Monday, 28 January 2008

Opinion of: BT

No, this is not a rant directed at a large, formerly-nationalised, telecommunications company. Rather, it is a comment concerning the American musician Brian Transeau, who uses that abbreviation as his artistic name.

I first discovered BT back in the days when Napster was the first destination for those seeking obscure music. Once again, I am forced to feel old, as this must have been the year 2000! While I was searching for the music of British musician Chicane, I found a song by BT entitled 'Flaming June', which Chicane had remixed. This track is brilliant, and one of Chicane's best pieces ever (saying that about another artist's song is not a huge compliment to Chicane, I will admit) and stimulated my curiosity about BT immediately. It was around this time that I started to look across the Web for information about unfamiliar artists, and I found some surprising facts about him: that he was American – I thought this was odd considering the music he makes, but this was before I knew much about America ; that he was classically trained, in common with Chicane and MJ Cole* ; that he had been going for quite some time ; and that he had influenced Trance to such an extent that he is sometimes considered one of the inventors of the style. I was impressed: there's no underestimating the importance of this man to the music I listen to.

BT's music is part of the soundtrack to my idealistic days back in the early years of the current decade. It reminds me of the time when not only was my mind opening up a bit and I was beginning to look into many interesting things that I had not known before, but when I was still young enough for life to look so simple. So there is obviously a fairly large bias shaping my view of this music, yet despite this I think I can describe BT's strengths without overlooking his flaws. The greatest of these strengths are his focus on a melodic structure, which I consider essential for decent trance music, and particularly for the tracks of the length BT favours. Another is his willingness to attempt slightly different styles of electronic music, and this has led him in several directions over his five albums, most successfully "ambient" on his second album and breaks on his third. BT's willingness to collaborate is also an asset: he has worked very well indeed with producers Sasha, Hybrid and Paul van Dyk (to name a few) as well as singers, particularly Jan Johnston and Kirsty Hawkshaw. BT's most glaring weaknesses include: his over-use of some editing techniques, for example the stutter; failure to play to his strengths, by attempting to move closer to pop on his fourth album and too far away from dance music on his fifth; and his songwriting, which is inconsistent. On the subject of the latter, I am unsure as to which songs he wrote himself and which were heavily written by his collaborators, but they do tend to vary from the very good, such as "Remember" or "Loving You More", to the dull, most obviously "Animals"and "Communicate" from his fourth album.

I do hope that BT keeps going, especially as American dance music is sounding quite promising at the moment (I just found out that Filo and Peri are American) and BT would have a lot to offer. He just needs to move away from the downtempo of This Binary Universe, and back to the epic trance (or breakbeats, even) of Escm and Movement in Still Life. More music from an artist who helped to popularise trance in the first place might even bring it back in fashion, and although that might be a mixed blessing, at least some new musicians might come out of the wilderness.

* UK Garage musician, who I quite liked in early 2000. I might get to him eventually.

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