Pantha du Prince
XI Versions of Black Noise
(Rough Trade; 2011)
By Conrad Amenta | 3 May 2011
Mark and Chet identified This Bliss (2007) as an essential continuation of a tradition: the appropriation of spaces and voices; the strategic realignment of scenes from Detroit to Berlin and their attendant memes; the power/politics of dance and the egoless subsuming of one thing or person into another thing or group. And so the idea of a Pantha du Prince remix album is at once intuitive and elegant while wonderfully haywire. Hendrik Weber’s dance music is arranged with such airtight purpose that it’s hard to understand if either of the two premises of a remix album—to subject the remixed to the aesthetic qualities of the remixer, or vice versa—would prove as laser-like and direct a listening experience, but it’s the underlying notion of the dissolving of the whole into the metastatic new that is importantly kept intact.
Though it has to be acknowledged that Black Noise (2010) is not This Bliss. It seemed to conform, at least a little bit, to an even more streamlined structure, to evoke populism where This Bliss thought to evoke the objectively-acting Outsider of the avant-garde. It seemed to hollow out some bit of itself, intentionally and in a way that allowed spaces in the music where This Bliss was about filling up spaces—both in the world and between people, like links between nodes to illustrate a complex network. All that said, I prefer Black Noise‘s aesthetics, find myself turning to it more often than I do to Weber’s earlier work, but I can admit that the album seems, not unlike Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009), to simultaneously culminate and tie-off a history: to be the most immediate listen in the artist’s catalogue while also a tacit complicity with something that can only ever exist as a one-time thing. The pop formula is one of diminishing returns, inherently disposable, a departure only from departures. The nomadic nature of the artist must be reinstated if they are to keep intact the perception of their work as a result of a rigorous, intellectual engagement with their genre. No wonder Weber and Animal Collective seem so aligned these days: touring together, showing up on each other’s albums, and now providing remixes. They are both at the forefront of a pop music tethered to and swinging wildly away from a pole only to bounce haphazardly back towards it in new and interesting ways.
It can be said, somewhat generally, that XI Versions of Black Noise almost seems a testament to the importance of Pantha du Prince. Most of these remixes almost seem afraid to sully their source material’s essence—and rightly so, but in doing so sound deferent, and so miss out on that essence completely. Only those musicians whose work is predicated on an unapologetic idiosyncrasy bleed through. Four Tet’s remix of Weber’s poppiest song, “Stick to My Side,” is wonderful, yet more proof along with Kieren Hebden’s work with Burial, his remix of Born Ruffians. his DJ mixes, and his collaborations with Steve Reid, that Hebden has located a balance between faithfulness to an artist to whom one is indebted and bringing some new factors to the formula—to establish the inherent dialogue between influence and aspiration. Importantly, Hebden seems to understand that any remix of Weber must maintain its underlying synthesis of house, trance, funk, and minimalism into one gorgeous tapestry of texture and noise, even as he introduces his characteristic skittishness and busyness.
It should also be noted that “Stick to My Side” enjoys five remixes here, and “Welt Am Draht” three, indicating, perhaps, some tendency toward safe, structuralist choices. Both of those tracks provide strong parameters in which to play, and the assumption is that there is the simple economy of effort at work here: they seem the easiest to remix. There is a faithfulness to Weber’s modus, and so we’re served with several soft, trance-lite takes on songs already soft and evocative of trance. (Similar issues seem to be at play when likeminded artists attempted to remix Ellen Allien.) This is why the Sight Below’s haunted and anxious eight-minute version of “A Nomad’s Retreat,” along with Hieroglyphic Being’s robotic, obtuse “Satellite Sniper,” are truly appreciated, even if they seem incompatible at times.
While the depth of material present, despite the repetition of source tracks, is yet more evidence of Weber’s strength of vision, to think of the depth represented by his unexploited catalogue is staggering. Perhaps more telling is that Weber’s own remix of “Lay in a Shimmer” makes important, substantial changes, the primary of which is laying a half-tempo groove underneath it, all while remaining as truthful to the source samples as possible. Put another way: though the thesis of this remix album restricts remixers to only one album, the remixers limit themselves further, and seem afraid to do too much more than reaffirm certain dance touchstones already done away with by Weber himself. They’ve missed the sanctity for the structure.