Walking into the National Concert Hall to see Pantha du Prince and the Bell Laboratory is more like walking into a bar-venue, with the conversation levels and energy a contrast from the usual atmosphere. The musk in the Hall also indicates towards a change, with more old sweat than the usual Old Spice, a sure sign of the kind of age group abounding.
On stage, the variety of instrumentation lined up on within the realms of percussion is amazing. As the performers begin, grouped stage center, it is hard to tell whether they are playing from a memorised score or simply enjoying jamming together. They move to their grouped instrument posts, continuing to enjoy what they were doing with Pantha du Prince at the helm. The lighting is far from the usual for the Hall, with rigs set up in front of a giant sheet that covers the back of the stage, at turns illuminating the performers, others creating striking silhouettes. The subtle colours mean it didn’t stray to being unsuitable for the venue, while remaining authentic to the soundscape being created.
‘Symphony’ is the term used for Elements of Light, and it is great to see the concept being pushed to an extreme by these musical experimentalists. A piece with a grand scope and journey, no clear division of movements but definite sections similar to the traditional fast-slow-fast of previous eras, Elements brings the symphony into the twenty-first century in a way that no traditional orchestration could. The continuity of the bell timbres mean consistency through the swells and dips of the music, unlike orchestral music’s changing sounds. The performer/creators know the music intimately and this shines through in the fluidity of the transitions.
The audience reacts well to the music and delivery. While clearly a few people got mislead by the term “symphony” and haven’t seen the dance festival headline posters featuring Pantha du Prince, as the fur coats disappear out the doors, the packed Hall doesn’t take heed, entranced as they are by the pulsating beats. The wild atmosphere in the Hall reaches fever pitch when the symphony finishes. The group didn’t seem too surprised about the call for the first encore but were chuffed with the second, thanks to a clearly massive Irish fan base.
From ethereal to apocalyptic, Pantha du Prince and the Bell Laboratory provided exactly what the crowd wanted, and they loved it. With everyone on their feet and rocking by the final finish, the only thing missing are the biggest bells of the carillon, an addition which may have improved ever further the performance. Although perhaps the addition was for the best – our ears may not have been quite able to survive them!