Ahead of his performance at Sydney’s OutsideIn festival on the 29th November, Henrik Weber (aka Pantha Du Prince) had a philosophical conversation with Ableton’s Adam Maggs about the concepts and processes behind his music.
For the uninitiated, Pantha Du Prince has released three celebrated albums of avant garde electronic music, self described as “sonic house”. Take a listen to this cut from his last album Black Noise and read on to learn more about Henrik Weber’s unique perspective and approach to music and creativity.
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Hi Henrik, last time you were here you were performing with the Bell Laboratories project which was truly impressive. What show are you bringing to Australia this time?
It’s actually just a very simple solo show this time round, it’s a travelling party of two people – me and my technician – and we are performing some new tracks and some old stuff. It’s basically a show with live visuals and we can actually do surround and multi-channel stuff as well – but I don’t know yet for sure if we will be able to do that (in Australia).
Are you controlling the visuals in real time as you are performing?
Certain scenes in Ableton Live trigger certain movies, and they are footage that I did with a cameraman. So it’s basically an arrangement of the visuals with the set. When I change the scene, then also the visuals change, but it’s not interactive kind of digital visuals, it’s very object/material-based craziness.
Nice. So the images are paired with the music quite directly then?
Yes, it is but it is also not like a picture, you know, it’s like music can create its own images. It’s about focus and defocus and blurring things – it has a lot to do with psychedelic but at the same time it’s very minimal and very precise and it becomes this kind of panoptic. It’s like a kaleidoscope that you get trapped in basically.
So is there sort of a theme or a philosophy behind the music and the visuals together?
Yes. I mean there is, let’s say, an atmosphere around things – but there is also visual input that influences the music, and then musical input that influences the visuals. I would even say that a lot of the tracks that I do have their foundation in something visual. Or, let’s say, not really like a visual, but definitely a vision, but that vision can be a picture or audio. It can be received by eyes, but it also can be received by ears. Basically the goal in everything I do is to send on all frequencies possible – colours are on another frequency than sonic waves, but I just see it as the same thing in the end but on a different frequency level.
Is the concept behind a musical piece already concrete to you before you start writing or it something that emerges as you are writing?
It’s happens both ways. The starting point most of the time is coming from an accident, or something out of my control – something where I realize I cannot intellectually understand what just happened. That fascinates me, which always leads to a higher understanding of what actually happened and this is actually the same with my albums and music.
When the starting point hits, I’m not really in the real time and space of this world, rather I am kind of in a parallel world where things happen and I experiment… then afterwards I try to understand what happened on this other level. Most of the time, this is the moment when the music starts to happen, to unfold and where I can follow the music which basically carries you. You just have to have the perception to receive this moment, you have to let go basically but you have to recognise when there’s a moment – or to perceive the moment in a certain way.
Are there particular challenges in making the most of those magic, happy accidents? And do you have any workflows that you use in these occasions?
After this creation moment, to really get it down onto a record there is a post-production process involved and this is most of the time the biggest challenge – to get it (the concept) onto vinyl.
Most of the time my ideas are too big – it’s just a lot of information you know. It’s hard to make it fit inside the panorama of the human perception, and especially into also the technology that we are using right now.
I hope in 50 to 100 years from now there will be different technologies, also so I don’t need to condense or compress my ideas – I hope that things become more and more multi-dimensional and people will be able to understand.
You have quite a philosophical outlook on music and your music and your process. Is there any preparation, or a particular physical or mental space that you find ideal for being creative?
For the upcoming album I used so many locations and sound sources and places that it’s overwhelming when I think about where I started recording material and where it ended…and how many people are involved and all this. You can’t put me in a room, lock it in and expect things start to happen.
I have times where I go into the studio every morning some weeks, and then I rent a different place or I create at home – it always varies very much. So yeah, the whole variety of creative spaces is on the next album of course.
I like to create a certain pool of sounds like I did with Black Noise, so also I always start with a sound pool – a few folders just full of recordings I’ve made. These recordings are fundamental for the tracks that will come out of it, but they are also like this treasure ground – like a very valuable piece of trash that you have on your computer and you try to formulate something out of it.
It really comes from the material, you know, you get something in your hand and there’s an immediate reaction. I mean when I get on a new instrument – it might be a piano, it might be a cello, an electric guitar, maybe even a DVD player or like a piece of glass that crashes on the ground – I have to press record before I even touch the instrument. The first interaction with the matter (instrument) already starts to unfold something, you know? Sometimes it is super-fast or sometimes it takes long time…and sometimes nothing happens at all. You think something is coming but then nothing is actually coming.
But the most interesting thing is a certain feeling in your fingers, your ears and the setting around you that makes it possible to have this certain magic happening. But I can’t tell you exactly why this is – I can’t put it in words what it is in the end but it has a lot to do with this, let’s say chemistry, of the moment. So when we start to record this pool of musical treasure there’s always this weird…craziness and fascination for a certain instrument or for a certain sound that instrument can create.
So how far through development is the new album?
We are still working – we’ll probably do a 12 inch next year in autumn or something like this. I take my time, you know, I’m not in a rush and I can still play and sometimes try new material. We’ll see.
That would be nice, something to look forward to.
In this time between Pantha Du Prince albums, you’ve done the Bell Laboratories project – wrote an album & toured the world with them. It’s quite a different thing for you – working with musicians as opposed to working solo. Is there anything you can put your finger on that has carried over from working with Bell Laboratories Project into the new Pantha Du Prince work?
Well, yes there is a lot more organic percussion now – probably that is something that carried with it. I think it expanded my musical horizons, but in the end I work with synthesizers and have a fascination for hands-on analogue gear – and that’s very far away from a classical musician. I do try though to keep a certain, let’s say…human touch.
Are you completely self-taught in terms of technology, musicianship and playing?
With Ableton Live, everything I learned from sitting down with friends and trying to understand what is going on. I went to school once, but it was more about theoretical background of things and we also learned a little bit of audio. Also I learned to play the guitar and I learned to play the bass guitar but I am rarely playing these kind of instruments now.
Do you feel you have learned from working with percussionists and other organic musicians over the years?
To work with musicians can be so enriching and soulful, you know, you understand that human beings are really enjoying themselves while playing music so it is something that spreads through the room, it’s an experience that I don’t want to miss anymore in my life.
Also there’s energy that comes from a musician who actually plays in front of an audience. There is this communication on another level between audience and musician – this is something that the Bell Laboratory showed me.
Is this influencing the Pantha Du Prince live shows as a result?
The solo live shows were always very playful and very musical – I never had good times when I was DJing, I only had good times when I could really play the music. This is also why at an early stage I had Ableton Live on board – because I could really play with the music. Even though it was pre-produced music, reconstructed music, it was possible for me to interact with my own compositions and this is why I think I kept going – because I had the possibility to create while I was playing in a DJ situation, it was still possible for me to create something new.
Thanks Hendrik – it’s been really nice talking to you and looking forward to the gigs when you are out here and the new releases next year, have a great trip.
Don’t miss Pantha Du Prince performing alongside an amazing lineup at OutsideIn festival on 29th November.
Learn more about Producing Music with Ableton Live.