By Noah Hubbell
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Folks fortunate enough to chat with electronic-music maestro Brian Transeau, who performs as BT, should keep a dictionary nearby, because they'll probably need it. For instance, he explains a technique called circuit bending by noting that "it's the first time, I think, that electronic musicians are able to work with something that's completely stochastic. Normally, we don't have access to any kind of aleatoric modalities."
"Stochastic," for those who don't use the term in everyday conversation, means something that's random yet not entirely directionless, while "aleatoric" is defined as "pertaining to luck." But even though BT has an extremely scientific mind -- with a vocabulary to match -- he's also got a common touch. Consider that his favorite type of circuit-bending involves electronic playthings borrowed from his infant daughter, Kaia. The gadgets that were "creatively broken" for This Binary Universe, a recently released two-disc set, include a robot-impersonating megaphone, a Speak & Spell and a LeapFrog Little Touch pad "that sounds like fucking Autechre when it crashes," he enthuses.
Toy replacement costs were far from the only expenses BT faced on Universe. He envisioned a CD recorded in DTS 5.1 digital surround sound and an accompanying DVD featuring computer animation specially rendered for each composition. According to BT, "Everybody around me told me it wasn't possible -- that it would cost me several million dollars, that it was wanky and narcissistic and overly ambitious, and that even if I was able to do it, no one would care. And I didn't believe them." In the end, video artistes like Scott Pagano donated their services to the cause, and BT financed the whole thing himself using "the back-end money from my gigs for a year."
Granted, BT has a couple of other notable income streams. He's produced hits such as "Pop," by 'N Sync -- a track that's more complicated than most tweens realized at the time of its 2000 debut. "There's a thousand-some edits on Justin Timberlake's vocal on that track," he points out. "I'm still amazed that I was able to get away with making him sound like a blender." In addition, he creates scores for films ranging from independent productions (the forthcoming Look) to potential crowd-pleasers (Catch and Release, a Jennifer Garner vehicle coming in early 2007).
Assignments like these gave BT the time to create the Universe he wanted, and he took advantage. He and a couple of partners spent over two years building Break Tweaker, a surround-sound drum machine for the project; he says the device is "capable of operating on practically a molecular level -- literally, 2,048th notes that wind down logarithmically to 256th notes over a single bar." Likewise, it took him six months to complete "All That Makes Us Human Continues," which he wrote entirely in computer code. Yet despite their interior complexity, cuts such as the sentimental "Good Morning Kaia" are designed to connect with listeners on an emotional level. In BT's words, "None of this shit matters if it doesn't make people feel something."
No dictionary is required to understand that.