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In Extremis

Hear It In The Electricity: Pantha Du Prince Interviewed
Charles Ubaghs , May 5th, 2010 09:48

Charles Ubaghs talks to Hendrick Weber about his new album Black Noise, his friendship with Animal Collective and his grandmother's musical taste

We live in a tinnitus inducing age. Our addiction to pocket sized music boxes is deeper than ever. Music is now simply everywhere.

The pundits will spew forth opinions about this new(ish) state of affairs for decades to come, yet for a few, like Hendrick Weber, it’s an old story. Black Noise, his third LP under his Pantha Du Prince guise, finds the cerebral minimal techno producer toying with the idea of ‘black noise,’ or silent noise. It’s the antithesis of white noise; a barely detectable audio frequency often appearing prior to catastrophic events; the silence before the storm and a reminder that sound resonates in everything and that music is potentially everywhere and has been since long before Steve Job’s looked down upon his design minions and declared 'let there be iPod.' It’s a point Weber highlights on Black Noise by using field recordings taken from the debris of a Swiss village destroyed by a landslide and using them as the foundation for some of the album’s tracks.

Black Noise is in its own quiet way a concept record. It’s also a proper dance record. One that seamlessly mixes Hendrick’s post-graduate conceits with the Spartan club beats of his Pantha Du Prince debut, Diamond Daze, and the swirling, shoegaze influenced textures of its heavily lauded follow-up, This Bliss. And while the presence of Noah Lennox, aka Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, on Black Noise begs the question of whether Weber is aiming for crossover status, the affable German producer quickly brushes away such doubts when we question him about the record while sat in the offices of his new record label, Rough Trade.

Let’s talk about the concept of the record, Black Noise. It’s essentially the sound of silence, as I’ve understood it. Why focus on that concept? Why make a record out of it?

Hendrick Weber: It was not a pre-conceptual thing. The idea was to record some stuff outside and go to this house of my friend in Switzerland. With the word black noise, it was in my head for a long time but I was never thinking of using it with Pantha Du Prince. Like I had my collection of words and they just stuck in my head and on my personal papers. We were in Switzerland and I discovered next to the house there was this landslide and when I was looking for the whole idea about the album, it just came up while going through the papers, so it was like falling into place, it was not this pre-constructed thing.

But once you saw the landslide and did the field recordings...

HW: It was like a constant process of letting it be in you and grow out of you and then you have the title.

But now that you have the title, does the concept, now that it’s formed...

HW: Yes, afterwards it made absolute sense and the whole how I created the tracks made absolute sense. The whole thing was being tied together by the words.

And the rest of the album...

HW: It just happened.

The album bio I read discussed your idea of sound and music being something that exists in nature, even if you can’t hear it. Is that true?

HW: I don’t know if it’s true...

But do you actually believe it?

HW: What I was trying to say was that it’s just a matter of perspective. If you listen to certain things then you can hear music everywhere. But it’s your perspective on ‘what do I listen to, why do I listen, what’s going on.’ And then you have music.

So it’s not so much the idea of if a tree falls in the woods and no one’s there to hear it, does it still make music?

HW: Well that’s a story to it, sure, that you can make audible. You can experience the falling of the tree and there’s certainly something in it also.

With ‘Black Noise,’ though, when you said that you had that in your notebook, was that a concept you researched or was it more just you writing down the phrase ‘black noise’ and thinking ‘that sounds nice’?

HW: No, it was a huge thing for me, the black noise. Why does no one use the word black noise? White noise is appearing everywhere. In Berlin you have a club that makes evenings that are called White Noise. Black noise you [only] have a book about soul music and hip-hop.

There’s a hip-hop group called Black Noise.

HW: Exactly, so I was like yeah, you really have to research this.

I did when I heard about the record. The thing that struck me most about black noise is the fact that it only appears before catastrophic events.

HW: This is how they describe the frequencies that happen before these events, they’re called black noise. You can also say that these frequencies happen all the time, you know? But they just name them black noise. These frequencies are everywhere, you can hear them in the electricity, also.

I might be going out on a limb here but based on the idea that black noise is associated with catastrophic events - some say that it if you map it out you can find it even prior to man-made catastrophic events – are you attempting to take something potentially tragic and turn it into something new? Art out of catastrophe?

HW: Yeah, it’s the idea of giving a certain ambience to this catastrophic event. Is this catastrophic event catastrophic for you but can it also be something beautiful for someone else?

Is this something you wanted to do with This Bliss and Diamond Daze?

HW: No, This Bliss was more experience of travelling in high-speed trains.

The forward motion?

HW: Yeah. It was more about travelling and time and space and being otherworldly. And there was a lot of space on this...how to disappear from people when you go past them and you disappear from yourself and this was, for me, ‘this bliss.’ We all have this urge to move, to move because it’s in our biology, and this was this bliss for me and this was also a description of an inward state of mind this record.

What about the first album? That was more of a club record.

HW: I think they’re all club records but maybe the first one had the hardest tracks. Like four or five tracks are more like This Bliss. But I was at that time into that kind of stuff. The first record, for me, is more like a ‘90s approach, it’s more historic in a way. I took samples in...

You sampled [Kiwi Popppers] The Chills on there.

HW: I sampled a lot of bands. And then I took the samples out in the end. I took the samples in, made the track, and took, for example, the melody or the chorus and then I took the track out again. With The Chills you can only hear it at the beginning and the end. That’s it.

But it’s there.

HW: It’s there.

You just said that the first album had a few more hard-edged club songs. Do you feel like you’ve shifted away from dance clubs with each album? I guess the best way to describe it is: are you more focused now on creating music for someone to listen to via headphones?

HW: No, for me it was always a subversive act to dance music. That’s the purest dance music. It’s dance. When you listen to it in the club it’s like proper dance music. I think that’s also a little bit the trick with Black Noise. If you listen to the track in the club it’s really dance music but when you listen to it at home or on a computer or on headphones...

It’s quite internal?

HW: Yeah. So I like this, to have this schizophrenic feel. That you can go both ways, or a third way.

But you’ve still cut out beats on some tracks on Black Noise. ‘Im Bann’ has no beats.

HW: I could have done even more tracks without beats on this album. But it’s Pantha Du Prince and you have to...I mean [Pantha Du Prince] for me was always like my techno imprint, so I always tried to give myself the chance to just rely on certain patterns. I had a lot of tracks without beats. It’s just drones and things.

Do you think the Pantha Du Prince name will start going in that direction as well?

HW: With Pantha Du Prince, I want to have it as it should be, like music for the body and for the brain. I do stuff with Glühen 4, the more mental stuff and intellectual approach...

Avant-garde?

HW: I don’t know about avant-garde. Pantha Du Prince was also me trying to make music that was really based on an experimental approach but is really listenable for even my grandma, but still with this edgy side to it, you know, like if you listen deeply you can also have these deep experiences.

Have you played it for your grandmother?

HW: I haven’t. She’s not into it. My mother is really into the hard experimental stuff. Glühen 4, she really likes. And my Father is more into the beats.

In my mind electronic music is always about looking towards the future. If you listen to Kraftwerk it’s always ‘future music, future music, future music.’ Since black noise, as we discussed before, is associated with catastrophe, are you taking the idea of electronic music to its logical conclusion? Is this the future music after everything collapses?

HW: If you can see it like this then you can interpret it like this. Pantha Du Prince was, also, always about futuristic perspective on human development and human and machine connections. This was always interesting for me. If you look at people like Stanislaw Lem, how he’s into his sci-fi stuff, this was also a more sociological approach to science fiction. I have a certain analytical approach also. So...what was the question?

About the future.

HW: Ah, yeah. I was always trying to push the limit of the club and make it softer or make it harder. At the time when I started it was really subversive to do soft music in a club because people stop dancing. And this is the challenge, also, to push people. To not make it louder, louder, louder or softer, softer, softer but to make it softer and then have another level in the sound because you’re not then so beaten up and you can still dance. You can still listen to it loud, but it’s not just forceful. I mean if you listen to it loud it probably has the same effect but it’s not that you feel beaten up afterwards, I hope. What I do, when I go to techno parties, I feel beaten up and someone was banging my head on the floor for two hours.

Let’s talk about the guests on the records. The most famous one is Noah Lennox. Are you friends or were you looking for a guest?

HW: No, no, no. It’s not interesting to me to just...I’m friends with Noah. There’s a connection with Animal Collective. We met in 2004. Basically one of his best friends invited me to play a gig and Josh [Dibb, A.C.’s Deakin] was there. Noah wasn’t there but we had a couple of friends who were knowing me and them and they were telling us about them and then we went on tour together. He wrote me an email saying that he enjoys my stuff and blah, blah and that they were mixing Strawberry Jam and I was influencing and then the whole thing started again after the production.

Obviously having him on a track these days draws a lot of attention from a world that doesn’t always look towards techno. Was that a concern or did it appeal to you?

HW: I think we come from the same background but at a certain point your cultural imprint leads you in different ways. I was going into the clubs. When you’re in Hamburg or Berlin or in a German big city the club is really the place where you can really listen to avant-garde stuff. It’s not like a commercial thing. Also, there was this understanding that there were people in the beginning of the 2000s where there was really this other element in the clubs with techno and the whole cliché about techno music changed. I think basically we come from the same background. So for me it’s been very, very normal to work with his voice. I was really interested in it because it’s also like an instrument. He uses it like an instrument. You don’t really hear what he’s singing or you can’t imagine what he’s singing. I really like that. It’s the same how I work with sound. This was just interesting to me and I’m not thinking about anything else.

No thoughts about crossing over into the indie world?

HW: No. It was just happening. I was not planning on ‘heading over.’ I was really interested to just work with the voice.

Of course, you’re in the indie world now since signing to Rough Trade. It’s a very different label from your old home, Dial.

HW: Not so different. It’s basically the same. It’s the same principle. You decide on everything. You decide on covers to how your web page looks and it’s basically an environment, an infrastructure to do what you want and on Rough Trade it’s just a little more effective, a little bit faster and there’s a little bit more pressure behind it than on Dial…

What kind of pressure? More press requests, more media?

HW: But for me it’s relaxed, more relaxed then when you’re doing it yourself the whole time. You do a lot more focus on work, work, work and promotion. With Dial it’s a collective, so you have to take care of your records from production to graphics to whatever and now here I just give them my masters and the graphics. It’s fairly easier.

You’re also an indie fan and have been since you were young.

HW: Yeah. I was in love with Creation bands. It had a massive impact on me, late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It was not a hype in Germany at all. You know, it was like ‘rave-on’ and stuff. And then the whole shoegaze and noise-pop stuff was really more hidden.

So with this album on Rough Trade, you must feel like you’ve come full circle.

HW: It doesn’t feel strange, it doesn’t feel strange, let’s leave it like that.

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