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Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements Of Light

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Label: Rough Trade Records
Score: 9/10

In the ten years that Hendrik Weber has been making techno as Pantha Du Prince he’s forged a reputation for being something of a trailblazer. From his fledgling days producing highly wrought micro-house for Dial to constructing the slow, pastoral techno of his 2010 album Black Noise from a ghost-village in the Alps, it would appear that Weber’s default position is to trample all over the usual conventions and rules associated with techno.

Elements Of Light, his fourth studio album and a collaborative effort with the little-known Scandinavian musicians The Bell Laboratory, might be his most radical record yet. Consisting of five ‘interlocking units’ that make up a single movement and with as many percussive instruments as electronic flourishes, on first glance Pantha Du Prince’s latest work would appear to be more alignedwith the world of ‘modern classical’ than ‘experimental techno’.  Yet, listening to the album it is not quite so easy to make such clear cut divisions between the two camps. The record is centred around the unpredictable multiplicity of sounds from a three-ton carillon bell (which is a large bell, with 64 smaller bells within), an instrument that Weber has previously experimented with to a lesser extent, most noticeably on his standout 2010 track Stick To My Side. Here, with the toll of the carillon providing the album’s over-arching sound, Weber pushes the instrument to its logical full potential. In opening number Wave  we are offered an undiluted introduction to this central component, the bells softly chiming and echoing against a beatless backdrop of near silence. It’s not until the end, when the droning synths of next trackParticle emerge, that the spell is broken.    The word ‘spell’ is probably the most apt description for the over-all appeal to the album. As one ‘interlocking unit’ shifts almost imperceptibly into the next  and various subtle elements of percussion and electronics float to the surface, it’s all done with such sleight of hand that its makes perfect sense a single flowing movement, rather than a conventional album. An organic, melodic sound imbued with a perpetual sense of motion as it carries from one minor arrangement to the next, it flows effortless. Imagine if Steve Reich or Terry Riley were to compile a fabric mix and you get the idea for how Elements Of Light works.      And if all this sounds too nebulous or portentous, or without enough groove, then prepare to be surprised. The two longer tracks on offer, that is the twelve-minuteParticle and the seventeen-minute Spectral Spirit, take this enigmatic sound and graft it onto infectious, mesmerising beats. What’s more, mid-album Photon is a slice of brooding electronica that shuffles the bells into a hypnotic loop, revealing the joinery between Weber’s dance-music background and his more classical deviations.   It feels rather reductive to note that unless it was being played during a very introspective point in a set or to a very open minded crowd, it is unlikely that anything on the album would lend itself to be played in club (although the potentiality for remixing here is huge). Instead, as the gentle and naked tinkling swansong of album closer Quantum underlines, Weber is making new distinctions in regards to the various forms that techno can inhibit.    As anyone truly in love with techno or house aesthetics will agree, it is not all about music suited for sweaty 4am moments. It is an innate form that, like all music, has the potential to transcend any singular context or culture. This is precisely why Weber’s music has cultivated such an impressive following in such a short space of a time; in sifting through elements of techno and looking beyond the genre’s self-defined limits, he has constructed an album that is at once a beautiful  techno opus and a stunning modern classical arrangement. If only all albums were as ambitious as this.

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