATOM – came from collaboration with Artificiel and their light bulbs. For their part, at MUTEK they unveiled a new audiovisual etude called POWEr Play involving a live-sampled Tesla Coil. The science fair ethos of ATOM and POWEr Play could have been gimmicky or overly fixated on spectacle, but in these pieces, it was anything but. Both works contemplated their subject matter so thoughtfully that balloons and electrical coils seemed perfectly natural media for the audiovisual imagination, and audiences were left marveling at phenomena in a way too rare in 2009.


Video episode at [includes mobile/desktop video downloads]
YouTube Part 1 and Part 2 (if you prefer YouTube for viewing)

It’s worth downloading the video above and really getting to soak up some of this piece when you have time. I also have an audio interview of a conversation with Robert and Christopher immediately following one of the performances.

You’ll hear Christopher’s voice first, followed by the unmistakable percussive enthusiasm of Robert. For me, the best part of the interview was hearing them discuss whether you should notice some of the unintentional randomness of drifting balloons or technical hiccups, and how they structured the work formally with a palette of possible balloon patterns.

Download the audio interview


For more on POWEr Play, see my Montreal flat mate Greg Smith writing for Rhizome – and stay tuned for the CDM audio interview, coming next week:
power play – artificiel at mutek [Serial Consign Blog]
Variable Frame Rate: Multimedia Performance at MUTEK 2009 [Rhizome]

More information:
Atom project Information at
Text interview by Bertram Niessen for Digimag magazine, October 2007, also at

  • es

    I got to see this at Mutek last month – really great installation/piece, was one of the highlights from the festival for me.

  • That was unbelievably cool.

  • It was very cool indeed. Some idea for The Hague at September?

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  • Nice!

    But I wonder that they use Midi for communication (audio interview 10:52) not OSC, and than discuss the timing problems…..

    So Peter, when is that OSC-tutorial is coming you talked about? Can´t wait to read it…..

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  • f.e

    Not really good.

    The ballon idea is boring but worse is the lack of work on the music. The intro uses beautiful sounds but tells nothing; parts are chained brutally without any sense.

    Again, the type writer sounds, the bouncing delay, the piano… Maybe around 4"08, it's working beautifully, but that's all.

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  • miker

    Your rss feed is borked.

  • Amazing. Brilliant idea, love the authenticity of it. Backgound music is fine with me.

  • es


    When I first saw the videos for it I was a bit "meh" on it – thinking it could end up either being pretentious / boring, or really great.

    When I saw it live – it quickly fell into the 'really great' category.

    Walking into the dark theater, shuffling along trying not to step on people as I found my spot on the floor.

    The lights slowly dimming – and just when you think it couldn't get any darker, it did. Then the music starts, and the first balloon lights.

    Things start off pretty basic in terms of patterns / etc, but as it progresses the music deepens and the patterns get increasingly complex/interesting and synch up with the music very well.

    Seeing it live creates an overall experience that is impossible to replicate by just watching a video on line. Sitting on the floor and looking up at the patterns forming above you was really something else.

  • mhc

    I totally agree with f.e "Not really good.

    "The ballon idea is boring but worse is the lack of work on the music. The intro uses beautiful sounds but tells nothing; parts are chained brutally without any sense.

    Again, the type writer sounds, the bouncing delay, the piano… Maybe around 4?08, it’s working beautifully, but that’s all."

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  • @mhc: This was edited excerpts of a video; it's not the entire piece; hence the segues in the music. I did my best to try to capture the video, but…

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