Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory: Elements of Light
-- by Brandon Bussolini, NPR Music
Last year saw dance music continuing to experiment with performance and production styles that go beyond gazing at a laptop. Certain artists embellish computer music with organic instruments, while others improvise using hardware rather than software, as Juju & Jordash and the Moritz von Oswald Trio do. Hamburg's Hendrik Weber, better known as Pantha du Prince, is diving deeper into former approach on his fourth album, a collaboration with Norwegian percussion group The Bell Laboratory. Performing at European festivals since 2011, it's an apt, even obvious pairing: chiming bells, treated with delay to form dashing kaleidoscopic patterns, are well established as producer's signature sound.
Weber perfected a singular sound by his second LP, This Bliss, a wintry but suavely melodic outgrowth of the style established by hometown label Dial. Although formally dance music, Pantha du Prince's productions get by on emotional rather than physical tension, an organic flux that's not exactly floor-friendly but is impressive to behold, majestic and intimate at the same time. His next album, Black Noise, gained wider notice thanks to its release on Rough Trade and a collaboration with Panda Bear, but was even moodier, at times dense and knotted.
This album is introduced by the imposing tones of a carillon—three tons of bells played with a keyboard, typically found in bell towers rather than on techno albums. The overtone-laden sounds produced by The Bell Laboratory's real-world percussion and Weber's digital counterpoint take turns as the center of attention, with long stretches seamlessly mixed together. There are five tracks, but the album's two lengthy centerpieces, "Particle" and "Spectral Split," are so sweeping that the album is experienced as a single, mutating composition, part DJ mix and part Music for 18 Musicians.
Elements of Light broadens the scope of Weber's project at a natural pace, displaying a sense of dynamics indebted to classical music. At times, it is more overtly sweet and even bombastic than any previous Pantha du Prince material: on the cresting waves of "Spectral Split," the carillon can't help but sound triumphant. At other points, it's all understated ambience, a few glassy notes circling in space. Listening to Elements of Light is listening to the gradual, swelling transitions by which Weber and The Bell Laboratory get from point A to points B–G and back again. The ensemble setup plays up Pantha du Prince's talent for arrangements, a way of braiding electronic and acoustic sounds into a richly imagined whole. Without underplaying his accessibility or taking the path of least resistance, Elements of Light illuminates Pantha du Prince's music from within.
Elements of Light will be available to stream on demand from January 7 through January 14, 2012.