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Peal sessions: Pantha Du Prince talks fancy dress, Enlightenment and the call of the carillon

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  • published
    14 Jan 2013
  • interviewed by
    Joseph Morpurgo
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    Pantha Du Prince
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No-one can make a dance track shine and twinkle quite like Hendrik Weber.

The Hamburg native emerged as one of Dial’s banner artists in the mid 2000s, releasing the colourful techno LP Diamond Daze in 2004 under the now-familiar Pantha Du Prince moniker. 2007′s follow-up This Bliss, however, was a game-changer – a coruscating, heart-tugging, remarkably accessible minimal techno disc, and one of our ten favourite albums of the last decade. A third LP on Rough Trade in 2010 (the finely tuned Black Noise) proved a crossover success, and Weber’s territory, situated at the threshold between electroacoustic music and melodic techno, remains pretty much entirely his own.

Elements Of Light is, in many respects, Weber’s most ambitious production to date. Produced in collaboration with specially convened Norwegian ensemble The Bell Laboratory, Elements Of Light is a 44 minute composition featuring a host of live percussion – marimba, xylophone, clapping and a ginormous 50 bell carillon, which really has to be seen to be believed. Inspired by an encounter with Oslo’s imposing City Hall carillon in 2010, Weber crafted an expansive long-form ‘skeleton’ piece, before incorporating carefully arranged live percussion and bell-ringing into the process. The resulting record is a charming synthesis of microhouse and contemporary classical, and one which studiously avoids the trappings of more jejune ‘techno-meet-Tchaikvosky’-style projects.

FACT took some time out with Weber – who’d been ensconced all day in the studio working on some “jams” – to discuss the Enlightenment, the perils of fancy dress, and, surprise surprise, bells.

 

“I started my journey with the carillon before the recording of Black Noise – in a church in Hamburg.”

 

Tell us a bit more about that encounter you had a couple of years ago with a carillon which inspired the record.

“I was already researching on carillons for quite a while, actually, so of course if you have an open ear for carillons you will recognise the differences of the carillons all over the world. I started my journey with the carillon before the recording of Black Noise – we were in Hamburg in a church where there was this old lady, and once a month they make an open door for the carillon. We went there, and this lady was playing this really old carillon, and it was so fascinating for us to watch her play and see all the mechanisms triggering the bells. This probably started there.

“The bells in the form of the carillon is just a logical progression, if you consider the frequencies which are fascinating for me. Also, the carillon was also getting my attention immediately when I heard it, because it’s a wide range of tones. They have a lot of bells up there! More than we have now for our piece. So when I heard it the first time, for me it was clear that you have a lot of possibilities with this instrument, on top of the city. Everybody would be able to listen to whatever you would play and whoever would play it. It’s just there and they have to listen to it. When I first listened to the melody – it was running all over the city – I couldn’t believe it. It was kind of a poppy, happy melody. The carillon is just fooling around sometimes in Oslo – these guys are sometimes going crazy up there. They’re playing songs by Metallica or Madonna.

“So it’s a fairly open source, and the moment I heard it I was like ‘Okay, I want to write something for this carillon.’ It would be cool to have this piece played over Oslo and everybody would hear it, and you could record it in several corners of the city and make a sort of acoustic mapping of the city through the piece, and then make an online project where people could download certain spots in the city where they could listen to the reverb and map the city with the melodies. All this basically floated into this whole Bell Laboratory, because then we got [arranger] Lars Petter involved and the musicians, and this is how the whole carillon story started.”

 

“It’s a very powerful instrument. It’s unbelievable how far it can get with the sound, how far it is transported by air, and how precisely it travels through air.”

 

It makes sense to me what you’re saying about the carillon being situated in the city, and being able to map the city with sound. I find that interesting in relation to the work you’ve done before, particularly on Black Noise, where a lot of the tracks were love letters to particular locations…

“Yes.”

…were very much musical snapshots of places. The carillon is an instrument that can penetrate so many spaces all at once. 

“Yes, that’s correct. It’s a very powerful instrument. In our field recordings of Black Noise, we have the church bells from nearby, from far away villages, and we already have it on there. Even though you just hear it far in the back and you would hear the guitar in the front and some birds closer by, you would always hear if it rings. It’s unbelievable how far it can get with the sound, how far it is transported by air, and how precisely it travels through air. It’s really a logical progression to also use it as a musical source.”

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