Album Reviews

Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements Of Light

(Rough Trade) UK release date: 14 January 2013


pantha-du-prince-bell-laboratoryThis major new work from German techno producer Hendrik Weber is a collaboration of sorts, albeit as much between man and instument as between a group of creative working musicians. The star of the show here is the carillon, a set of 50 bronze bells that staggeringly weighs in at three tonnes, performed by the Norwegian carillonist Vegar Sandholt. Weber has also opted to collaborate with The Bell Laboratory, a percussion group from Norway who bring a sense of urgency and a luminous glow to his precision moulded, glistening techno. Working with unusual instrumentation risks seeming over-thought and forced, but what is perhaps most impressive about Elements Of Light is just how integrated the bells and other auxilliary percussion are with the core features of Weber’s work.

The resulting music seems to make perfect sense as a follow-up to Black Noise, the superb, brilliantly organised Pantha Du Prince album from 2010. The trademark detached, glacial shimmer is very much still present, although there is also this sense that Weber is emerging from a formerly hermetic sound world. Whilst Black Noise emphasised neatly enclosed, shorter form pieces, Elements Of Light is very much an experiment in extemporisation and development. Segued together, the five tracks that make up Elements Of Light combine to form an extended single piece of music that is consistently enthralling. The suite has been pieced together and organised with great care, with two lengthy, patiently unfolding movements surrounded by three shorter, more atmospheric mood pieces.

Wave works brilliantly as a shadowy precursor, a harbinger of more turbulent movements yet to come. The gentle melody played on various bells sounds oddly both comforting and disconcerting at the same time. The sound resembles that of a music box (and is hence slightly reminiscent of moments of Björk’s Vespertine), producing something homely and familiar yet also menacing and portentous. It merges seamlessly into Particle, the first moment when the chiming bells are married with Pantha Du Prince’s trademark subtly insistent techno pulse. This is perhaps the first sign of just how ambitious this project is, and of just how apposite a context Weber’s music is for the exploration of frequency and texture from the bells. Its unhurried, nuanced shifts in tone and attack provide more than enough to sustain over interest over 12 compelling minutes.

The centrepiece of this suite of music is the even longer Spectral Split, which achieves a sort of exaltation and transcendence over the course of its seventeen bristling minutes. The bells, strongly associated with churches of course, bring a strong spiritual dimension to the music here – which seems both contemplative and celebratory. Spectral Split, like the best dance music, feels like a form of worship.

There will no doubt be an inevitable tendency to view this as a collaborative stopgap while we wait for the next Pantha Du Prince album proper, but this dismisses the committed and ambitious nature of this music, and misses all the clear extensions and developments of themes and approaches from Weber’s previous work. The extroverted, joyful melodies of Photon or the sustained brilliance of Spectral Split seem like brilliant recontextualisations of Weber’s artistic virtues.


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More on Pantha Du Prince
Pantha Du Prince @ Barbican, London
Pantha Du Prince – The Triad
Pantha Du Prince + The Bell Laboratory @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements Of Light
Pantha Du Prince – XI Versions Of Black Noise