Minimal techno and a bell orchestra. On paper it sounds rather like a gimmick, with huge potential to go horribly wrong or end up as misguided novelty electronica. Lucky, then, that savvy German producer Pantha du Prince (Hendrik Weber) has managed to craft one of the most enticing electronic records of 2013 so far with ‘Elements Of Light’, an album that saw him blend his refined, crisp techno leanings with the delicate melodies of The Bell Laboratory, a group of musicians specialising in, yep, all things bell-related.
It’s a beautiful record, for sure, but taking it the next step to a live setting seemed equally perilous. Again, Weber excelled, with a superb performance in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, at the Southbank Centre.
On a softly lit stage teeming with instruments, percussion and electronic equipment, Weber and the five Bell Laboratory members walk ceremoniously on stage, gathering in the centre before engineering a loosely structured jam using the two hand bells that each of them is holding. The soft melodies gradually turn into the warm, colourful chimes of ‘Wave’, the opening track from ‘Elements Of Light’, before melting into the Gamelan-esque gongs of the next album track, ‘Particle’, as the Bell Laboratory walk to their stations and Weber moves to his laptop and production setup. When the gently rolling rhythm finally drops – a combination of Weber’s processed beats and the superb live drumming of Martin Langlie – it’s just as captivating and hypnotic live as on record.
They then work their way through the rest of ‘Elements Of Light’, utilising the vast array of bells and percussion that fill the stage, including the huge and brilliantly gothic-looking carillon, a series of bronze bells housed together and played through an organ-like keyboard and foot pedal setup, adding to the considerable visual spectacle.
As an album, ‘Elements Of Light’ has far more in common, structurally, with classical arrangements than with any traditional dance record. It works perfectly as a movement, a single extended journey, and the same is true of tonight’s painstakingly thought-out performance.
Never does Weber’s production drown out the rich, universally appealing melodies of the numerous bell sounds. Instead he softly brings out what’s happening around him using considered beats and forgiving electronics, symbolic of his own style as a producer.
The encore features The Bell Laboratory accompanying Weber on two of his earlier releases, ‘Lay In A Shimmer’ and ‘Satellite Snyper’, and while the chimes are a fitting accompaniment to the glittering, icy 4/4 of those tracks, it’s not quite as engulfing as the ‘Elements Of Light’ performance. But that was an inevitability, and it would have been disappointing not to see Weber weave his other, dance-focused compositions into the mix. As a whole, it’s a spectacular and fascinating show, stunning in its subtlety and occasionally shimmeringly beautiful. If Jeff Mills drew up the blueprint for dance/electronic producers "going classical," Weber has surely added to it here.
Words by Tristan Parker
Photo by Howard Melnyczuk