Saturday, July 14, 2007
Pantha Du Prince--This Bliss (2007)
Artist-Pantha Du Prince
Release Date-Apr 3, 2007
Pantha du Prince's This Bliss hit me hardest during a train ride on a foggy evening. Peering out my window, the electricity poles looming out of the mist and then vanishing again looked like starkly geometrical trees (while the starkly geometrical trees looked like electricity poles), and the fog seemed to press against the window like it wanted inside. Most instrumental electronic music benefits from such evocative surroundings, but the work of German producer Hendrik Weber seems almost to require it: His delicate, brittle melodic techno under the Pantha du Prince moniker is itself only evocative, to the point that it only makes sense when it's making sense of the world for you.
Perhaps I was vibing off how the ambiguity of the world outside mirrored the ambiguity of the music. Weber's productions, filled with fragile melodic sequences, grim basslines, dolorous chimes, reticular house percussion, and unidentifiable found sounds (TV static? Trickling water? Rocks banging together?), seems to dwell at the precise point where nature and industry become indistinguishable. It's a vantage point from which plants and machines become just more shapes to populate the surface of the earth, and from which humans are curiously absent. But Weber is not blind to the differences between the two, and This Bliss moves gracefully between visions of the natural world and its manmade counterfeits. Given the sweeping romanticism of his depiction of the former, it's not surprising that technology adopts a slightly sinister role in his work: If the music quite frequently drifts towards "proper” dance music (often resembling the cavernous grooves of LFO's Frequencies, only with none of its playfulness), this is portrayed throughout as a sign that things are very wrong.
As with Ellen Allien and Apparat's Orchestra of Bubbles album from last year, Weber is less interesting in a sonic fusion of the human and the mechanic than he is in playing the differences off one another, and This Bliss mostly sidesteps the naturalist preoccupations of much recent German techno. For all its intricacy, its lushness, this music is clearly the product of a strictly mathematical technology, its clicks and whirs and tinkling arpeggios evoking images of an abandoned factory in which the machines quietly run themselves. The mechanical abstraction of "Moonstruck" counterposes an ominous, almost gritty bassline and depressive, atomized synth patterns that occasionally resolve into the vigilant bleep of a life-support machine (Note to producers: This trick always works), while for long sections the moody "Urlichten" sounds like it's being sucked through an industrial fan.
Even when Weber is indulging in crystalline and romantic visions of nature, the music remains a stage without actors: The sighing strings, furtive rustles and mournful horns of "Saturn Strobe" could be the sound of an abandoned forest patiently crafting its own elegy, utterly detached and yet quietly sorrowful as it awaits its own demise. Only in the anthemic final act of "Walden 2" is any light let in, with a succession of spectacular synth arpeggios that sound almost hopeful; but the moment passes quickly into a sense of remorse, as if hope is only defined by its own precariousness-- hope itself becomes too much to hope for in a narrative defined by decay. This overwhelming sense of loss, of something slipping away, becomes almost claustrophobic as the album continues, and exacerbates its context-dependence: In the wrong setting its pathos can become intolerable and its fragility ignorable. Choose your moments, however, and the quiet rebuke of this music makes for a magically humbling experience.
Product-order it here