Artist: BT
Title: This Binary Universe
Label: DTS Entertainment
By: Devon Shaw | 31 August 2006
  1. All That Makes Us Human Continues
  2. Dynamic Symmetry
  3. The Internal Locus
  4. 1.618
  5. See You On The Other Side
  6. The Antikythera Mechanism
  7. Good Morning Kaia

BT "This Binary Universe"BT "This Binary Universe"

Out Now on DTS Entertainment

In today's day and age, few musicians are blessed with a continued sense of experimentalism. Brian Transeau (popularly known as BT) has continually reinvented himself since his artistic debut 'Ima' in 1995. Transitioning through progressive house (Ima), ghettoblaster hip hop and tribal downtempo (ESCM), trance and nu-skool breakbeat (Movement In Still Life) and even a foray into alternative rock (Emotional Technology), BT once again steps out with complete conviction in a new sound and a new boundary to be crossed.

'This Binary Universe' covers a wide range of articulated influences: The romantic classicism of Frederic Chopin and mathematics-inspired Claude Debussy; to 20th century modernists Krzsztof Penderecki and Igor Stravinsky. And yet, there's a clear nod to the spatial minimalists Sigur Rós and glitch-era circuit-benders Telefon Tel Aviv. Through all this, BT has done the inexplicable: Combined the core inspiration of these wildly diverse and contrarian musical approaches to form a cohesive sound.

There are a myriad of concepts, notations and production methods here, all of them worth exploring to the fullest. The entire album was composed natively in 5.1 digital surround, and rewards the listener accordingly (the included 2.1 stereo mixdown is disappointingly muddy by comparison). Visual accompaniment is also included by a series of art directors, which offers a varying perspective on the musical interpretation.

The peaceable introduction 'All That Makes Us Human Continues', is misleadingly organic -- the track was reportedly composed entirely in audio programming language C-Sound without a note of physical music in a six month undertaking. Gentle harmonics waft through the sound field and build into a glitchy, bleepy transition that passes off to virtual acoustic textures and a plodding downbeat. The stage is set here -- primary melodies are evenly distributed up front, drums work evenly around all five speakers and many crucial counterpoint harmonics are relegated to the center channel.

'Dynamic Symmetry' offers up the next concept carried to extremes, moving through a dizzying array of meter changes. Often times the potential of music - both popular and classical - is destroyed by an uneasy (and wholly unnecessary) compression into 4/4 time. Here instead, the track kicks off in 9/4 and undergoes a series of switches, including the nearly-theoretical 5/1 glitchy second movement. Leading into an isorhythmic jazzy third movement, the pattern transitions from 7/4 to 6/8, to a double-time 4/4, a triplet 6/8 and back to 7/4. While the meter changes are almost alarming in frequency, they progress wonderfully, mandated by the direction of the music alone and the emotional tone of sonic storytelling. Easily the most technically accomplished song on the album, and also the source of the bionic-winged creature on the album cover.

Continuing the seamless transition of meter changes, 'The Internal Locus' switches invisibly back and forth between 13/8 and 15/8 throughout the first movement, carrying the undertone for dark, hopeful, plodding chordal patterns. The second movement gives us our first taste of the 110-piece Seattle Symphony Orchestra, gracefully rising up to the occasion in a variation of 4/4 and 5/4 time. The third movement switches back to 13/8 just in time for a classic BT hip hop breakbeat. It's worth noting that the accompanying video is an exceptional storyteller and a brilliant palette of color, in fact enhancing the song itself to a degree.

'1.618', otherwise known as PHI and the Golden Ratio, calls to mind similar techniques to those used for reverbating algorithms in Fibonacci Sequence. Every piece of sound was constructed with the ratio in mind. Likewise the video displays in ratios of 1.618, as well as illustrating a few of nature's products that incorporate it: The nautilus shell and the inside of a sunflower. The track itself is upbeat and thoughtful, and laced with grungy acoustics. The combination of eye-popping visuals fused with corresponding musical cues leads to another one of the album's highlights.

'See You On The Other Side' - a marathon at 14:23 - falls back to perhaps the closest brush with the album's underlying romanticism. A single chord progression carries the melody as individual counterpoint harmonies fill in one by one to create a delicate interlude rich with texture and more meter changes. Midway through the track, everything falls by the wayside and spares attention for more C-Sound goodness of lush pads and a punchy, lagoon-style kickdrum. A veritable anticlimax of sorts appears towards the end: As the song winds down, the wall of elements from the first movement reappear for the last few remaining minutes.

Continuing in classical romance tradition, a solo piano piece leads album opus 'The Antikythera Mechanism', named so for the Greek analog computer. Reverse sweeps position the track for a change and more harmonies and bells, swirling lightly in circles around you. A pair of guitars and a ukelele complete the introductory ensemble, and panned drums bounce back and forth between the right and center channels. A teaser break drops down into a numbing flurry of glitchy drums, reversed guitars and a wickedly walking bass line, re-emerging hand in hand with the piano melodies just in time for Seattle Symphony Orchestra to strike again in an epic, extraordinarily thematic fashion. Space zaps yank the track back down into another breakbeat cutout with blips, squelches and a hailstorm of stutters. The orchestra comes back in for the finale, which - in a shocking and surprisingly gutsy destruction of all 110 pieces - never happens.

Wrapping up the disc is the most thematic of the album, the heart-tugging 'Good Morning Kaia', BT's lullaby to his now 2 year old daughter. The visuals - a collage of pictures and video clips of Kaia while a letter from father to daughter is dictated onscreen, was directed by BT himself. The movie and music are completely made for each other. Gradual builds using every technique incorporated throughout the album, passing from one transition to the next, reaching a grandiose finish and ending with a tranquil piano solo.

'This Binary Universe' is a rousing success in sound design and synthesis, but occasionally falls short in intensity and delivery. Much patience is required for in-depth listens, and the payoffs aren't consistently delivered at times. But regardless, the album concludes in fine form and with the available styles at it's disposal, executes nicely. There's a projection of frustration in the expectation of simplicity, and in a way it rebels strongly against it. BT found a way to make music beautiful while breaking every rule of tradition in the book.

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