You'd be excused for thinking Hendrik Weber's attributing his fourth album to his work with "the Bell Laboratory" might be an act of self-parody. Since his 2004 debut through to 2010's Black Noise, Weber's sound has been all about warm, bell- and chime-laced nocturnes. In truth, of course, he's been playing live with the Bell Laboratory since last summer, and the group's name is grounded in their use of a three-ton, 50-bell carillon, which the artist first overheard echoing from a city hall in Oslo in 2010.
When he heard the bells that afternoon, Weber liked them so much that he had a carillon shipped from Denmark to Germany, where he got to work on the new project with Norwegian conductor Lars Petter Hagen, carillon-player Vegar Sandholt and a slew of percussionists and multi-instrumentalists, who contribute everything from marimba to tubular bells, xylophones and cymbals. The resulting album is loyal to Weber's trademark shimmers and lumbering basslines, but also more allusive to the symphonic minimalism of composers like LaMonte Young, Terry Riley and Steve Reich, nodding perhaps to the latter's trance-inducing Drumming and Music for 18 Musicians.
After luring you into a drowse with an introductory piece called "Wave," Weber and company hasten the pace on "Particle," tracing the former's spacious, ringing bells with faster, almost clock-like peals that add an element of anxiousness, a sense of something lurking just beyond the bend, before, slowly, Weber introduces groaning bass pulses which, on headphones, sound like some force threatening to cave in underneath all of this church-bound ease. On "Particle," Weber laces his gentle throb with distant drones and xylophone melodies in a way that's sure to appeal most to long-time fans.
Other passages are less dynamic. Most of "Photon" flows within the theme laid out in "Particle," and it threatens to sour from zen-bound repetition to sheer tedium. The album's most arresting track, "Spectral Split," is introduced on silky drones and dim, 3:00 AM bells before, once again, Weber quickens his trot with a pulpy beat and, about seven minutes in, a gorgeous synth arpeggio that colors around the edges of the bells.
It's a moment that sets you back actually, in how much volume and texture this simple little glimmer of synthesizer adds to some of the creations that precede it. But it points to how, often, one gets lost in the cathedral gleam of Elements of Light and begins to seek a little contrast, if not of shadow then at least of various shades of glow. After a three-year gap in solo material and last year's Durutti Column-indebted collaboration as Ursprung, it looked increasingly like Weber was seeking transformation. It's unclear if Elements of Light represents an evolutionary mark for the producer or a one-off exercise inspired by a summer's day in Oslo, but as an effort at minimalism, it's a modest success at best.