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  Embracing BT
by Damon Fonooni

By now, virtually everyone who is reading this or even visiting this website should have been exposed to the genius of Brian Transeau, or as he's known to most, BT. In the very early Nineties, working with friends such as John Selway, Ali Shirazinia from Deep Dish, Sasha, and Paul van Dyk, under different musical aliases, he nearly single-handedly began to mold what would become a new direction for house music. This progression sparked singles that would become staples in house and progressive music, like the male vocalized "Loving You More," Tori Amos's guest vocals on "Blue Skies," "Flaming June," "Remember (which introduced the voice of Jan Johnston)," and the most recent "Godspeed," "Namistai," and "Dreaming." As if that wasn't enough, thanks to "Hip Hop Phenomenon (with Kevin Beber aka Tsunami One)" and "Ride (with Sasha)," BT had a heavy helping in what has become the world of nu skool and electro breaks.

BT press photoThrough his albums, IMA, ESCM, and Movement in Still Life, he used his prodigal talents to create new worlds and hybrids of electronic, world, and dance music, never leaving behind a classical approach to composition. I write this with so much passion now because, upon reflection, this man introduced me to a world of electronic music, not just electronic sounds. I consider him to be one of, if not the greatest inspiration of my pursuit of dance music, as I'm sure many of you feel the same.

On Saturday, August 10, 2002, BT will be playing at Atlanta's own Eleven50, exploring his DJ talents and continuing to increase his widespread fame upon yet another city. His fourth album is set for release sometime after Christmas, and with impending film scores, there is no doubt that his name will be tossed around for months and months to come.

What follows is an interview that, upon transcription, I decided to leave in its rawest form, to show how normal and everyday Mr. BT is. I haven't edited all of the "Dude"s and "Man"s because that's the way so many of us talk. So I hope that you will take it at more than face value, and read it like it were a textbook for required reading in your Lifelong Devotion to Music 101 class. Enjoy.

Lunar: Why don't you tell us what you've got in terms of current projects and perhaps tentative film scores?

BT: Right now the bulk of what I'm doing, and has been for a while, is concentrating on my 4th album so I've been busting away relentlessly on that. I just remixed Korn and I've got twenty-nine film scores so we're trying to pick which movies I'm going to do for the fall. I'm probably going to be producing a record for one of my favorite artists but I can't say who it is yet.

Lunar: For the album, who have you collaborated with?

BT: Peter Gabriel, the Roots, Guru from Gangstarr, Kevin Beber, Jody from Way Out West, Jan Johnston, Kirsty Hawkshaw, Bill Hamel

Lunar: Do you have a tentative release date on that?

BT: Yeah, it's going to be after Christmas.

Lunar: Is there any particular style of music you are perhaps moving towards or you would like to experiment in?

BT: Not really, I mean it's going to be just as eclectic as the last one. It's stylistically stretching at points, even more in certain places in terms of warped style beat programming. Some things are in triple meter so they aren't 4/4. A lot of the stuff is on a "Satellite" sort of tip, like lo-fi, indie, electronic rock stuff—I'm singing on like seven of the cuts on the album. Yeah, there's some mental shit on there man. The breakbeat stuff is going in a much funkier direction, on the kind of break-steppy type vibe that I'm really into.

Lunar: You mean a little less nu skool-y?

BT: Um, yeah well I don't know. I mean like everybody's tried to cop my stutter edit shit, and you know the dark basslines that we started doing on tracks like "Hip Hop Phenomenon" has turned into like a bunch of bald, high-fiving white guys taking scary music and making it scarier. When we started out doing that shit it was like funkier than it's gotten, and now it's just scary, you know.

Lunar: Yeah, it seems like that's getting pretty tired.

BT: Yeah, I mean I make music for girls dude—some funky shit that's emotional and uplifting at the same time, you know what I mean?

Lunar: Um hmm. So that track with the Roots you were talking about, is that the same one that's on the Blade 2 soundtrack?

BT: Yeah, there's a ten-minute version of it that DJ Swamp did a bunch of cuts on.

Lunar: When you worked with them was it you in the studio with them or did you have to work separately?

BT: No, we all worked together and we performed on Carson Daly together, and we've done a bunch of stuff together—they're just a bunch of super cool guys.

Lunar: So, what really happened with those two Britney Spears tracks you produced for her?

BT: Basically they didn't really fit in with the vibe of what she was doing with the record. The record ended up being very r&b orientated and they were kind of not what Britney wanted. I mean she wanted to make a record that had a lot of dance music on it. You know Britney's such a cool girl and a lot of the decision-making is out of her hands.

Lunar: It seems like she's willing to experiment with different sounds.

BT: Yeah, so one of the songs is on all the versions of the album except for the American one, you know like on the European version.

Lunar: Okay, so is there anybody else that you would like to work with that you haven't yet?

BT: Oh yeah, there's a ton of people. In fact, this person I've been meeting with—it's ridiculous who this is. It's embarrassing and they came to me. Just to give you an idea of how big of a person it is, the person that sent them to me is Elton John. I called my mom so fast dude, because I knew it would make her head spin. I was like, "Oh my god mom, Elton John called!" It's like somebody really, really cool so I'm really stoked about that. But there's a ton of people I'd love to work with. I'd love to do something with Autechre, um Beyol I've worked with a couple of times but we never written anything together—there's a lot of people man.

Lunar: That's cool. Now, with IMA you created songs that were very classic progressive house sounds, with the ESCM album you merged like a new-age world music sound with electronic music and elements of rock and ethnic, and with Movement in Still Life you sort of went for the jugular and created an album that could appeal to a more dance oriented listener. Would you attribute your album transitions to anything other than a progression within yourself?

BT: Well, the jump between the records, especially between ESCM and Movement in Still Life was really just sort of a new found freedom getting out of my situation with Perfecto and a reaction to not having Paul Oakenfold not understand what I was doing, that I had to make records that sounded like fucking La Bouche, and just getting to do what I really do which is very eclectic.

Lunar: So they pretty much gave you an open way to go with your music?

BT: Yeah, see I did Movement in Still Life without a label, and then I took it to the label and they loved it and they were like let's get it and put it out. So it was like a really, really cool situation—it was definitely a flying by the seat of my pants sort of thing. I mean I did it without a label, like punk rock, man, and I just got to finally do a lot of things that I had wanted to do for a long time. So I think that the jump is due to that and a natural kind of progression as an artist.

Lunar: Now, how are you enjoying your newly-found DJ talent?

BT: [excitedly] Oh my gosh dude, I suck...

Lunar: [laughs] Well that's what we've always appreciated about you is that your honest about it, you know from the first Renaissance compilation you did.

BT: Well, I think everybody just takes that shit so seriously. I'm like, "You get to fly first class for playing records?" I may not play with my band anymore because that can be a pain in the ass sometimes! If I want Thai food, or I want to go to a strip club, I mean I just get on the plane with a fucking box of records and go and party. I mean I totally miss playing with my band, but we're not going to do it until the next record comes out, but [DJing's] a lot of fun man. And also I like testing out my new tracks and I like testing out my friends' new tracks and then I can get feedback on at least the stuff I do for the dancefloor.

Lunar: Right, so when you DJ does your style stay characteristically your sound or do you just play all over the place?

BT: Oh it's all over the place, but the two things that I primarily play are funky breaks and sort of emotional, progressive stuff. But not like the fucking Oakenfold-style, you know—a little more classy.

Lunar: So how do you find that the crowd responds compared to a live performance?

BT: They go spastic dude! It's insane, it's crazy. I think that it's fun for crowds too because they're used to a lot of DJs, I mean either you have like Jesus Christ Superstar Paul Oakenfold doing his hanging from the cross thing, or you have people that totally don't interact with the audience at all. There's nothing really in between, and I just go and I don't take it serious. I just go and have fun. I keep getting in trouble for doing this, but during records that I really like I'll run out in the audience, which has happened to me many times now, and the place just goes spastic. They're like "Holy shit!" I mean, I just have fun dude.

Lunar: [laughs] That's cool. Another thing that you're known for is being so nice and down to earth with everyone that you even give up some of your production secrets in various trade magazines or as simple replies to messages posted by your everyday fans on your message boards. So why are you so willing to give up your knowledge?

BT: Because it forces me to keep moving forward. People that are hoarding their quote "secrets" aren't evolving. I'm willing to tell anyone everything I do. For example the time-correcting and stutter edit techniques that have evolved over the last eight years, I'll show that to anyone because 99.9% of the people I show it to don't understand it and then the people that do are usually smart enough, and reverent enough, and appreciative enough of having it shown to them that they're not going to try to stylistically rip off what I do, but use it to sort of enhance their own stylistic pursuits. And also by telling everyone all the software I use and all the plugins and all the software, all the techniques—everything—it continues to force me to break new ground. So that's why I do it.

Lunar: Well, it's kind of like here in Atlanta...

BT: Oh you're in Atlanta?

Lunar: Yeah yeah.

BT: Oh badass! Dude, I fucking LOVE Atlanta! That's my town—I've been dating a girl from there or whatever, so...

Lunar: Oh ok, so I'll never hold back on telling someone about a badass record because you should be confident enough that the records you use are gonna be played your own way...

BT: You're totally right, dude! Exactly, man! It's the same thing with DJing. People cover up the labels—I mean people come up and they're like, "Yo dude what's that track?" and I'm like here, fucking write it down—I don't care! And then, well, have you ever heard of a book called The Artist's Way?

Lunar: No, I don't think so...

BT: Well check this book out. It talks about how there's people that the author refers to as "shadow artists," which is a very articulate description of the sort of person that is a really hoarding individual. Dammit—it's your creativity! When you're not willing to tell someone what the fucking record is you're playing or what compressor you're using on a kickdrum, in actuality what you're doing is stunting your own creative growth. I dunno, I could get all esoteric about it, but I really do believe that it's important to share what you do.

Lunar: Well, with your production do you think, since it's so standout, that it's due to adding a lot of subtle differences, like the stutter, or a fundamentally different approach than a lot of other standard producers?

BT: I really think it's more on the fundamental level because I rarely write with electronic instruments—that's kind of the final stage of sound design and really esoteric sound manipulation. I write on acoustic instruments, I write at the piano, or I write at the guitar, and I try to write songs. Even something like an instrumental progressive house track like "Flaming June" was written at the piano. I had the melody in my head for a while and I sat down at the piano and I figured it out and it was like, this is a good melody—this would make a good song. Whereas I think a lot of other people start by trying to make a fat breakbeat or whatever, and that's cool but it's just not my vibe. I'm trying to write songs, whether it's "Hip Hop Phenomenon" or "Dreaming" or "Loving You More"—those are songs. I mean my friends come over and we'll play piano or guitar or whatever, and they're like, "Dude, play this song," or, "Play something," and they can always recognize my songs even when I don't sing them, and that's a really good feeling, because, like I said, that's the fundamental difference.

And the more subtle difference is, well, just among my friends that make electronic music, they all make fun of me because of how much time I spend on sound design and sound manipulation and the lengths I go through to make sounds. But again that's something that I'm really proud of because you'll never listen to a sound on one of my records and go, "That's from a Nord Lead." No it's not [laughs]! It's like, that was a modular patch that took twelve hours and 400 cables and thirty-five guitar pedals and two days of programming C++ coding to make that. I just spend way too much time on it, but it's something that at the end of the day I'm proud of.

Lunar: Yeah, definitely. Now, I don't want to harp on it too much, but I would like to talk briefly about your studio robbery. I read that virtually everything was stolen including your Pro Tools, hardware and software, hard drives—so I'm sure you were devastated. What helped you to recover from that traumatic experience?

BT: What helped me to recover is what makes me feel creative. I just got a couple of my friends and we went to the airport and we got some ghetto-ass tickets, flew on a rickety plane to go to Central America. I went down there and I went to Guatemala and Belize with a bunch of my friends and went diving and hiking. We were upset about it; we did a lot of fucking crying and shit because it was like real violation, man. Having someone break into your house and just take your shit like that, especially stealing music, was a really devastating thing. I was very upset about it for a long time, you know for months, and so I got out of here and went diving and hiking and it really made me feel better.

Lunar: But I read on another forum that somehow you managed to recover most of your songs. Is that true?

BT: We recovered bits of a lot of the original copies, but there ended up being three songs that were lost completely, and five or six hundred hours of work. And there were a few songs where some of the time correcting and sound design was lost, so it was really fucking crazy, but I've gotten through worse shit. Now it's all good.

Lunar: It's good that you were able to move on. I wanted to ask you, what equipment you are currently using the most, in terms of hardware and software?

BT: My favorite piece right now is the Keman, and it has been for the last two years—I use that excessively. My R2600 is another favorite that I use on every track I do. I think my current favorite thing that I've got is—I had my guitarist Richard Boris, he had these one-off Veratone acoustic guitars made for us and they don't exist. It's a guitar you can tune down from an A so it's like between a guitar and a bass, and I've been using that on everything. I have a really nice box—a 1963 amp—and I've been running the guitar into that and then putting it upstairs in my house and then mic-ing the hallways and close mic-ing the acoustic, and you have this crazy, fucking emotional, distorted shit way off in the background, and then a clean but very deep acoustic guitar. It's fucking mental, man. It doesn't sound like a guitar man—it sounds like this high bass, you know?

Lunar: Will there be a lot of that on the album?

BT: Oh yeah. There is a ton of it on the record. Then software-wise, I like the new version of Reaktor, Absynth is a big one for me, Logic 5, and they're getting pretty deep with the Pro Tools—I've been mixing everything in there now. The list of plugins is amazing and I could go on for three days, but that is basically it.

Lunar: Concerning your, for lack of a better word, disdain for MIDI, why is that?

BT: Well, it was a protocol that was invented in 1983—your mouse communicates faster with your computer than MIDI does—and it's so inaccurate. It's embarrassing that we use it, to me, in music. It can be so sloppy sounding. My friends can make tracks in MIDI—I mean, I can't tell you how many people I've sat down and shown like, "Hey look, you program a beat and lets listen to it, ok?" And I'll let them program a beat and then listen to it and I go, "Okay, let's go convert it into audio and I'm going to time correct it." And then they listen to it and they're like, "Oh god, I'm destroyed for life—I'll never be able to use MIDI again."

I mean the difference in sound is so astonishing that if you have it demonstrated to you, you just can't listen to MIDI anymore because it's so sloppy, and it's disproportionately sloppy. There's a misnomer of MIDI latency like maybe it's late. It's not late, dude. If you track sixteenth notes at 120 BPMs coming out of a brand-fucking-spanking-new synth, say the Trinity, with the Uniter Aid, hooked up to a fast Mac, and track those and look at them, you'll fucking die! You'll have one that's twenty samples late and the next one will be 300 samples early and the one after that will be 150 samples late. Now imagine exponentially multiplying that by however many tracks you've got in the song and it's just a pile of slop. It's just a joke! And the way that you hear the difference if you have, say, the time correction demonstrated for you, you hear it and go, "Oh my fucking god." It's not like some cheesey computer programmer saying (in a rather stereotypical computer programmer voice), "Uhh, you need to do this to your kickdrums to make your tracks sound cool." I mean, if you listen to it, it's like, "Holy shit this sounds better." So that's why I hate MIDI...

Lunar: Well that sums it up...

BT: [laughs] My friends are getting, we're going to do it this Christmas, but I think it's going to happen for my birthday. They're like, "We're going to make t-shirts that say 'Fuck MIDI'," and I'm like, "Yeah (gives an evil laugh)!"

Lunar: Well thanks for your time and we've gotta see you in Atlanta pretty soon.

BT: Yeah, man. I'm down there quite a bit actually so take care!

Much thanks to Krista Pope at Shock Ink and to BT for taking time out to talk with Lunar.


Rare & Remixed from Rare & Remixed
by Brian Transeau
Disc 1:

  1. Remember (ESCM 12in Mix) - BT
  2. Forbidden Fruit (BT & PvD's Food Of Love Mix) - Paul Van Dyk
  3. Transway - Dharma
  4. Shame (Way Out West Mix) - BT
  5. Not Over Yet (BT's Spirit Of Grace) - Grace
  6. Let There Be Light (BT Mix) - Mike Oldfield
  7. Anomaly-Calling Your Name - Taylor
  8. I'm Alive (BT & Sasha Mix) - Seal
  9. Heart Of Imagination - Sasha/BT
  10. The Dream - Prana
  11. Reality - Cassa De X
Disc 2:
  1. Sunblind - BT
  2. Smartbomb (Plump DJs Mix) - BT
  3. Fibonacci Sequence - BT
  4. The Hip Hop Phenomenon - Tsunami One/BT
  5. Godspeed (Hybrid Mix) - BT
  6. Dreaming (Science Dept.'s Friend And Family Mix) - BT
  7. Blue Skies - BT
  8. Never Gonna Come Back Down (Timo Maas Mix) - BT
  9. Run To You (BT Vs. PvD Mix) - Dina Carrol
  10. I Love You (BT Mix) - Sara McLachlan
  11. Flaming June - BT

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