The Bell Laboratory & Pantha du Prince – Elements of Light (2013)
I have to admit, I was a little perplexed when I started listening to this. I thought Pantha du Prince would be a dub artist from the Caribbean and I thought The Bell Laboratory referred to Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory, known for its early phonographic experiments and recordings. I must admit, I did look forward to what this unusual combination would bring, but was shocked when I started listening and then read about them.
Pantha du Prince is actually the assumed name of German minimal techno producer Hendrik Weber, and The Bell Laboratory are a Norwegian percussion four-piece. The album also features a 50-bell instrument called the carillon, usually found in the bell tower of a church and played on a keyboard of sorts.
With the ringing cadences of the bells, I am reminded of John Cage’s percussive works for prepared piano (1958-1967), especially on the two tracks which bookend the album, Wave and Quantum. At other times, I am reminded of Pierre Henry’s musique concrète experiments, especially the well-known Psyché Rock (1967; later reworked as the Futurama title track), or parts of Variations Pour Une Porte Et Un Soupir (1963). However, while Henry was something of a music futurologist, I doubt he envisaged the electronic music revolution that he was a part of creating.
Despite my likening to Cage and Henry, this album sounds like those 60s auditory experiments only in passing, the beats making it more modern sounding. The five-track album is designed to listened as a single piece of five movements. The two main tracks, Particle and Spectral Split are surrounded by an intro, transition and outro. It begins with bells and other percussion, with the beats only coming in around 4 minutes into the second piece; to begin with, the bells create a trance-inducing peaceful drone-like canvas, and Weber’s beats act to break this reverie, subtly at first. Weber has sought to incorporate different sounds into electronic music and has certainly succeeded, and we are talking true incorporation, not some musical découpage; the bells and percussion certainly don’t play second fiddle to Weber’s beats.
I very much liked this album, both for its inventiveness and outcome. There is a lot going for it and, although techno is a get-up-and-go music, designed for dancing, Elements of Light is an album for any time of day or night, the interplay of beats and reverie is fantastic. This could well be a modern classic.
Favourite tracks: Particle, Spectral Split, Quantum.
Spotify link: Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements of Light