For anyone with even a passing familiarity with Hendrik Weber’s musical output – so often loaded with meaning and narrative – it’s perhaps unsurprising that the artist is a deep, fiercely intelligent thinker. Born in 1975 in a small German town called Bad Wildungen, his last album Black Noise was released on British independent Rough Trade. However, biographical trivia has little bearing on his art where he privileges a kind of ego dissolution of the DJ-as-creator, “Sometimes I have the impression people get lost so easily with techno music.” he tells me, during the hour we spoke together. “For me, as a form as genre, it’s the best way, for me, as an artist, to express without putting myself in the place. A very good way of creating without being a subject.”
In his Pantha du Prince guise Weber is responsible for producing music that challenges the receiver, that gives the lie to binary understandings of synthetic and humane. While critics in the past have heard the rich melodies and organic – albeit processed – instrumentation and heralded the likes of This Bliss and Black Noise as benchmarks in romantic minimalism, Weber himself is wary of such terms. Instead he believes in a more deconstructive approach, where ruthless analysis trumps lazy signifiers; where purity, and economy, of emotion is the tonic in a world clogged up with multifarious strands of information.
As the theme of Alpha-ville 2011 is Post Digital, it seemed fitting to open up a discussion whereby Weber could extemporise in depth on his own digital practice alongside the wider question of human experience in a world increasingly colonised by technology. The answers, like his music, are both fascinating and highly relevant.
You’re playing Alpha-ville Festival in 3 days, can you give us a preview of what you’ve got planned?
For Alpha-ville I will play the live set with a few machines involved – my cyborg friends. I will play with two microphones, a microphone with a computer, with drum machines. A neurologic system that records tracks and also creates new improvised times and, yeah, combines everything into one flow which is made to dance or to listen or to…sleep.
Can we talk a bit about some of your other projects, particularly the Bell Laboratory (which debuted at Oya Festival). What was that?
It’s an ongoing project actually, a piece of music that I wrote incorporating a whole carillon which weighed three tons. Carillon is basically an ensemble of bells, really big and heavy – probably played in churches. This one is mobile and you can take it with you but it’s in a big truck so it’s not suitable for clubs or places where you cannot put three ton weights. So it’s a very special project for special occasions!
It’s exploring the new possibilities of using these instruments. Using classical instruments going hand in hand with the computer. So here we are again with the idea of the cyborg idea that if you connect with the machines you are capable of doing more, and liberating yourself from your limitations as human beings.
I was actually going to ask about your use of chimes and bells in your production – bells are loaded with meaning relating to contemplation and spirituality. Is that something you want to impart into your music? To have that level?
Not so much. For me it was always exploring certain sounds. I could never really say if they are bells or not because it’s all digital sound – it’s not really about bells even though it sounds bell-y! You would never listen to a pure bell on one of my albums, it’s always processed. It has the connotation of, for me, just a pure sound you can tell stories with, for me it has nothing spiritual in the first place. It’s just a good tool to tell a story.
For sure it was probably one of the first instruments we were not banging with wood on. It’s constantly there and existing, a basic tool for creating sound. That’s it. And now I get the possibility to work with this old carillon, a new carillon but an old tool, probably 600 – 700 years old, maybe even older.
It is futuristic in a way, to use an old organism and turn it into something new and try to incorporate a traditional instrument into a new organism. But with Pantha du Prince it is digital music, it’s a synthetic way of dealing with the world, the digital way of dealing with the world.
I noticed at the Berlin Festival you had people in robes and you were also wearing a hood. What did that represent?
It’s just a good way to present without being present. To show presence without being recognisable and for me it’s an important moment at the beginning because I need to get into a certain state to play my music so the robe, or any kind of protection which is around me, puts me in a safe place.
I think it feeds in well with your music. There’s a certain romanticism implicit in your music which comes across in the sense of drama with the robes.
It’s not so easy to just say because there are so many levels of romanticism. There’s a certain romanticism that is the opposite of what I want to say. I’m referring to people like Heinrich Heine or ETA Hoffmann with my perspective; it’s about being human and having sides in the human that are not rational.
That there are powers that cannot be explained rationally and there are energies which you have to use for creation and development and for enlightenment and for democracy. And it is not only science that can bring you forward, although I would never neglect this and would always incorporate this. If you see people like Max Planck or Albert Einstein – really high physical scientists- who would also say they came up with a better world with their instruments.
If we look into a Romantic view on the world, there is also this really kitschy crappy view. Where people think something is beautiful and get enchanted by something, lose their minds, they lose their control. Beauty can put you on the wrong track. If you look at the cover of Black Noise, this is the beauty I am neglecting – that is why I put it on the cover. If you have all the information of the painting of the painter, then it’s not what it is anymore. It’s my moment of playing with the romantic idea and at the same time resisting certain elements in Romantic idea. This is always missing when people write that my music is romantic, I think it’s sometimes very misleading.
Another project you’ve been involved with is the sound design for a dance piece in Paris with Last Last…
It was not a dance piece in a traditional way, it was the work of a collective of people who were exploring post-apocalyptic performance. It was a piece completely in darkness so people wouldn’t be able to see, but they would feel at certain points, and they would also imagining things. We started with this project three, four years ago. It was played this year again in Paris, but we played it last year and the year before in France and Vienna, Austria.
It was written and created by a group of people. I would focus on the music but would also be involved in the whole dramaturgy process, creating certain pictures and movements. So it was, in the best sense, the Romantic ideal of people using all their abilities. I had to use all my creative senses in a musical way and the reception of the visuals and the deconstruction of the room via sound and the sound via the room, of having a body disappearing in a way and showing it and not showing it.
Do you see a divide between high concept art and techno functionality?
That’s the beauty of techno. You have a certain functionalism and on top of this functionalism you can put stories. I mean normally you dance to that music so you have these moments of letting go and at the same time being with your mind. For me this it is still a very interesting form of receiving and also contributing.
I do these other projects that are more conceptual and probably more for the mind but I would never say they are more important than a techno party because a techno party can also completely change your life and make you think.
Sure you have a lot of drug culture, a lot of wasted people and sometimes it can be really self destructive and negative but at the same time it is music and I very much love to be in that culture, still.
It’s funny you mention the drug culture because in a way that represents the other side of Romanticism, where you would be consumed by the sensory.
I’m sure that all the writers were full on drugs!
Of course! The beauty of techno is that you can almost forget your body, it’s liberating at the same time as being intoxicating.
And you could also have this at 9 o clock in the evening, the same notion, I think – and I hope – it will change that you don’t need to go at 3 or 4 o’clock in the night to experience the same thing. It is important for me to make people more sensitive to new situations, that you can have pleasure of listening to not even techno but music with a pulse at a certain time, a constant flow. A flow that probably never stops and which you can always enter like you can enter fresh air, like you can have water always running.
This is what I think is interesting, techno was the first music that had this idea of infinity, constantly running music that never stops, like a human being, a constant heartbeat that never stops 24 hours each day. Within this frame of living 24 hours each day which we use in this civilisation there’s also stories happening within this heartbeat. This is what techno music reflects.
So in a way, techno is the most human music?
Yeah, I mean this is when people say it’s stupid and dumb because it’s probably the most archaic way. It’s what we started with, going into a trance, of going to other places with our minds [bangs something in the background] like banging with a stick on a tree. Do this for half an hour in the tempo of your heartbeat and [laughs] that’s basically it.
For sure it’s also misused for pleasure, for stupidity, for materialism, for stardom cults, everything we have in this world is reflected in this music. Everything bad is there, and everything good should be there.
The theme of the festival is post-digital. What did you think the role of digital technologies is in music?
For me it was always an extension of what I did with my instruments, my guitar, my bass guitar, so working with digital production it was basically a cue point to be able to express what I wouldn’t be able to express with a band because I was just not able to talk to people. It is a way to create, a very nice way to put your ideas into the most perfect way. I I think – I hope – we can put the resolution so high that we can even top physicality. This is why I’m interested in working with computers, we’ve reached a resolution so high that we can reach another level of physicality; That you can incorporate the body in in a new way.
I think this is also interesting with Black Noise, you can also use physical sounds and put them together with digital sounds to create new worlds, a new reception which probably isn’t possible when you only create with digital or when you only create with acoustic sounds. To put these two worlds together is, for me, the most interesting way of dealing with sounds and music at the moment because we are all on the internet the whole day and the mind is working in a certain pattern, trying to work out what’s going on.
Our senses need to be attentive to what’s really dangerous and what’s not dangerous. This analogue / cyborg feeling is something we have to reflect upon and experience in the club – like what is this now? Is he banging on something? Is it a drum machine? This sensation of questioning – this is for me post-digital.
Do you think that we have become numb from too much information?
I think we are about to lose something if we’re not careful. I think you can never completely lose…You can relearn everything, every language, you can learn to be telepathic, you can learn a number of patterns, so I’m not a pessimistic guy that says civilisation will be gone. Totally not. I’m not against technology, I want to have a, let’s say, a very precise view of what’s happening. I want people to open and to think, and to feel, and to experience and this is sometimes verbally not working. Especially in the Western world, when you have contact with many people and different ways of receiving information non-verbally. I think when you’re constantly under the influence of carrying a cellphone with you, when you have got access to all this knowledge and information, then you should be really be aware of when, where and what you are doing. You have to give yourself a chance to reset and address what you’ve experienced.
Sometimes you see people who are sitting in front of you who are not able to look into your eyes or hold a conversation because they are distracted. This is something the new era needs to put back in place. There is a certain possibility in this technology which we can use if we keep ourselves open, otherwise Apple Computers will take over our brains as we consume their products.
How do you propose to prevent that? What is the jolt needed?
Concentration, The precise self-reflection of what your needs are, what the needs of the people around you are.
Art needs to show you the way, how to deal with yourself. I had this experience in North Africa when I went to Tunisia I talked to these kids who were rioting on the streets and they were telling me how they did it, they were putting their lives in danger because they wanted change. They would listen to techno music and they would always say that techno music is the most apolitical techno music on this planet because it is escapism. People can actually use this music to put themselves and their minds into a space where they’re able to resist, able to think and to reflect and have their body as resonance to the music. You know there are more protest songs than Janis Joplin that can people feel. This is what people forget.
Interview by Louise Brailey, Berlin.
Catch Pantha Du Prince LIVE AV this Friday night in XOYO, last tickets selling out.