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Pantha du Prince and the Bell Laboratory

by Josh Potter on January 17, 2013

ELEMENTS OF LIGHT

One element of electronic dance music that rarely gets discussed is the form’s debt to American minimalism (Steve Reich, Philip Glass, et al.). Last year’s multi-artist Rework: Philip Glass Remixed was evidence of the affection artists have long held for these composers’ actual textures and samples, but their very sensibilities too—the methodical layering of percussion and simple melodic themes—have been directly inherited by the laptop generation.

German producer Hendrick Weber (AKA Pantha du Prince) has just released one of the strongest testaments to this lineage. Elements of Light enlists the talents of the Bell Laboratory, a Norwegian percussion ensemble who perform on carillion—traditional bells. Verging on the ambient genre, the project exhibits incredible restraint on Weber’s part, allowing 17-minute compositions like “Spectral Split” to unfold and climax with Reich’s geologic patience. The first dance beat doesn’t even drop until four minutes into the second track and, at times, he abandons his digital equipment entirely to let the carillion do its celestial work.

Weber has long been acclaimed for a style he calls “sonic house,” which uses the steady heartbeat of house music in a gentler fashion, supplemented by innovative atmospheric textures. It’s something that might have been regarded as “intelligent dance music (IDM)” a decade or so back and really requires a separate genre tag, as it’s put Weber in the company of both EDM giants like Four Tet and Burial and electronic art-music composers like Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin. Elements of Light probably works better in association with that latter camp, as the clubgoing crowd is not always the deepest listening audience. Similarly, the reliance on bells (and some other mallett instruments) can become a bit monochromatic (not to mention Christmas-y) when considered in the context of EDM’s infinite canvas of synths and samples. Still, the record feels like a groundbreaking work within an increasingly vital genre that can only benefit from this kind of historical linkage for critical legitimacy.