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Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory “Elements Of Light”: Album Review

Rough Trade (2013)

It’s inspired by the sounds of a Norwegian town hall; recorded on one of the heaviest instruments in the world; and created with the help of Oslo percussionists The Bell Laboratory. 2013 is only a couple of weeks old, but it’s unlikely that the next eleven months will produce anything as idiosyncratic as German producer Pantha Du Prince’s fourth studio album, Elements Of Light.

Created almost entirely via the use of a carillon, a keyboard consisting of 23 cup-sized bells, the man also known as Hendrik Weber may have gone super-sized for the follow up to 2010’s Black Noise. But its 43-minute five piece suite is still as sparse, ambient and fragile as you’d expect from a producer instrumental in driving the sound of Hamburg’s microhouse scene, a rather obscure genre which strips back house/techno music to its bare essentials.

On paper, Elements Of Light sounds like the kind of pretentious and self-indulgent nightmare that most would actively avoid. But heavily influenced by the works of Steve Reich, there’s always been a neo-classical edge to Pantha Du Prince’s material, ensuring that these organic instrumental pieces aren’t such a big departure from his usual fare after all.

Book-ended by two spacious and understandably ghostly numbers, “Wave” and “Quantum,” Weber gently eases the listener in to the record’s icy atmosphere before dispelling any of the Mike Oldfield comparisons for good when a muted Motorik rhythm kicks in on the 17-minute epic, “Particle.”

Accompanied by a more expansive assortment of marimbas, tubular bells and xylophones, the occasional flourish of swirling synths and spacey bleeps of “Photon” also help in sustaining the sense of disorientation. But it’s the sprawling “Spectral Split” which proves to be the most engaging, its eerie minimal intro eventually building up into the kind of triumphant teutonic techno that fellow German Paul Kalkbrenner has perfected over the years.

In other hands, the unusual recording method of Elements Of Light could have turned out to be its only intriguing feature. But Pantha Du Prince’s ear for melody ensures it’s not the chin-stroking affair you might expect.

3.5 / 5 stars     

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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

Jon O'Brien's love of music began as a six-year-old after becoming bizarrely transfixed with the 80s poodle rock of Heart, Europe and Def Leppard. Switching his attention to pop icon Michael Jackson, he then became addicted to the UK Top 40, becoming a rather pointless walking Wikipedia of chart positions in the process. Driving his poor neighbors up the wall while learning to play the drums as a teen, he toyed with the idea of becoming a musician, but in studying Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, he realized heÕd rather write about music than perform it. Since then, he's written thousands of reviews and biographies on everything from bubblegum pop to death metal, but electronica remains his main passion, with everything from Aphex Twin to Zero 7 in his spare room-consuming record collection. Jon resides in northwest England near Liverpool.

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