Electronica Visionary BT Redefines Musical Composition
Electronica artist BT has been an innovator in the field of electronic music, and music in general since he broke into the scene with his ingenious programming & realization of stutter edit. BT (Brian Transeau) has always been one of my favorite musicians, and while I have interviewed him before, this time BT met me at a South Miami Beach breakfast/lunch patio restaurant. Wearing a v-neck undershirt & shorts, the only thing that gave him away as anything other than a beach bum was the hair. Completely down to Earth, we ordered some drinks and had a conversation.
BT has a particular love for science and creating art for the ears. Our conversation ranged from the latest audio technology, to space exploration, physics, trance, meditation, nature, our daughters, time travel and everything in between. We stop to take bites of our very hipster feeling omelets every once in a while, but the conversation holds strong. I have to adjust to hear in the restaurant, as the background noise is heavy. This doesn’t seem to bother BT as two nights before he played the Winter Music Conference. His voice carries well, he’s used to talking above a crowd.
We move on to talking about inspiration. If you follow BT on Twitter you’d see a near constant stream of pictures from his travels. He is very inspired and in touch with the world around him, from nature to the near personal connection with his fans. Either way, he clearly believes that all of it is connected, and it’s that connection that inspires him the most.
“There’s such an incredible overlap between the auditory realm and nature and particle physics and math. The intersection of these things is what always inspires me,” BT tells me as my coffee gets refilled. “No matter how much I think I know about these things, I’m always finding new ways to apply these studies to what I’m doing now in my work. I’m reading a book about Fractals in music and I find that the more I study and learn, the more inspired I become and the less I feel like I know even a tenth of the subset of knowledge about these things. A study in any of these paths would take ten lifetimes.”
Based on his current workload, he’d almost need ten lifetimes to get it all done. Between releasing the recent Laptop Symphony compilation, signing a new release deal with Armada Music, settling lawsuits and working with musician Christian Burns on a brand new (kind of) top secret project, he’s released two new albums, If the Stars are Eternal so are You and I and Nouvo Morceau Subrosa. Both albums are ambient, electronic and simply beautiful pieces of art.
The easiest way to segue into a review of these latest releases is with the phrase “auditory scenery.” There are no lyrics, no vocals so the music and composition is the only thing that carries the story. Both albums are best listened to as one track (as Nouvo Morceau Subrosa is actually just one long track) and both albums are more than just music. It’s hard to explain, but BT has a way of creating a different kind of physical emotion with his composition. You can feel the music more than you would imagine, applying it to lifes soundtrack.
I know that sounds, wistful, but the truth is that both If the Stars are Eternal so are You and I and Nouvo Morceau Subrosa are on a different linear plane of audible existence than most music & composition. These pieces of work are a clear departure from BT’s library as a whole, especially if you are still hungover from the amazing These Hopeful Machines. He addressed his changing influences in our conversation.
“Something that’s really inspired my work over the last 4-5 months is that I had this real change in ideas in self-imposed work flow. As an advocate and a believer in a real directional way of working – how you get from point A to point B – I wanted to revise my approach when working in the studio. I had a strong desire to move away from a physical studio because I’m so frequently on the road. And because of that I really embraced Ableton Live as my primary compositional tool. People working in Logic are rapidly being left behind. It has full Max integration and C-Sound. Since the beginning of 2012 I’ve written 3 times as much music as I usually would in a year.
The next really big addition for me is a EuroRack modular. The All Hail the Silence project (a band that I’m in with Christian Burns) includes a lot of really old but really great patch synths: There’s the ARP 2100, EMS VCS3, lots of other 70s and 80s synths. Right now, I have a strong desire to use those sorts of technologies but in a much more stable format. And that’s what the EuroRack does: it’s the perfect collision of technology and time. I’ll be diving in completely.”
If the Stars are Eternal so are You and I is a piece of music that reminds one of a journey. It can be applied to almost any aspect of life (save for driving) and provides less of a soundtrack and more of a musical dream state. Dimensions shift, tiny synapsis in the brain are unlocked and prompted into action. You begin to pull every tiny change and ambient sound out of the music. From the soft lead-up in “13 Angels” to the calm bring down of “Seven-Hundred-Thirty-Nine” and everything in between, this album is meant to be listened to while contemplating something, if not, you will. Composed of seven tracks, all with an ambient pull and electronic chorus of carefully plotted orchestration, If the Stars are Eternal so are You and I is a magnificent piece of modern art, splayed on an audible canvas then deconstructed into your brain.
Nouvo Morceau Subrosa follows suit. The piece never reaches any explosive highs, keeping you on a plane of near existence the whole time. Think wandering through the desert late at night, but the stars are moving across the sky as if you are watching them in a time lapse video, but the sun never comes up. That’s the best way I can convey the feeling of this piece. And I say piece, rather than album, because this music is more akin to an orchestrated piece of art rather than just another album. While I didn’t enjoy either of these albums as much as These Hopeful Machines I have to consider them in their own light, rather than in comparison. Nouvo Morceau Subrosa elicits a strong emotional bond between the listener and the artist, as you can almost feel how BT was impressed upon with the world around him (even working in nature sounds throughout the piece.)
As drifting and ambient as both albums are, don’t expect BT to abandon EDM (electronic dance music.) We talked about what he’s got coming up in the genre, which I’m sure he’ll be breaking yet more new ground on.
“My next EDM album is a follow-up to These Hopeful Machines. People who know my radio show will really dig this album as it features a lot modern EDM modalities but geared for the dance floor. I’m really, really excited about this.”
Excited is something BT often gets. Always in constant touch with his fan base (I’ve never seen an artist interact so much with their fans in a positive manner) BT never skips an opportunity to let the fans know how much he enjoys their support. Such as this tweet upon the release of If the Stars are Eternal so are You and I: “OMFG TODAY YOU GUYS HEAR 13 Angels on my Broken Windowsill for the first time!!!!! Do you know how excited I am to share this piece?”
We take the conversation across the street to Starbucks to take advantage of their Wifi. After moving from the patio to as close to the router as possible (and not being paying customers) BT continues on about his latest endeavors.
“I started a band with Christian Burns. We’re making a record that sounds like it fell straight out of 1983. We’re using the most archaic synths and patches to create something really new. We recorded the album not in a studio but in a vintage synth enthusiast’s place in Baltimore. This album sounds a lot like a mix between Depeche and Yaz and many of the other synth greats from the 80s. We’ve written 17 songs and we’re a little over half done mixing half of them. In many ways that album feels like this sacrosanct golden egg. It reminds me of the first time I heard Faith by George Michaels and thinking about how many hit songs you can fit on one record.”
After struggling to get a wifi signal, BT showed me the video for “13 Angels”, the first track on If the Stars are Eternal so are You and I. The video, which I had to wait until I got home to watch in it’s entirety, was exactly what you would expect to represent the music. (Sadly as of this publishing, the video has not yet been tweaked for final release.) Soon, after still not buying any coffee we both had our respective directions to go into and I was left with only the music.
Both If the Stars are Eternal so are You and I and Nouvo Morceau Subrosa are a great departure from BT’s classic library of pulse pounding and exciting dance tunes. Like a plane escaping into the night with no set destination, both pieces of music will set you looking out the proverbial window in silent contemplation of life far below and simultaneously around you. As for BT himself, he tells me he just wants “to create something that’s addictive.” I think, as far as the electrical impulses in our brains that control pleasure, auditory and beyond, he’s created just the right type of drug.