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BBC – Music – Review of Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory

Written by on October 22, 2020

If you were feeling bold, you could probably boil the evolutionary progression of techno down to a single, simple phrase: innovation through percussion.

Melody, of course, plays a part: but it is rhythm – the syncopation of beats, the complex interplay of bass and drums – that is the genre’s guiding principle.

The bell, however, offers a little of both worlds: of melody, and of rhythm. It lends its sound to at least one bona fide techno classic – Jeff Mills’ The Bells, later transformed into a big-stage classical performance with the help of the Montpelier Philharmonic Orchestra.

And now, the instrument is the cue for an excellent new collaborative album by Pantha du Prince – aka Berlin DJ/producer Hendrik Weber – and an assembled team of percussionists going under the name The Bell Laboratory.

Elements of Light is, unquestionably, a record that finds its roots in techno – but Weber isn’t kidding when he describes it as a “symphony”.

Built around a bell carillon, a three-tonne instrument comprising over 50 bronze bells, this five-part suite expertly blurs boundaries between Weber’s sequenced beats and the florid, cascading melodies of the carillon (played expertly by Vegar Sandholt).

Adding to this is a number of assisting percussionists, who dutifully fill the remaining space with patterned tubular bells, marimba, xylophone and cymbals.

The main point of reference is probably the classical minimalists, the likes of Steve Reich and Philip Glass (who, in its more subtle and experimental moments, Elements often recalls). It is a style that probably works best in moments of gentle build – certainly, as Spectral Split drifts in the direction of “banging”, a sense of incongruity begins to seep in.

But it’s hard to fault the care and measure that Weber brings to the project, and, particularly on the 12-minute Particle, he does it with elegant and engaging results.

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