Back in medieval times swinging bells were used to notify people of fires, storms, wars and the like. A ringing of bells from the lowest to the highest note for example indicated that an attack had taken place. The use of bells in music originated in The Low Countries in the 16th century but in modern times they seem to have been largely forgotten apart from some notable exceptions such as the title track to Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut album, For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica and of course the mother of them all, Tubular Bells. Enter Hendrik Weber aka Pantha du Prince to change all that.
Weber has been using bell sounds for many years. From his 2004 debut Diamond Daze up until his 2010 work Black Noise his albums have featured various chimes, dings and dongs. It was in 2010 at Øya Festival in Oslo though where he first overheard Norwegian collective The Bell Laboratory playing a three ton 50 bell carillon which is a series of bells housed in a glass box. He was so blown away by what he heard he had one shipped to his home country Germany, where the album that is being performed tonight (Elements of Light) was written.
The lights dim and five figures in matching aprons take centre stage for the opening number ‘Wave’, with Weber in the middle. With a bell in each hand they take turns to produce a cascade of chimes that lasts several minutes before Pantha breaks away and mans the electronics for ‘Particle’, with its low almost sub woofer type bass sound proving the counterfoil to the sharpness of the bells. A carillonneur (person who plays the carillon) then sneaks in almost unnoticed to operate the massive instrument at the rear of stage while the other members of The Bell Laboratory take up positions on gongs, marimbas, a live drum kit and other bells we can only guess the name of dotted around the National Concert Hall stage.
By the time we get to hear ‘Spectral Split’ strobe lights are flashing and the drummer is laying down a furious beat while minimalistic techno sounds compete for our attention with what sounds like about a hundred bells crashing down around our ears with a fantastic marimba line driving it all on its way. For the closing track ‘Quantum’ the electronics vanish and we are left where we came in, with the sound of the handbell resonating throughout the concert hall. The six on stage soon become three either side of the audience slowly creeping towards the back exit ringing out their chimes as they depart. It’s a wonderful end to a magnificent performance.
Except it isn’t the end. The packed house want more and more they shall get. Back out they come and give us ‘Lay In A Shimmer’ off and ‘Satellite Snyper’ from Black Noise. Departing once again after this some of the crowd think it’s all over and dash off to get their coats from the cloakroom. We aren’t finished yet however. Second encore you say? Don’t mind if we do. Appearing once again Weber addresses the audience with ‘we know you are still here, and we are still here. We have nothing new to play however so I guess we will just have to repeat ourselves’. A loud cheer goes up, we are transported right into the middle of ‘Spectral Split’ once more and the whole place stands up in unison and starts dancing. It’s a genuinely spine tingling moment and as Pantha and his Norwegian collaborators depart for what proves to be the final time there’s a real buzz in the room at what we have just witnessed.
Sound as a bell Hendrik, sound as a bell.