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Trance for Fun and Profit
Part 1: How to Traverse Dance Styles / Well Schooled but Old School / The Changing Face of House
Child piano prodigy, trance music innovator, remix master, and soundtrack composer BT is the kind of chameleon-like renaissance man that gives the competition the willies. BT's second album, Movement In Still Life, goes where no dance record has gone before, mixing melancholy Pink Floydish pop with big beat, breakbeat and, of course, trance. This dance music pioneer's life has been a study in contrasts, so why not his music?
"It is pretty simple," explains one Brian Transeau, a.k.a BT. "I am a musical mutt. I have a lot of different idioms that I can work in and that I have studied. My goal is to study and participate in good, interesting music. I'm like a student of music."
Long before he created the blessed - out trance that filled 1998's ESCM, Transeau was immersed in music. At age four, he dissected classical music as a Suzuki violin disciple; at nine he was engrossed in symphonic orchestration at the Washington Conservatory.
Breakdancing and Depeche Mode took over at 11, with drum duties in hardcore and ska bands diverting a teenage BT before he left for Berklee School of Music. BT admits that knowledge can sometimes be the enemy.
"Jazz and classical purism turns to snobbery and that is hard to turn off. You start to dissect everything you listen to. I used to analyze everything and ignore the emotional impact, but that is what the language of music is about."
BT continues to stretch himself, recently recording an album with fellow trance artist Sasha on the Real World recording, [Re] Birth. He has also scored soundtracks for the cult flick Go, and forthcoming Hollywood thriller Under Suspicion. What makes BT run?
"My theory teacher would say that the only way you can know what hasn't been done is to study what already has been done. The important part is to put yourself out there and learn all you can."
Blurb: Brian Transeau is credited with virtually inventing trance music. But can this well-educated legit musician stay true to the original trance school?
Blurb: Before BT, house music was the domain of monotonous beats and lone diva cries. Movement in Still Life finds BT still trancing, but also reeling in new school breakbeat and ambitious symphonic sounds.
Musician.com: Yours is the first album I've heard to combine trance, big beat and straight up pop songs. How does one move between styles?
Brian Transeau: I tell you what, I am just a musical mutt. I have a lot of different idioms that I have participated in and studied. I started out on piano with the Suzuki method when I was four, and went on to study string writing and symphonic orchestration at the Washington Conservatory when I was ten. It was weird, you might think that I had parents that pressured me to go into music, but my parents were actually diametrically opposed to me doing that. They saw how serious I was, but they wanted me to be a professional. But then at eleven I got into breakdancing, and I heard my first Mantronix album, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, from then I was finished with classical music, I was into hardcore bands, played drums in indie bands, bass in ska bands, my whole life was into it. Then I went to Berklee and studied jazz harmony and composition and film writing. So that eclecticism comes from just getting into everything that interests me. I am a student of music.
Musician.com: Did that foundation in classical music make everything else easier?
BT: To an extent. But there is a flipside. Not only do many of those guys have this snobbism, but it can discourage improvisation. Also, it is hard to turn off. Even with the jazz stuff, once you study all of that you start to dissect everything you listen to. I went through a period following Berklee where it was really difficult for me to hear anything in me but what was happening technically. The upside is being able to sit down and write for a string quartet. I want to be able to listen to a three chord punk band and sometimes that is hard to do.
Musician.com: Trance was how you presented yourself to the world but now you are branching out with pop, soundtracks and world music...
BT: I was in L.A. after Berklee and I was doing the same thing then, I was all over the place. Everything from tabla and acoustic guitars to experimental stuff that they call trance now. House music was very linear at the time, no breaks, no builds, nothing musical, just a beat and a bassline. When I began experimenting with the structure of house music and incorporating dynamics and film music, jazz, the modal changes of classical music, it wasn't a thing at that time. I was out in L.A. trying to get a pop deal and failing at it, so I moved to Maryland, sold my car, and put out my first record. It got into Sasha's hands, and he called me up and told me to come to the U.K.. I wouldn't be making records if it wasn't for Sasha. He had me over there specifically to have my music heard. He gave me a tremendous opportunity.
Musician.com: House has changed a lot over the last couple years, it has become very musical. Look at Everything But The Girl and how their music has changed.
BT: A lot of that has to do with the Deep Dish. Ben Watt and Ali from Deep Dish are really good friends, and Tracy Thorn sang on a Deep Dish track, "Future of the Future." Before that when Deep Dish remixed "Walking Wounded," it is cool to see that because a lot of people are realizing, as with many of things, it is just a structure to be experimented with. Some of these things are beginning to attract musicians now. A guy like Ben Watt.
Musician.com: Watt maintains that house is as important as any R&B musical form.
BT: I could give you five artists to listen to and you would find them as musically valid as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. You would get it.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3