It's hard to believe that it's been only two years since the release of BT's critically acclaimed album "ESCM." Yet, in the time it takes some artists to select a producer or set up a website, Maryland-born, electronic-music phenom, Brian Transeau, recorded a new album, plunged headlong into scoring feature films, moved to Los Angeles, and helped create the soaring soundtrack for London's Millennium Dome. It's quite a list from the artist who many say touched on a new definition of dance and electronic music when he pioneered the "trance" genre but that was last century.
At 28, in many ways BT seems the consummate musician for this brave new era of the twos and zeros. His recent trailblazing projects include an acclaimed soundtrack for 1999's neo cult classic "Go," and most recently for "Under Suspicion," a soon-to-be-released film starring Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman. He provided the soundtrack for Sony Play Station's "Die Hard," one of the company's best-selling video games. And, he worked side-by-side with Peter Gabriel, arranging, sampling and otherwise sculpting the symphonic music for Britain's epic New Year's celebration. Aside from all of that, BT retooled and broadened his sonic approach in recording his latest album, "Movement In Still Life" while setting up shop in the brutish urban circuitry of Southern California.
How does he manage to be so active on so many fronts? Part of the secret to BT's prolific success can be found in the art of collaboration. From the beginning of his career, BT has always managed to forge powerful creative alliances with other innovative recording artists, often lending his own brand of complex electronic dimension and texture to works of such pop icons as Madonna, Tori Amos and Seal. On his new record, BT continues these fascinating musical confabs with the likes of Sasha, Paul Van Dyk, DJ Rap and Doughty, the vocalist for Soul Coughing.
The result is a record full of fascinating twists, turns and shimmering highlights. For example, having long admired the music of Soul Coughing, one of pop music's most fascinating hybrids, it made perfect sense to ask the group's singer, Doughty, to supply his patented beat-poet vibe to the track, "Never Gonna Come Back Down." As with most of BT's music, the track is a melting pot of musical styles and influences, and is slated to be the first commercially released single from the new record. (Energized by the partnership, Doughty asked BT to return the favor and produce a track for his own solo project.)
All of this is just the latest chapter in a career that has virtually redefined what it means to be a popular recording artist. When BT burst onto the scene back in the mid-90s, he quickly became one of the most innovative progressive house-music producers in the United States. Critics were quick to latch onto BT's intriguing blend of organic musical textures and moody electronic structures. "BT has cast a spell on the hearts and dance floors of an entire nation," declared one early review in Melody Maker.
From his musical genesis making groundbreaking club anthems, a thriving UK club scene immediately embraced BT's music. Even before he set foot in the Old World, BT had formed a solid bond with British music lovers that would flourish and blossom over the next few years. Soon he was making routine transatlantic trips, becoming a virtual fixture at clubs and festivals all over England and Europe. In the mid-to-late 90s, his barrage of dance-floor hits such as the prophetically titled "Embracing The Future," as well as "Flaming June," and "Remember" would fuel his popularity among electronic music enthusiasts at home and abroad.
Backing up a bit: BT was first signed to Paul Oakenfold's Perfecto label in 1995. He quickly began creating wildly innovative sounds that would eventually become universally recognized as the genre "trance." The early result was "Ima," a sweeping electronic treatise that blended the e dges of New Age mood music with the hypnotic pulse of the dance floor. Ever restless, BT continued to push musical boundaries with dazzling remixes of tracks by Seal, Madonna, Sarah McLachlan and his musical kindred spirit, Sasha. Combined with "Ima" these early collaborations quickly established BT as the progenitor of an entirely new type of dance music.
Already renowned in the UK, recognition for Transeau in his own country would follow swiftly via his work with singer songwriter Tori Amos. The pair first collaborated on a track called "Talula" for the soundtrack of the film "Twister," but it was another collaboration, "Blue Skies" that would eventually place BT on the commercial map in his homeland. The track became one of the biggest American club records of 1996, and his second number-one Billboard song.
In 1997, Transeau released his second album "ESCM." This set would see him begin to diversify from his previous trancy workouts to show the influence of an even broader set of modern genres. With a heavy emphasis on drums 'n bass, BT delved into breakbeat, electro and contemporary rock. However, it would be an archetypal BT house anthem, "Flaming June," that would give the record its biggest hit in the clubs. BT soon hit the number-one spot in the Billboard dance charts on three occasions with his singles, "Godspeed," "Remember" and "Blue Skies."
Always leery of being pigeonholed in a single category, it's not surprising that during this period BT felt confined by the "dance-producer" tag that was placed on him by industry pundits. "People think of me as a DJ or a remixer," he groused in the trade press, "but that's just a convenient box to put me in."
This restless musical soul has been pushing the boundaries from the very beginning. Transeau began learning classical music from the age of four, learning piano suzuki style (watching, as opposed to reading) and studied Chopin and Strauss. By the age of eight, he was studying string orchestration. These classical influences enhance and embellish much of the material on "Movement In Still Life," his debut for Nettwerk Records. On tracks such as "Dreaming," BT orchestrates a head-on musical collision with symphonic orchestration and full-on breakbeat and progressive house music. Transeau has also applied his formative musical background in projects such as his composition for a sixty-piece orchestra for the aforementioned "Under Suspicion" score.
It isn't surprising that BT has garnered a great deal of attention from other musical pioneers. Most notable, perhaps, was the invitation he received from fountainhead Peter Gabriel to participate in his creative think tank "Real World" recordings. Following BT and Sasha's recording in Gabriel's Real World studios, he asked BT to help program, produce, and arrange strings for the London- based project at the Millennium Dome.
It was perfect assignment for a musician who seems to prize innovation and experimentation more than commercial success: "For me, it's such an amazing time for a composer to be alive. It's a balancing act of taking everything from the emotional impact of things such as traditional string writing or acoustic guitars and juxtaposing it with banging breakbeats or huge drum 'n bass b lines. I consider what I'm doing to be highly experimental; traditional song structures co-habitating with cutting-edge, sound-sculpting technology."
A million conceptual miles away from the faceless studio "bods" who make much of today's dance music, BT's recognizes that as a genre dance music lends the creative artist a chance to blend both the visceral and cerebral elements of modern music "Dance music is about one thing," he says. "It's about making people dance. I want to try to get people to dance, but also to feel and think at the same time."
A long-time fan of cutting edge rock artists such as Radiohead, Beck and Rage Against The Machine, BT seems to relish mixing elements of traditi onal song formats and into his ever-mutating musical landscape. He sees the new album as "the meeting point between progressive house music, the energy and performance aesthetic of rock records, hip-hop influences and nu skool break beats." The results of this latest musical synthesis are boldly evident from start to finish in "Movement In Still Life," particularly in its first underground release "Dreaming," a track featuring the splendid vocal talents of Opus 31's Kirsty Hawkshaw.
"Its the next step," he says of the new record. "I went through a phase two years ago when I didn't want anything to do with progressive house music because I felt it was getting repetitive."
Rather than discard the freedom and innovation at the heart of the dance-music genre, BT has reclaimed the creative high ground by taking the best of what he's done and blending it with an ever-broadening palette of musical modes and styles. With the ambition and scope of his past masterpieces firmly in place, his soundscapes are now filled with everything from acoustic guitar to break beats. Perhaps the boldest innovation on the new record is the use of his own voice. On tracks "Shame" and "Satellite" for the first time we hear a full vocal from BT himself.
Clearly, Transeau has set no stylistic limits for himself and created an album of stylish sounds and grooves with genre-defying results. "I wanted this record to sound like one of the greatest mix tapes that a friend would make for you. 'Movement' definitely showcases the fact that I am inspired by many forms of music. The new live show, with a four-piece band, will definitely reflect that."
It's no surprise that "Movement In Still Life" is a perfect hybrid of musical genres, providing the first truly eclectic sound of the new millennium.