M-Powered Artist BT: Staying Ahead of the Curve
With new forays into 5.1 and deeper exploration of Ableton Live, BT is ever the techno trendsetter
Writing in surround
Broadening the scope of his film projects, BT recently completed work on the Academy Award-winning drama “Monster.” Not only did the subject of this film differ dramatically from his previous work, BT used an entirely new process to create the score. The Monster Score Album is the first project where BT used multi-channel monitoring from the initial concept onwards—and he swears there’s no turning back.
“I took the 43 minutes of score cues that I did, and expanded them into three hours of music in 5.1 for the score album [to be released June 1, 2004],” says BT. “I'm writing everything in 5.1 now. It has become common to mix old records in 5.1 as an afterthought, but it's incredible to be able to sit in that immersive environment, writing music.”
“Clubs like Fabric in London already have 5.1. There are a lot of places that are putting 5.1 systems in, and it's amazing. Your first thought might be that you would need to stand in a central space. And it's not like that. I've heard it in a club environment; they did a 5.1 demo in New York at the Billboard conference dance music summit. You could walk anywhere in the room, and you could still tell the changes in spatial location.”
A dream come true
Involved in electronic music production since the late 80s, BT has witnessed a dramatic evolution of technology since that time. Never content to be a mere bystander, the M-Powered artist not only embraced the new software technology that allowed him an unprecedented amount of flexibility over hardware, but he also found—and continues to find—innovative ways to make that technology his own.
“Live is an amazing piece of software,” attests BT. “It's the kind of thing that I always wished for when I used samplers to retrigger sample loops live. It not only makes my life easier, but also makes it possible to do things that you could never do in a performance context as an electronic musician. One of the best things about Live is that you can take information of any length, any duration—from a track to a loop—and warp marker it. So when I'm playing live, I can take a track and put a breakbeat or a new bass line under it, and literally remix a track on the spot.
“I made myself an auto-load for Live so it feels comfortable, but I actually change it a lot on the fly. And, for those of you that use this program, you know that that's one of the coolest things about it. If you want to drop an effect into the chain while you're playing, it's cake to do it, and you don't have to stop playing. I'll do key assignments on the fly, too. If I throw in a delay and want to change the delay speed, but don't want to sit there tweaking the little mouse pad, I'll assign it to a knob on the fly. So by the end of a set, my setup oftentimes is almost completely changed.”
The future of DJing
BT’s decision to replace traditional turntables and hardware synthesizers with software like Ableton Live and Propellerhead Reason was initially challenged by many of his contemporaries. But as he turned out albums that took electronic music to new heights and powerful sets that shook the dance floor, it became undeniable that BT was on to something.
“There are really wonderful things about the tactile sensation of DJing, like picking up records, putting them on a turntable, slip mixing things in time,” says BT. “But after I played around with Live for a couple weeks, I'd completely forgotten about that!
“Live is a tremendous alternative to using vinyl. The funny thing is now all my friends that are really great at beat mixing and and traditional turntable DJing—people like Sasha and John Digweed—are asking if I can teach them how to use Live. That really says something. I think in ten years, everybody's gonna be doing this kind of thing in a club, as opposed to using turntables. And one of the coolest things about this is that I can carry 10,000 records with me on my laptop, and you just can't do that if you're physically carrying them.”
BT’s software-based studio
Even when working in the studio, BT often opts for soft synths over hardware. Though BT still uses devices like the Hartmann Neuron and the Roland JP-8000 from time to time, his commitment to software is so firm that he has even begun developing soft synths of his own.
“I'm way into software synthesis now. I remember everybody made fun of me when on “Dreaming” when I put in a track that was constructed entirely with soft synths. My friends didn't believe me, so I had to show them. All that stuff blows away most modern synthesizers.
“I also use Reason a lot. I was a big MPC-60—and then MPC-3000—fan
back in the day, and it reminds me of that. In terms of simplicity, and for
programming beats, it's so bomb, it's not even funny. I could sit on a plane with my laptop and an M-Audio controller like the Oxygen8 and work on hundreds of beats by the time I get through a three-hour flight.”
Present and futureBT is currently working on the score for the Miramax film "The Underclassman" starring Nick Cannon (Drumline, B2K), as well as the score for Electronic Arts' "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005." He will soon be embarking on his Laptop Symphony tour throughout Europe, South America, and the United States. He is also slated to begin work on the score for the Sony Pictures film "Stealth," directed by Rob Cohen (“The Fast and The Furious,” “XXX”). For tour dates and additional information, please visit www.btmusic.com.
M-Audio would like to thank BT for coming out to our booth at Winter NAMM 2004 to provide this interview.