Pantha Du Prince is the chosen alias of Hendrik Weber, the German producer, composer and conceptual artist. The origins of the project can be traced back to 2002 when a Nowehere EP dropped on Dial Records, a label that became something of a regular home for Weber's earliest minimal productions. It was this particular German imprint that housed his first two long-players, namely 2004's Diamond Daze and 2007's The Bliss. Since then, however, the vast majority of Weber's solo works have been released through Rough Trade, the chosen label for his latest release, The Triad, which landed on shelves towards the end of last month and marked his first original solo material in nearly four years. Despite this extended hiatus, however, Weber's skills in production—the blissful melodies and cerebral charm—were evident throughout both the 10-tracker and the taster EP that preceded it. Given this, we thought it was about time for Weber to give his views on the production process and the inevitable mental hurdles that accompany it. This is what he had to say.
"It’s important to look at the situation you are in because even the most awkward situation could be a piece of music if you find a pathway into it."
Keep an open mind. You can make music anywhere
You can make music wherever you are; you just need to find the right moment to actually make it happen, so it’s better to find a silent place or somewhere a little bit more protected. I believe that in order to really work on something for a longer time, you need to create your own environment, but that can be anywhere in the universe.
From my own practice, I can really say that I can work from anywhere in the world provided I have headphones. For example, I've worked in toilets, kitchens, and nice studios with big speakers—it doesn’t really matter. All you need is a musical idea, and that can happen anywhere and there is a certain beauty in that. It doesn't really matter what technical gear you are using, so don't get hung up on the idea that you need a specific tool. The worst thing to do is say you need this certain piece of gear to work on something—of course, you need to have a certain attraction to an object or a situation, but the situation counts more. It’s important to look at the situation you are in because even the most awkward situation could be a piece of music if you find a pathway into it. Challenge yourself to see if you can put a thought into music. Or you just use the chair you’re sitting on.
Linked to this is sampling: I take samples from all over. I take snippets from absolutely everywhere that I go. If you have a phone, then you have a field recorder. It’s that simple. But field recording can also mean you are actually playing something in the field, like ethnographic recordings: that’s the origin of the word meaning to record in the field. These are my raw materials that then get taken to the studio, so I am always recording sketches and ideas—it’s like archiving. Some of them do get thrown in the trash, but lots of them get transferred to my computer, and then the story of the moment unfolds.
For the new album, I worked in all sorts of different spaces and studio environments. I worked in my friend’s atelier, where I recorded many of the voices. It was not acoustically ideal, but it was the right mood and the right moment to record the voice. It was the room for this specific situation in my life. It’s not conscious: it’s more about following the music and doing what is inherent, staying close to the moment and its parameters. What is actually available at the moment? Which space of experience is open for me right now? It’s all about having an awareness for the material.
"People would always criticize my art—and there were moments where I would doubt myself and question what I was doing."2 Images
It can be very hard to do what it is that you want instead of what other people expect from you. If you listen to outside expectations a lot, or act based on what will earn you the most money, you will change your art form to fit in with what is expected. This would make the world a boring and suffering place, so you must create your own vision.
Earlier in my career, I had lots of people telling me, “You can’t do this,” and me saying, “I can do this because I am doing it right now.” People always told me all kinds of things, like, “Your harmonies are wrong,” and “You can’t make techno like this,” or, “the melody is off.” It was constant! People would always criticize my art—and there were moments where I would doubt myself and question what I was doing. But you have to use the criticism in the right way: criticism can be a good thing, although it is difficult to overcome emotionally. Criticism gives you a chance to make your style unique in a more conscious way.
This is what you have to remember: on one hand is the criticism, on the other hand is the material, and then there is the ritual for the material itself. The critics don’t see you play your tracks in the club, or with an audience. Most of the time, they forget about the frame the music is made for. The thing that counts is that it works for you and the audience.
Success shouldn’t be the only goal. Some colleagues of mine are so far out and so successful that they become very unhappy after a while because they are not in tune with their surroundings and their creative processes. The success becomes too much of a focus. I think it is about a certain mindset: I’ve had this connection since the beginning—it’s like being in a stream and a flow of the material itself, to find a way to listen close enough and, of course, build from there, rather than listen to the part in you that tells you how to be successful in terms only of money.
Truly, I was never sure I would earn anything from pursuing music. I knew I would find a certain amount of joy from doing it, and that some of this joy would get through to the audience—although, I never knew whether it would be to 10 people or 1000. But I didn’t mind because I was never thinking about this stuff. From an early age, I knew that I had a gift for interconnecting these modes of existence, but I didn't know if I would be an actor, musician, or a visual artist. I then decided that I should not make this decision, and that it would be made for me by the gift of joy.
Reflect on Criticism
This is linked to the above. Criticism can be a good thing, and you should accept it. You should embrace it and generate power from it. Don’t allow yourself to get pushed into a corner, stay in an open space for your own headspace. It helps to exchange experiences with friends, interesting people in general, and other artists—hearing their thoughts is important in order to get a clear picture of what it is you are doing.
However, don’t allow yourself to be too affected [by criticism]. You have to make your own decisions even though people say these things. You can base your own decision upon the knowledge you have and face the criticism in your own way. It makes yourself more conscious about what you do. It's a very fruitful way of embracing your point of view.
"....if you get yourself into an open state of mind then inspiration can come from many different things."
Inspiration can come from anywhere
It’s easy to say this, and it’s important to find inspiration, but if you get yourself into an open state of mind then inspiration can come from many different things. This can include limitation—like making an album out of just a car, or even a spoon. I personally find spaces and philosophical ideas highly inspirational.
How you see the world, and what you think about it, will be reflected in the music you are making, so be aware of your own philosophical input and the experiences you have with music. Sometimes it’s better to be in a scientific headspace and analyze empirically; sometimes it’s through the lens of an author or poet—and, for me, that is something that people should not forget, because sonic work needs poetic friction as well.
This is all a form of content and you need a story to tell. Once you have that, whatever medium you use to tell the story is not so important. The medium is also the messenger, but with music it comes through you and your physical presence, and you need to be aware of that.
Visiting exhibitions is very inspirational to me also. The visual can have a very sonic effect in the end; it’s quite interesting how the mind is actually an entity that does not divide, so any sensory input can trigger a new form of creative outcome. You need to melt down your own preconceptions of sensual perception and then the music comes easier to you. It’s also confusing, but confusion is welcome. Even just thinking what you don’t like about these exhibitions can inspire you as you make an aesthetic distinction.
Once you have that source of ideas, you can sit in front of a piece of music for hours, or have it done in a few seconds.
Broaden the Mind
From my perspective, the music has never been the priority. The outcome is not as important as exploring what it is that is driving me and fascinating me. This is where my fascination with art, film, religion, healing techniques, science, and the metaphysical comes about. You read and it is also about an experience, a personal envisioning, and this will ultimately affect everything that you do in the studio for the next day or even the coming weeks. These informations about the world and how we perceive it stick within your system, even though you might not understand it straight away. It stays with you, it will go through your brain and come out in a piece of music, in one way or the other.
You can also approach music very pragmatically. Music will always be a reflection of what you think and feel about the world, its thought processes, atmospheres, and embodied knowledge. You strip those things down into music and it becomes an experience for everyone that opens the senses.
Music production requires a process of fast decision making. I take clear positions at the moment of the recording. The decisions do not always happen on a conscious level; it is just something that arises, sometimes really fast, like because the cable is not connecting or the machine is not working. Then you think about it and realise that maybe you don’t need this. At some point you have to be very clear and precise and say, “This is what we have got now.” Music production is about living in the space between the conscious decision making and staying in the flow, which is a hyperconscious thing and somehow mystical as well.
Also of note: there should always be a certain limitation within in the frame of technical set ups. On the Triad album, each track has a very stable minimal setup that we used and that we tried to explore to its maximum.