Album Review: Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements of Light

The typical music review consists of three main parts. Of course this is not true of all reviews and this list is hardly exhaustive, but there are certain patterns that emerge over time. It moves from objective facts to (hopefully) informed subjective interpretation. Compared to most albums, writing a review is not an especially creative task. 

So, here’s some some objective information about the release in question. This is a record released by Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory. The reviewer divulges facts about the artists inversely proportional to how well the artists are known. Sometimes the artists’ Christian names will be introduced and the reviewer may alternate between referring to them like a stern headmaster – last name only – or by pretending to be friends on first-name terms. I stand in neither position, so I am happy to stick with their stage names. The reviewer may also list what label the artist is signed to (Rough Trade); their nationality (German and Norwegian respectively); their previous releases (for Pantha du Prince – the acclaimed Black Noise and This Bliss); what genre their releases have been in (minimal techno, dark ambient) and so on.

Then, the reviewer discusses the content of the album. The album brings together Pantha du Prince’s electronic and percussive elements with a bell carrion – a three-tonne instrument consisting of 50 bronze bells. This may seem a jarring juxtaposition, but the music of Pantha du Prince has always been rooted in acoustic elements: Black Noise was augmented with glockenspiel and often could have quite happily slotted into a nature documentary. It seems like the natural evolution of Pantha du Prince’s work. It is ambitious, but Pantha du Prince has established his name and has earned room to experiment. This record could be interpreted as a contribution to Reichian minimalism; often the tracks have one idea or melody that is repeated and developed as the track progresses.

The final section of the review is an interpretation of the work, executed to varying degrees and depending on the competence of the reviewer. I shall try my best. With instrumental music, the task is more difficult. One does not have a series of words to guide you or a voice from which one can infer emotion. Instead, I approach instrumental music as I would approach poetry. An old English teacher of mine said that when stuck in a poetry exam, just look at the words and think of the connotations. Similarly, instrumental music doesn’t tell, it suggests. So when we think of this record, what are the connotations? The first and most prominent element of the music is the bell carrion. The bell is an instrument that possibly predates all others and certainly predates any others on Elements of Light. Comparatively, the bell is a more natural instrument than others. Primarily, bells would have been used in churches and throughout religious music. Today, I would hazard that the most common connotation of bells are wedding bells. Is that to say that Elements of Light is a religious album? Of a sort. What comes across most strongly is a feeling of love. The album is so lovingly constructed, reflecting Pantha du Prince’s meticulous attention to detail. On the ear, the record is very pleasant. It is not a hard, mechanical, disjointed techno album. It is soft, it suggests and consumes the listener in a place of love from beginning to end. There is hypnotism through the repeated melodies and the way they masterfully interact and intersect with one another. This transcendental record is like a momentary mass for the 21st century.

Francis Ozanne

…Francis is listening to Jordaan Mason & the Horse Museum – Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head…


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