1:45pm

Tue January 15, 2013
Music Reviews

As Bell Ringers Chime In, A Laptop Musician Branches Out

Originally published on Tue January 15, 2013 6:54 pm

It's a point of pride for electronic musicians to come up with novel sounds. So I was duly impressed to hear that one of my favorites had made a new record in which his laptop plays second fiddle to an ancient instrument he'd heard ringing out from the city hall in Oslo, Norway.

Hendrik Weber, who records under the name Pantha du Prince, collaborated with the percussion ensemble The Bell Laboratory for his latest album, Elements of Light.

I've been entranced by this record ever since I first heard it — which isn't surprising, as the power of bell tones cuts across cultures. While Tibetan bells are used for meditation and healing, the carillon used on Elements of Light is an instrument rooted in European culture in which large bells are struck by a fist-operated keyboard.

Although the carillon dates back to the Middle Ages, Elements of Light also reminds me of Mike Oldfield's unlikely 1973 hit Tubular Bells, which combines the structure of classical music with the melodic and rhythmic directness of pop.

Elements of Light features tubular bells, too, alongside the carillon, hand bells, rack bells, choir chimes, vibraphones, gongs and more — all yoked together with, but not overwhelmed by, electronics. The rhythms form patterns that thicken and then decay, taking just enough left turns to keep things interesting, while the bell reverberations add natural drones and an inescapable sense of history.

To perform Elements of Light, Pantha du Prince is planning site-specific shows, since touring with a carillon would be difficult at best. Maybe he'll make it to New York City's Riverside Church, which has a carillon, with one bell weighing in at 20 tons.

In an era when the history of recorded music is available on our cellphones, Elements of Light is an interesting idea: music that can be made only in a fixed location — and you have to go to it, not the other way around. While Pantha du Prince works that out, I'm happy to have this recording and its truckload of gorgeous percussion right here in my pocket.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Finally this hour, some electronic music built around a very old instrument. The music comes from an artist who records under the name Pantha du Prince and his instrument of choice is the carillon, essentially large bells often heard in churches. His new album is a collaboration with the percussion ensemble The Bell Laboratory. It's called "Elements of Light," and Will Hermes has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: It's a point of pride for electronic musicians to come up with novel sounds. So I was duly impressed to hear that one of my favorites had made a new record in which his laptop plays second fiddle to an ancient instrument he heard ringing out from the city hall in Oslo, Norway.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: I've been entranced by this record ever since I first heard it, which maybe isn't surprising. The power of bell tones cuts across cultures. Tibetan bells are used for meditation and healing, and the carillon used by Pantha du Prince and his collaborators on "Elements of Light" has its roots in European culture. But the album also reminded me of Mike Oldfield's unlikely 1973 hit "Tubular Bells," which also combined the structure of classical music with the melodic and rhythmic directness of pop.

Pantha du Prince's record features tubular bells, too, alongside the carillon, hand bells, rack bells, choir chimes, vibraphones, gongs and more, all yoked together with, but not overwhelmed by, electronics.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: The rhythms form patterns that thicken and then decay, taking just enough left turns to keep things interesting, while the bell reverberations add natural drones and an inescapable sense of history.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: To perform "Elements of Light," Pantha du Prince is planning site-specific shows, since touring with a carillon would be difficult at best. Maybe he'll make it to New York's Riverside Church, which has a carillon with one bell weighing in at 20 tons. In an era when the history of recorded music is available on our cellphones, it's an interesting idea, music that can only be made in a fixed location.

And you have to go to it, not the other way around. Anyway, while Pantha du Prince works that out, I'm happy to have this recording of "Elements of Light" and its truckload of gorgeous percussion right here in my pocket.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: The new album by Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory is called "Elements of Light." Our critic, Will Hermes, is author of the book, "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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