Brian Transeau, known otherwise as BT, immersed himself in music since childhood, receiving classical training at the Washington Conservatory of Music and at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Today, he is a Grammy-nominated producer, composer, singer, songwriter, technologist and multi-instrumentalist with an exhaustive list of accomplishments. He is often credited as having helped pioneer the trance genre, composing and producing for artists such as Tiesto and Paul Van Dyk in the past. Though his role as a dance music producer is well-defined, Brian has also worked as a film composer, writing music for The Fast and the Furious and Monster, along with movie scores for Go, Driven, Stealth and many more. He is also in the Guinness Book of World Records for using the largest number of vocal edits in his song “Somnambulist (Simply Being Loved).”
BT’s relationship with technology defines his unique and innovative methodology and skill set. His software development company Sonik Architects was responsible for creating the plug-in Stutter Edit, which is now used by top artists around the world. In 2010, Brian announced his partnership with the company iZotope, providing him with great resources to assist with future cutting-edge product development.
The coming release of A Song Across Wires marks BT’s ninth studio album, featuring collaborations with Fractal, JES, Adam K, Au5, tyDi, Tritonal, ARTY and others. Raw Goodage had the pleasure of sitting down with Brian at SBE and Insomniac’s Create Nightclub last weekend before his set. It was easily one of the most enriching conversations we’ve taken part of, but it was more fulfilling to simply listen. His responses were so detailed and specified that we only asked the best bunch, making it our favorite interview to date. Find out what he had to say after the jump!
What was the first instrument you learned to play? Which is your favorite to play today?
The first instrument I learned to play was the piano; I studied the Suzuki piano method as a kid. You know, it is still a favorite instrument of mine. An interesting sort of limitation I have with the piano is because I have studied it so much. You get so used to that configuration of 12 notes.
Since I studied it both compositionally and as my primary instrument, my favorite instrument to play is the bass. In fact, my favorite instruments to play are instruments I’m lost on. I know that sounds really weird, but with friendly instruments in general, I like to write things in open tunings because I am lost. It sounds really strange, but then I start using my ears more as opposed to pattern repetition and recognition and whatever, you know these things that have been locked into my brain since I was a kid. I started listening a lot more. That is why I love modular synthesizers too, because you are more listening and iterating on what you are hearing than repeating something that is like muscle memory, if that makes sense.
You’ve worked on a lot of different projects aside from your extensive discography such as movie scores and shorts for Pixar. What are some differences in the process involved in tackling a dance music track versus something more complex like a movie score?
It is a really different aesthetic. And when you are working on a film, or a TV show, or a video game or whatever, you are part of a team. You are aiding the overarching aesthetic of the entire project, which is usually curated by a leader that is not you. So one of the biggest root differences is that when I’m making my own music, I am the creative curator, I am the one with the end goal in mind, and my own finish lines to cross to reach that end goal, so that on its own makes the experience very different, because you are the boss, you determine when something is completed.
That being said, that is also why I love both of the experiences differently, because working as part of a creative team is sort of like being in a band, like the aesthetic of a band, and you are all working towards a common goal. You can get lost sort of easily when you are working on your own, in a vacuum.
So they are very different, but I love both of them equally.
On social media, you’ve posted some of the singles from your new album along with images from nature. How does nature influence your production or musical inspiration?
One of the things that inspires me more than anything is math – that is a common knowledge thing about me. Part of what I love so much about nature is how rife it is with mathematics. I read this article recently that was just fantastic. It was talking about how with modern art, people will look at it and say, ‘a child could do that’, whether it be a Mondrian or a Jackson Pollock paint splatter or whatever, and it was a mathematical abstract on Pollock’s work.
What they did was take a primate, a child, and an artist and had them all try to mimic a Jackson Pollock painting. In doing this, they did all this mathematical analysis of the splatter paintings. So, the closest to his style of painting was the primate, but no one could emulate how beautiful his paintings were – what they found was that there were Fibinacci ratios throughout his art, and I thought that was really cool. If you look at the configuration of trees in the Fall, those are all Fibonacci ratios and different subsets of fractal relationships between them.
Anyways, I love being out in nature and looking for those sorts of things, you know? And where I live, we have four very discreet seasons, so if you go walking in the late Fall, as the earth starts to freeze, it’s just breathtakingly beautiful. Those things inspire me to make music – not just being out in a beautiful place and having a nice walk, but the kind of minute observations of what makes that beauty tick, is what really inspires me. So my work is rife with detail, and I find a lot of inspiration in the detail of the natural world.
A few years back, you had some precious gear stolen from your studio, along with album masters from This Binary Universe. Did you have any luck retrieving that stuff?
You know, I did actually. I lost a bunch of things, some of them had a lot of sentimental value to me, but – to just wrap it up – I did get my computer back, but it was stripped of the drives. We also got one of my synths back.
But, one of the amazing things to come out of that, first and foremost, (and this is not a bashing of LA at all,) but it helped me to realize that I missed my home and I missed where I grew up. I had a lot of experiences like that here, and it made me realize that there were things that were really important to me that I wasn’t necessarily focused on. So it was actually a positive experience in some sense for me, it was like a reboot moment, you know? But anyways, that being said, we did get some of the stuff back, but no music.
It is interesting, you know, when I was a kid and I was studying at Berklee School of Music, my professor and my mentor – still to this day – Dr. Richard Boulanger, gave us this incredible project. Basically, we had to compose a piece – it had to be under seven minutes, have less than 3 movements, and we had to bring in all the materials that we used – everything from staff paper to discs and CDs. None of it could remain on our computers if we were using computers. We had to aggregate and bring in everything to the class.
So we did that, and each of us presented our compositions. After the first person went, he said “let’s talk about the composition.” We did, and we talked about the through lines and the counter point, and every single aspect of the composition. At the end of it he said, “OK – give me your materials.” I happened to be the first one to go, presenting something we had been working on for like 6 weeks, and he ripped up my staff paper into the smallest pieces, broke the CDs, destroyed anything we handed him.
The lesson was a lesson in detachment. It was a profound lesson. We were so attached to this thing, and then, on the other side of that, you realize that when making any kind of art, you get to be a lighting rod temporarily, and that is the experience. It’s not what comes out of it – it’s that moment where you get to channel something. It’s not that other people share that,that they see it, or understand it – it’s none of that. That’s kind of gravy if it happens to work out that way, but the real part about being an artist is those lightning rod moments, and it was an incredible lesson for me. One that I’d remember in a situation like that – one where you’d say that was hard and that sucks and you feel violated, but you have that feeling that its OK, I did my piece in that and it just wasn’t meant to be heard. And that’s cool, and I’m lucky that I get to do that – even crazier for a living.
You’ve always identified as a producer rather than a DJ, even joking that you don’t know how to use CDJs. You also mentioned that your upcoming album A Song Across Wires is almost entirely festival-ready tracks. Has your mentality on DJing changed at all in the past few years with the rise in the number of festivals and production budgets?
Yes, it absolutely has. For a long time, I wouldn’t call myself a DJ, and I’m more and more comfortable calling myself that now because people like Deadmau5 are lobbed into that category. I’ve always seen my role as much more of a composer, that’s what I do. And I have the utmost respect for DJs, that to me unto itself is an extraordinary art form.
Somebody asked me recently who my favorite DJ was, and I said Sasha. I’ve watched him do these 8 or 10-hour sets, and it’s literally like a religious experience. I have no idea how that guy does what he does. Anyway, I felt like DJing was a bit of an awkward moniker for me for a long time, and I’m more comfortable with it now because that palette has expanded to include things such as live remixing. I’ve always compared what I do when I’m playing live to a dub sound system – like with the Reggae guys – when that first started, with reel to reel 8 tracks, and a plate reverb, and an echoplex.
It’s kind of like live remixing – pulling parts of tracks in and out – with a lot of flexibility to change the overall shape and dynamic of the evening. Now, that all falls under the moniker of DJing. I like to think that people like myself had something to do with expanding what that name means.
Are there any young producers that you’ve had an eye on recently and would love to collaborate with?
Yeah, there are! There are some guys doing stuff now that just blows my mind, and I love that. I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about how the overall way that people are learning has changed. Now, you’ve got people who are twerking software and learning a DAW as opposed to playing video games, so by the time they are 15 or 16 years old they have achieved a sort of expert status at what they are doing.
There’s that kind of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers thought of assuming mastery after 10,000 hours of working on something. Now, you’ve got people with 10,000 hours of work by the time they are 15 or 16, literally watching tutorials. It’s so exciting! There’s an interesting flip to that; it sort of reminds me of these giant crabs in Costa Rica that have a single massive, muscular arm, while the other arm is tiny and emasculated. It’s almost like the child actor phenomenon where someone has a robust skillset in one focused area, but they haven’t lived enough to even understand what that means and how to put meaning to it.
Back to the question, the three guys that have really been blowing my mind more than anyone are Au5, Fractal, and Grizmatik. The mixture of trance and bass music is just blended in this way where they don’t have any biases; they are generationally way after anyone that would have a predetermined bias in those two categories. They’re like, I don’t care, that sounds cool. I want to use this beautiful, melodic arpeggiated figure, or these huge bass growls. They don’t care. They aren’t biased by what they are supposed to like or what other people think is cool. I love what those guys are doing. It’s magnificent.
Essential foods on the road?
Oh, that’s easy. My favorite literally in the world is here, which is Umami Burger. We go every single time we are in town. They just got one in New York, so we are freaking out because we are having the launch party for the new album in New York, so I’m like “I don’t even care, forget about the record, we are going to Umami Burger!” It’s our favorite spot!