So within a week musician, composer, technologist, producer, and shark lover BT hinted at, announced, released a promotional video for, did two live interviews for, and released a promotional EP for his next album. Due out this December as a box set of art work, 9 “compositions”, 2.5 hours long, accompanied with 4K Drone footage to accompany each composition for your viewing pleasure neatly bundled on a flash drive, this is one of the “biggest” albums BT has released since These Hopeful Machines in terms of sheer depth of content to explore.
And he doesn’t even have a name for it. BT has in the past been rather public with how he intentionally names his works and writes a thesis before creating the work ahead of time. With his new EP and album, BT is giving us practically something the opposite, once again sticking to his credo of giving us something he’s never tried before and something we’ve never heard before. Here we’re introduced to an album that has no name which would suggest BT’s work here is unfinished. But many artists before have released multiple albums under just their name and a picture, leaving fans to adopt unique names based on what they see. With this experience I’m less inclined to calling the album “particles” and more towards calling the EP and the album “Underscore”, relating to the space filler used to name the album since BT had to put something down in the name space across music services. Underscore feels like such a fitting name for an album that’s so insanely grand and filled to burst with unique compositions and explorations (2.5 hours, longer than any studio album he’s released yet) and yet humbly brings to the table something (so far) running the gamut from beatless modular experiments to snappy drum kicks at a fun 4/4. It shows his humble side and the peaceful, positive movements he wishes to create in people but also how very excited he and his faithful fans are to hear something so mind-blowing and new as always.
Did I mention BT thinks about his albums far in advance? It’s something you pick up from many of his interviews but in this case BT is touting the fact that much of this album was created across the past 3 years or so. He hasn’t mentioned if he had a thesis in mind for building this album but the message we’re being sold is one of a more experimental and less predetermined experience. Music certainly doesn’t develop from a storyboard but BT’s promotional EP wonderfully sets the understanding for what’s in store in the full release in terms of how this all came about. The three publicly released compositions (Artifacture, Indivism, Ω [Ohm]) are subdivided into 25 tracks, each track a micromovement of the full composition. And it’s at the start of Artifacture (on part 2: Nostra Luna di Miele) that we get this glimpse of something growing and becoming a part of something larger, akin to what BT is talking about when he discusses how this album works and came about: Compositions developed during specific pieces or parts or moments of the past 3 years of his life, sometimes intimately related or sometimes just experiments he worked on. It’s only fitting then that “Nostra Luna di Miele” translates: “Our honeymoon.” It’s a heart-warming 3 minutes of music with gentle piano or wind sounds textured across crickets, granulated breathing elements, and…strings? Warm wind instruments? I can’t quite place it because like many of BT’s works the creation of his sounds is oftentimes just simple things given a lot of careful work. The opening slow rugged stutter sounds for Artifacture started as recording samples of BT and his wife’s breathers when they were diving on their honeymoon.
You get a sense of the stories or experiences being told here at times. “Daring in a Night City”, for example, is this mixture of light dulcimer like string plucks providing a skylight against a breakbeat ground texture, with short scenes in the mind created by fast momentary glitchy scratchy interruptions in the “process”. At other times these experiences are entirely functional but, for people who just really like sounds and music, will find depth every time they listen. Stuff like “Ohm III. Da meta tempo a Tempo Pieno” (From Part time to Full Time) come to mind as BT establishes a 4/4 pattern with clicky beats before a big flash of static invades the soundscape, and the 4/4 beat has transformed into heavier kicks that quite literally lose their weight as they swirl around your head from left to right all the while…lifting. The kicks get lighter, losing bass, while the music itself literally sounds like it is going above your head, or up your headphones. Sometimes the tracks on the EP are filled with wonderful golden nuggets like this. One fan deciphered that the key and fundamental sound of the bass got deeper across the three compositions. BT confirmed this in a response to the fan, I like the concept of “getting deeper” as we get more into the work too.
The crazy thought is that the full album will not feature such minute detailed looks into each composition. The micromovements will not be listed in the other compositions from what we’re told and that’s almost a shame. If there’s ever a time for fans and people who haven’t yet divulged into BT’s work to understand just how complex and deep his rabbit hole of music goes, the Underscore EP is that opportunity. Translating track names that are written in Latin prompt listeners to look up the name meanings or gain an understanding of what it exactly is they are actually hearing or to simply learn something new. The start of the Indivism composition lead me to Wikipedia trying to understand what a Fast Fourier Transform in mathematical terms is. Other searches were simply to help me understand some musical terms. Useless info? One might think.
But the trick in BT’s music is in full effect with the micromovements because of their naming schemes. This isn’t just about listening to something, it’s about becoming engaged with your music in multiple levels. People will assign or attach meaning to names or tracks that BT will ultimately not fully explain to people for that very same purpose. And so I feel like something might be lost if we’re not allowed the same level of deep digging and personal engagement in the rest of the album. That being said, it’s 2.5 hours long. We’d be searching for answers forever. What’s currently out there is still great.
There’s also the matter of the compositional endings of Indivism and Ohm. During the development of this album, BT spent a lot of time with modular sound developed from a nice chunk of Euroracks. The music he’s created from them at times serves as a “goodbye” to the two aforementioned compositions and they’re lovely 5+ minutes of music developed in a wonderful form. The fading noise on Ohm is something you don’t realize lingers until you pause the track somewhere in its last 60 seconds or so and suddenly you notice your room is a lot quieter and that wasn’t the hum of your PC in the background you heard. Instead, you were hearing the recorded output hums that remained from the modular synths BT had spent days pouring over to create these sounds lingering on to add a nice little nugget of sound for you to appreciate (you can even hear the sound rev up somewhere in the last 15 seconds before it all goes silent and the machines must have been turned off). These final micromovements are awesome but unlike Artifacture (which is wonderfully divided the whole way through and feels perfectly designed, paced, and finished) they are very different from the actual composition in terms of theme. Maybe the focus of the composition is actually present and I’m just missing it. Indivism could be about two states not being divided (so the final micromovement isn’t split from the rest of the composition) and Ohm most likely being a number of experiments regarding the measurement itself. But in many ways they feel like they take away from the experience one was having just seconds ago.
I’ve touted Ohm a lot so far in this discussion so I’ll talk about Indivism too. It’s this interesting weird middle ground of wide bass “slices” working with and against beats while playing with melody and time distortion. Motion, time, and presentation of the sound seem to be the focus as two micromovements are “Slices of Basso Ostinato” and “Variant of Fragments of Basso” while another is “The Properties of Motion”. In 6 (and 7) minutes Indivism and Ohm both take you on a ride that would work as a wild single release in the club music industry. I don’t know about successful but definitely wild. And then those 6 or 7 minute journeys are more or less interrupted as they reach a big conclusion and almost without transition blast their way into a free open modular synth space that is almost unrelated in totality to the composition being played with (at least it feels so in execution). Maybe I just don’t understand the music enough…probably. Anyways the point I’m getting at is that I just hope the whole album doesn’t do that over and over. Artifacture doesn’t do this so I have some good hopes. And regardless that modular music is still a wonderful listen. It just feels like those creations could be compositions of their own perhaps.
As I said earlier though, music creation doesn’t work like this set storyboard of ideas. It’s something that develops and you can tell from your digging that this is an album that is very developed across time as its inspiration. BT may put down a thesis of “I’m going to share music that I just kind of freely develop for 3+ years” but that doesn’t mean he knows what it’s going to sound like that very moment in time from start to finish. He’s letting life inspire him in one of the most unguided ways. And if that means some wild modular creations that he made at the end of building some of these compositions are a part of the journey then that’s in effect what he’s trying to share with us and what we’re supposed to be experiencing. Stark, wild, and even unexpected contrasts are something BT’s done in the past. He did it with Tomahawk (chaos vs. uplifting). He did it with Dynamic Symmetry (jazz vs. break beats). And he did it back in the late 90s with Solar Plexus (rock in the middle of a dance album, actually he does that a LOT in his albums). The point is that BT is taking us on the journey of discovering and creating his own music in this album. And while I’m a little bummed we won’t know the micromovements of the rest of Underscore’s compositions, and the sudden modular pieces might be a little odd for pace purposes, this album is still gonna be so cool I won’t shut up about it for like a year.