On Pantha Du Prince And Bell Laboratory’s Elements Of Light


I think techno music at the moment is just an infrastructure. Basically, it’s not a musical term anymore. It used to be more like straight, technical funk. Nowadays, it is more of an infrastructure where you have certain beat patterns that you can call techno music. But in the end, it’s a social and economic infrastructure. The name ‘techno’ does not have anything to do with content anymore. It can be anything, from soul jazz to new music, to electro-acoustic music. It’s not the description for a musical genre anymore. It’s the description of a structure within which you move around. And it’s dance music.” – Hendrik Weber (aka Pantha du Prince)

The German techno DJ and Producer Hendrik Weber (aka Pantha du Prince) is quite into the sound of bells. On his 2010 recording Black Noise you can hear bell sounds on the tracks “Welt Am Draht”

and  “Bohemian Forest.”

Since then, Weber has kicked his interest in bells up a few significant notches. On his recent recording Elements Of Light, he collaborates with The Bell Laboratory, a collective of musicians who play a range of tuned percussion instruments including a huge 50-bell carillon. The 17-minute track “Spectral Split” showcases the electronic music meets ancient bells and percussion collaboration. Once the piece gets going you can hear the full mix: the lumbering carillon bells, marimba patterns deeply indebted to Steve Reich (the composer may demand royalties here), steel pan, tubular bells, crotales, a 4/4 techno pulse, and a slow-moving synth bassline. Harmonically speaking, “Spectral Split” doesn’t travel far, instead building musical interest through repetition, addition and subtraction of its parts.

What I find interesting about this music is its attempt to engage in a dialog with the languages of classical minimalism and contemporary electronic dance music of the minimal techno variety. In this respect, “Spectral Split” is a unique beast–the musical result of instruments and sounds wandering out of their usual stylistic frames. Does it work? Yes, it does work in its own way. And while the music is perhaps limited either by the carillon themselves (their tuning, and by how fast they can be played) or by Weber’s musical setting of them (I keep waiting for a dramatic harmonic shift that never arrives), the composer and his collaborators deserve credit for making everything groove and hum.

Here is the lusciously filmed official promotional video for Elements Of Light and the track “Spectral Split”:

On Timing And The Nature Of Blogging


Recently I’ve been experimenting with timers–using countdown apps on my phone to time whatever it is I’m working on. Lest you think I’m one of those people who are overly into the analytics of timing everything–I’m not (yet). No, I’m one of those people who generally loses track of time and looks up to marvel at how much of it has passed. So I thought it might be a good idea to try clocking things. In fact, I just started a timer on this blog post (17 minutes and quickly elapsing).

One effect of working with a timer is that it allowed me to understand how long I was actually attending to something. Usually, tedious tasks feel like they’re taking forever. But with the timer adding structure by way of a preset time frame (counting down) the tasks feel…lighter. Just a few sessions with a timer has had lasting effects too. I began thinking about everyday tasks that I was avoiding and how long they actually take. For instance, it turns out that organizing that shelf crammed with t-shirts took all of 3 minutes. Hmm.

Timer = a plan of action = clarity of purpose = surprising perception.


Blogging is another kind of self-timer. I write different kinds of posts, each of which has its own built-in temporality. Some posts are quite long–book reviews, for instance. These posts are built by gradually adding ideas together over days and weeks. I suppose they could be rushed but they want to take their time so I let them. I revisit them from time to time, re-read them, add a bit, and then leave them alone. Their length means that they have a slowness about them, and over time the posts grow until they’re finished. (Timer has 5 minutes left!) Other posts, like some of the Microthoughts (such as my previous post on the music of Harold Budd) are quicker and finished in minutes in a single sitting (literally: while sitting on a subway). The brevity of these posts and the quickness of their completion is influenced by context. (Timer has 1 minute left!) I use the timing of my situation (getting off the subway in 20 seconds!) to shape how fast I write. (17 minutes are up! Done!)

Microthought: On Harold Budd’s “Bandits Of Stature”

I listened
to the composer’s music
solitary while riding the subway–
not multitasking, not otherwise

And so the thought
came to occupy me,
unfolding in slow phrases:

What do we value in music?
What of its values occupy us?
What aural codes
do we enjoy resonating with?

As I listened
to the composer’s music
it seemed to offer some hints–
long tones rubbing elbows,
space between the notes,
and brevity–
before the subway ride itself
was over.

On A Not-Knowing Knowledge

The jazz guitarist John McLaughlin says that when he played with Miles Davis in the late 1960s, Davis gave him some advice before a recording session for In A Silent Way (1969):

“Play like you don’t know how to play guitar.”

McLaughlin, of course, went on to great heights of jazz-Indian music fusion with his Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti and said that Miles’ words had a deep impact on him. Here is how he describes his interpretation of the moment:

“After a few seconds I threw caution to the winds, and literally threw all the chords out, and the rhythm also. Even if you don’t know how to play guitar, most everybody knows the E chord. I played that one chord and played the melody around it. Miles had already got the red light on [signaling a recording in process], and at the end he really liked what happened.”

The advice to do something as if you don’t know how to do it is a powerful heuristic for approaching any craft because it puts you in a fresh mindset. The trick is how to forget what you know enough to free yourself up to move in novel directions. In the case of musicianship–and indeed, probably in the case of any craft–one obstacle to thinking with a fresh mindset is that we spend so much time developing and refining certain ways of doing things (that’s why we practice, after all) that it can be difficult to imagine alternate pathways to creation.

Microthought: On Musical Process


Music finds a way around us.

Music, that subliminal force, finds a way around us, through our ears, into our hearts.

Your Music might not be my Music, that subliminal force that finds a way around us, through our ears, into our hearts.

If we traded musics, you and I, do we trade minds as well?

My Music may not be your Music, that subliminal force, that sings a way through us, around our hearts, into our ears.

Music, that way around our hearts, through our ears, finds a subliminal force.

Music, around us, finds a way.


On Lip Syncing And Musical Authenticity

Like a lot of folks, I watched the music acts perform at the Obama presidential inauguration. The Brooklyn Tabernacle choir, singing “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” sounded fantastic;

American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, singing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” sounded smooth and polished;

James Taylor’s “America The Beautiful” was a reassuring presence;

and megastar Beyonce sounded quite amazing on “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Imagine the pressure to nail a song like that on a big occasion with many millions watching and listening?

But in the days after the inauguration, gossip about Beyonce’s performance began emerging until the gossip became confirmed fact: she had lip synced her song! I read several outraged news pieces about this, and all of them shared the belief that lip syncing is a profound kind of sonic deception–a kind of karaoke without the fun factor. No matter that it was cold out (hard on the vocal chords yes, but then neither the choir nor Clarkson nor Taylor had a problem with it) and no matter that Beyonce didn’t have (or make?) time to rehearse–one just should never ever lip sync. Period. To refresh your memory, other earlier cases of lip syncing in popular music that inspired public outrage include the entire career of Milli Vanilli

and Ashley Simpson’s performance on SNL in which her pre-recorded voice jumped the gun and began without the singer faking along to cover its tracks:

To her credit, Beyonce lip synced flawlessly to her own recorded singing and the result was what looked and sounded like a seamless performance. (It fooled me.) But when word got out that hers was fake singing, critics weighed in with discussions about the nature of authentically live musicianship. Writing in The Guardian, Gary Younge explained that performing live is important because it’s the only context where performer and audience can meet in a truly meaningful way:

“the essence of a live performance is the understanding that the audience is experiencing the event in real time and anything can happen. It is that combination of synchronicity, spontaneity and frailty that gives live performances their edge – it’s the one take that matters.”

It seems that there needs to be an element of risk for us to deem a performance the real McCoy. That’s what makes live music so thrilling and the news of Beyonce’s slight of mouth so disappointing.