Archive of the MixSounds Category

A Conversation With BT

In an upcoming print issue of Mix we’ll be featuring a piece on BT, a pioneer in the field of Trance music. In that interview BT talks about his personal studio and the tools he relies on to create his work. We continue our conversation here in the blog, focusing on the art of music.

Mix: You often speak about the relationship between music and mathematics.  I believe you once said that you incorporated the Fibonacci sequence into one of your compositions.  Can you give me some examples of how math influences your compositional style?

BT: “I’m a firm believer that all musicians are mathematicians.  The harmonic relationships we work with, the rhythmic figures, the overtone series, these are all math based, and on some level every good musician is aware of them on an instinctual level at least.

“While working on my last album,“These Hopeful Machines,” I had the idea to morph between meters.  There is a concept known as metric modulation, where a composer moves between different tempi in an organized manner.  I was trying to take that idea a bit farther, going down to the sample level.

“I spent between 14 and 16 hours a day over a two week paper writing out all of the beats where notes should fall if you wanted to morph between 4/4 and 6/8 time signatures over x bars at a tempo of 126 beats per measure.  The idea was to have a pattern of quarter notes remain unchanged and have this sample level change of meter imposed on top of it.

“The result is a piece called “Las Nocturne Des Lumeires.”  I played the piece for the first time in Norway and thought that it would be poorly received, but the response was extraordinary.  People knew how to move their bodies while all of this strange rhythmic stuff was happening.  I believe we have a genetic memory or recall of certain rhythmic structures that’s greater than what we generally consider biologically possible.

“I’m currently in the process of automating this rhythmic process, which will, obviously, make things much easier.  It’s not free jazz, it’s the in the middle stuff, where beats fall over themselves.  The focus of my work for 20 years has been micro rhythmic figures.  This is me looking under new rocks.”

Mix: You’ve said that Stravinsky is one of your heroes. Does his influence show up in your work?

BT: “Stravinsky was my guy. “The Rite Of Spring,” and “Firebird,” these are beautiful compositions, so atonal at the time, so brash and different, way before serial and aleatoric music came along.  But these works, and others by him, were so logical and emotionally grounded that they’ve become easier and easier to hear and play.

“My heroes are the composers who throw a wrench in the engine.  That’s how I think of my work; I’m a disruptive technologist.  Regurgitating the same crap-who cares, even if it’s good?  The best composers are the ones who create atomic explosions, decimating the concept of what’s possible.

“When I recorded the score to “Stealth” I stood at the podium and handed out boxes of #2 pencils to the first chair string players.  I had to tell the players that I was the composer, not someone straightening up the studio!  I wanted to create an orchestral cue that emulated what has been done with granular synthesis, taking the sounds that string players make down to the particle level to make tiny sounds, somewhere between white noise and potato chips!

“The entire cue was written with half notes and quarter notes only.  I told the players to play the written notes, but in between the beats to play aleatoric rhythms using the pencil.  If an Eb, for example, was notated as a half note, the idea was to play that pitch with the bow at the proper time, but before the next note entered create a rhythm by tapping on the string with the pencil.  The musicians were quite skeptical, but it ended up being an extraordinary musical event.  The cue is called ‘Edi Returns.’”

Mix: On your website you cite a number of composers-Rachmaninoff, Bartok, Debussy-as being major influences.  All of them wrote through composed music. Do you write through composed music?

BT: “That’s something I want to do more of in the future.  My 15 year plan-part of which I’ll implement when I become tired of performing in the way I do, which I can see coming-is to pursue some of the alternate passions I have, including composing in more extended forms.  At this phase of my life I love performing for big electronic dance music crowds.”??Mix: Are you a fan of musique concrete?

BT: “Absolutely! Totally!  I was introduced to that stuff at the Berklee College Of Music by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Boulanger.”

Mix: Is he related to the famed teacher Nadia Boulanger?

BT: “Yes, and he’s an inspirational teacher.  Dr. Boulanger turned me on to Cage, Xenakis and Stockhausen.  My idea is to apply the ideas inherent in musique concrete to something that’s directly emotional.

“I live in a no man’s land.  I’m aware of the extended techniques, but I can listen to a three chord song and be brought to tears.  Tracy Chapman, early Bruce Springsteen-this stuff knocks me out.  That’s what I want to do with music, take that emotion and wrap it in something that’s conceptually new.  We’re getting back to the duality again, the academic and pop sides merging.

Mix: Did you break any new ground with your latest CD “A Song Across Wires?”

BT: “Not really.  This is a return to my dance roots.  For many years, I’d say between 2002 and 2007 nothing about dance music appealed to me.  Everything went into this blase, minimal, tech house area, so I moved away from dance music.  A number of people have been doing interesting things lately, and that’s renewed my passion for this style.  “A Song Across Wires” is me bringing new sounds to the form.

“I’ve been amazed at how people have responded to “Skylarking,” an instrumental cut on the CD.  It’s built on modal pedals that move between the I and V chords through most of the song, with a harmonic minor reveal in the breakdown.  It’s simple harmonically, and there’s no moment where two synth bass lines and a kick drum pound you in the face.  People are really responding to it.  Armin van Buuren said that it’s one of his favorite pieces on the album.”

Mix: You’ve said that electronic dance music has to be appreciated live, with a great sound system, other people around you and a gifted “conductor” mixing the event.  Can you think of a single moment in your career that encapsulates this experience?

BT: “I was playing in Seattle after the release of “These Hopeful Machines.” I never get on the microphone, but I saw some girls-they must have been about 18 or so-crying.  I grabbed the mic and said ’I just want to make music that makes you feel less alone.’”

July 11, 2013

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Do you turn your nose up every time someone mentions the Smooth Jazz genre? Then you probably have no use for Dave Koz-despite the fact that he’s a good looking guy with a reputation for being awfully nice-and he wails. The California native has been a mainstay on tour and in the studio since he graduated from UCLA nearly two decades ago.

“Honey-Dipped” is one of my favorite Koz tracks. It’s the first cut on “Saxophonic,” a 2003 CD that features a line up of primo groove makers, including percussion Kings Lenny Castro and Bashiri Johnson, electric bassists Alex Al and Nathan East, and guitarist Marc Antoine.

Ok, I get it: “Honey-Dipped” is built on a C#m7-F#7 chord progression that had been employed 14 million times before Koz and composer Jeff Lorber got around to using it. The melody that these hackneyed harmonies support is well angled, however, and the release highly attractive.

You may be a more sophisticated listener than me, but I called up “Honey-Dipped” on Spotify earlier this week and have played it approximately 50 times! Wait-make that 51-I’m placing the virtual needle down again!

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iTunes Radio

   Are we done bemoaning the lost days, when teen agers skipped down to the local record store on the way to the soda shoppe and picked up a handful of 45’s?  Has the last tear fallen for a time when stoned college students waited for the last track on side one to end, put down the bong, and waltzed over to the record player to turn the disc over?  When labels handed out cash advances to marginally talented bands knowing that the sheer volume of sales would justify the cash they’d never recoup from the flameouts?

    Ok, record sales are down and will stay suppressed.  Streaming audio, though-see Pandora, Spotify, and now iTunes Radio-is huge, and will continue to grow.  Of course artists gripe about the paltry pay outs they receive.  But hey, if you were one of those who received a 40k advance in the mid-70’s, you may still owe money to the label that signed you.

    The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, enacted by Congress in 1998, helped usher in the age of webcasting and “personalized” or “semi-interactive” online radio. The iPhone, and smartphones and apps in general, helped take the consumption of these products to an entirely new level.  Like Pandora (and Spotify), iTunes Radio will offer a free service.  Advertising-free Pandora currently costs $36 per year; Apple will charge $25 for iTunes Radio, though iTunes Radio comes bundled into iTunes Match, so the comparison is not exact. All three services are based on the depth of their catalog and repertoire, the power of their recommendation algorithms, and the care that their editors take with catalogs and genres.
    Seth Schachner is the founder and CEO of Strat Americas, a global digital medial consulting firm.  Earlier in his career he was the force behind the growth of Sony Music’s Latin American Digital and Mobile business. “One of the opportunities that exists for Apple is to integrate track or album purchasing with iTunes Radio-it’s definitely something that a label would look at positively, as Apple holds paying accounts, and part of the idea here is to drive purchases.  Apple’s in a great position to monetize the casual listening experience, essentially.

  “Historically, Apple’s biggest digital music model is the “a la carte” purchasing model, ie, ‘99 cents a track.’  That’s ownership.  The interesting question is whether the model will shift on a long term basis from a purchasing model to an access model.  Let’s assume for a moment that the average consumer buys 25 iTunes tracks a year at a buck a track.  Then consider the paid subscription model and ask this question: why would a consumer want to buy “a la carte” if they can “get it all” for $10/month from a premium subscription service like Spotify or Rhapsody?
“If Apple-or its competitors-can attract enough paying subscribers, the bet is that the new paying subscribers will offset those buyers who no longer want to purchase music on an a la carte basis.  If so, they will have grown their business.  In my view, 10 years from now, while people will likely still buy a la carte, it’s quite possible that the market will continue to see more and more paying subscribers, and less a la carte purchases. In that case, the ‘access model’ wins out, essentially.”

   Seth Schachner has something to say.  If you’d like to learn more about him, check out his website,

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“Live At The Regal”

Are you now, or have you ever been, a blues fanatic? Not a casual toe dipper, but a dyed in the wool, got to have me some, won’t go cold turkey devotee? Then I’ve got a question for you: line ‘em all up and tell me, which album is the quintessential, genre defining blues album of all time? Ok, ok, a number of worthy candidates come to mind. But if “Live At The Regal” doesn’t make the short list-you’re light in the blues department!

Recorded at Chicago’s famed Regal Theater, “Live At The Regal” reveals Riley B. King at the top of his game. Forty years old at the time, King had taken his act through hundreds of cheap venues; bars, whore houses, small time theaters. He was ready to bust through the racial barrier and bring the blues to a wider audience, and that’s exactly what he and the band did with this release.

From start to finish B.B.’s fluid tone, which he applied to Lucille, his famed Gibson ES-345 guitar, and polished baritone are on full display. But B.B’s intelligence, humor, and his ability to form an intimate relationship with an audience who he knows and who knows him so well, are what makes this hour plus performance irresistible. Listen to the way King introduces, “Worry, Worry.” One of his signature guitar licks, tossed off casually, gives way to a brief remark: “Thank you so much. Now, ladies and gentlemen, we want to go way back…WAY back.” Perfect enunciation, vocally and from his instrument.

If you haven’t checked out “Live At The Regal” recently, give it a spin. It was re-mastered several years ago. Listen to it online or on a CD, but be sure to remember what it was like to absorb this masterful set of performances the first time around on that old portable record player.

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Bounce Metronome

Bounce Metronome
Bounce Metronome Pro $29.99
Bounce Metronome Basic $9.99

Have you left the idea of using a metronome in the dusty past? You surely don’t need a standalone timekeeper, do you? Click tracks are easy to generate inside your DAW, so other than getting a reference on tempo when you’re writing away from your workstation, why even consider buying an online metronome?

Bounce Metronome, the brain child of Robert Walker, is a fascinating app that I’d strongly suggest you check out, particularly if you’re interested in polyrhythms. I recently bought the scores of Fred Lerdahl’s three string quartets. They’re brilliant, and the inventiveness of his cross rhythms is inspiring. Bounce Metronome has allowed me to program some of Fred’s rhythms, and I’ve begun creating variations on them.

Go up to the site and read the descriptive info, but the short of it is that Bounce Metronome lets you program multiple rhythms and play them against each other. You can, for example, set up a 4/4 time signature as your “main” metronome, add a second metronome that counts off, say, 5 eighth notes against two quarter notes, and a third that marks seven equal beats against the entire bar. You can also mute notes at will, and the results are intriguing. If you like what you hear you can export your project as a standard midi file and bring it into your DAW for closer study.

Unfortunately, Bounce Metronome is only available for the Windows platform at this time. The app is fairly deep, and by its construction makes clear that Robert Walker is not one of us lowly musician types-he’s an inventor and amateur musician- and I’ve found myself scratching my head on several occasions trying to figure out how to get the most out of some of its features.

Notwithstanding, Bounce Metronome is a highly usable product. If you’re looking for a quick way to test out avant garde cross rhythms, or simply hear and play to some of the many rhythms that come pre-packaged with the application, I’d strongly encourage you to consider picking up this product.

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Adagio Bassses

You diss double bass players. Admit it. You’ve never asked a girl who plays the double bass to dinner, you own a car that is unsuitable to carry the instrument, and when you create orchestral mock ups, the double bass section gets little post-input sculpting.

Sample library manufacturers have observed this brusque treatment, and as a result double bass libraries have been short, for the most part, on expressive patches. 8dio ( considers that a lacuna worth filling. One of their new libraries, Adagio Basses, is a slice of the larger string library they’re building. It’s filled with some gorgeous patches, including bowed patches that work with Kontakt 5’s Time Machine Pro feature. If you don’t own K5 don’t worry; Adagio Basses will work with Kontakt 4 as well.

I’ll be taking a deeper look at this library in the near future-I have a few questions that I want to discuss with the manufacturer before submitting a full review-but if you’re looking for a new string library and want to build from the ground up, or simply want to add some emotion to the bottom of your orchestral template, I’d strongly suggest that you take a listen to the demos that are on the 8dio site (

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On The Other Hand…

Spent some time flicking back and forth (still on Sirius) between the current hits channel and the 60’s one. That girl Karmin can sing (with a nod to Shania Twain) and the record sounds great; so do a number of others. But still…

Part of the problem revolves around tuning. It’s just too good these days! Before the Korg digital tuner and others like it came into play, part of what distinguished a great guitarist was his ability to remain in tune throughout a track. Did you ever hear a note Clapton played that wasn’t exquisitely timed, phrased, and tuned? But wait… just heard a live Grateful Dead cut (snuck over to their channel) from the early 70’s. My lord, the intonation is horrible! But that was part of their charm, and the band’s sound, wasn’t it?

Listening to Dusty Springfield front that great band on her classic “Son Of A Preacher Man.” The tuning is good, but head stocks weren’t perfected back then, and those guitars aren’t equally tempered throughout their range. Those problems have been eliminated. Great, but…

Wow, haven’t heard The Cyrkle’s “Turn Down Day” in ages. Electric sitar and upright piano… my goodness, how many months before the session was that keyboard tuned?! Again, part of the charm of the sound though, right? Same thing with a number of the early Ray Charles records; you get the point.

You engineers, and the manufacturers who listen to you…you all have figured out how to build and implement reverbs whose tails can be exquisitely tailored, and the software versions let you place them on individual tracks. The collective sound of perfection is driving me crazy!

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Bob Orban/Sirius XM

I spoke with Bob Orban recently. His place in the history of our industry was secured in the mid-70‘s when his company, Orban Associates, released the Optimod-FM 8000. Designed to decrease nonlinear distortion this device, and the technologies Orban worked on at dbx Professional that delivered high quality signal processing at affordable prices, helped usher in the project studio revolution that defines much of what hits the air waves today.

Tooling around New Jersey the other day I spent some time listening to a station devoted to current pop hits. Most of the stuff I heard was light weight, but that’s not really a criticism. I still love Stacey Q’s “Two of Hearts” and Aqua’s 1997 hit “Barbie Girl.” In fact, I always thought that, just out of reach, there was a ribald take off on the latter’s chorus line, “Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!” Something about those clear covers that matriarchs used to throw over their couches, maybe; “They’re fantastic, make my ass stick!”

What really struck me, though-admittedly, I don’t listen to that much contemporary pop music-was the lack of dimension, even on those tracks that were clearly recorded in large rooms. I thought we were past this point, and the lack of air didn’t strike me as loudness-war related. Are mixers unconsciously using compression and other techniques to squash tracks so that they sound like ADAT-inspired recordings from the 1990’s?

Things were different once upon a day, weren’t they? The classic hits of Earth Wind & Fire (“September,” for example, released in 1978) were among the first that I can recall where a (fairly) large ensemble featuring brass was made to sound super tight. Wedged beautifully around the rhythm section, and especially the vocals, this section never overwhelmed other elements, but was always present and located in its own dimension. There are countless other examples, and you engineers know how they were created much better than I do.

I know there are many great mixers out there and that beautiful masters are being created every day. Am I wrong, or is FM radio, in general, a flatter sounding medium than it needs to be?

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An Interview With Jeffrey Biegel

Poking around on Spotify one day I came across Jeffrey Biegel. I hadn’t heard of this pianist, but after listening for just a few minutes to his reading of several selections from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier I realized that this was a special artist. A delicate touch, elastic sense of tempo, and power as required-plus the ability to make the listener feel that the music is telling its tale for the first time-combine to make Biegel’s playing special.

The recording industry continues to change. The old model-pray that a major label doles out a contract-may have faded, but new outlets are taking their place. Steinway & Sons launched its own label in 2010 with “Bach On A Steinway,” a set of performances by Mr. Biegel. Earlier this month the company released another album featuring Biegel as a digital download; “A Grand Romance” will be available as a CD on May 28th. Details on this recording can be found at the following link: Jeffrey Biegel agreed to answer some questions via e-mail.

GE: Steinway & Sons have their own label. That would have been unusual in the past. How has the recording industry changed in the years since you made your first record?

Jeffrey Biegel: “There are many independent companies releasing wonderful recordings, and digital online sources bring the music closer to listeners than ever before.”

Did you record this CD at Steinway?

JB: “I have recorded for the Steinway & Sons label at SUNY Purchase, and the last CD, “A Grand Romance,”at Sono Luminus in Virginia.

Do you know who the engineer was, or anything about the technology used to capture your performances?

JB: “Actually, no! But we have always recorded in the most natural acoustic environments possible, and the quality of the recordings are, in my judgment, outstanding.”

“A Grand Romance” offers musical miniatures written by pianists who were also composers. Where did the idea for this project come from?

JB: “I was a student of Adele Marcus at The Juilliard School, and Ms. Marcus often commented that I reminded her of her teacher, Josef Lhevinne. This prompted me to explore his style and the repertoire he performed and recorded.”

I first heard you playing the music of Bach, and was struck by your
lyrical approach. Do you think that many pianists, even some of the
most highly acclaimed, tend to over emphasis the contrapuntal aspect of
Bach’s music?

JB: “The use of counterpoint in Bach’s music is amazing, and, it must always be part of a larger musical sentence.”

Your approach seems to be to let the master’s exquisite voice leading speak for itself. Is that an accurate statement?

JB: “Absolutely!”

How much time do you spend touring these days?

JB: “I tour throughout the year to orchestras, for chamber music concerts with my Trio21 ensemble, and for solo recitals and master classes.”

Your career has combined elements of pop music alongside works of the
great masters. Do you think there is a greater gap now between popular
and “art” music, or has the divide lessened with the diminished
influence of Schoenberg and the adherents of a strict 12 tone approach
to composition?

JB: “I see all styles slowly fusing together, creating an interesting mix of tonal colors, rhythms and melodic invention.”

You write music as well as perform. How would you describe your compositional style?

JB: “Most of my writing is choral, inspired by Eric Whitacre, and before him, Healey Wilan, Randall Thompson and their contemporaries.”

What projects are you currently planning?

JB: “I will record an all-Chopin project this summer, and perform two premiers in the Fall: Lucas Richman’s “Piano Concerto” with Maestro Richman conducting the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and, on veterans Day, the premiere of Jake Runestad’s “Dreams of the Fallen” with the Lousiana Philharmonic Orchestra and Symphony Chorus of New Orleans, conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto.”

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“So Close” (cont.)

I posted a piece yesterday on “So Close,” a song written by Alan Mencken and Stephen Schwartz that was featured in the 2007 Disney film, “Enchanted.” Kevin Kliesch, one of the arrangers who worked on this film, contacted me via e-mail shortly after it went up.

“In the case of this song, the original arranger (his name was Robbie Buchanan) was asked by Alan to do the pop arrangement, but when the camera pans out and starts circling the dancers they asked me to add a big orchestral section to beef up what was on screen; the original arrangement wasn’t achieving the desired effect. Since I was already working on most of the orchestration for the score, they asked me to come in for just this one song-I wasn’t involved with any of the other song orchestrations or arrangements.

“Alan wanted a grand, lush sound to this section and I had to rework it about four times before they were happy. Alan was working from New York and would send score cues for me to orchestrate here in LA, but for the song he just sent me the track as arranged by Robbie. I would send each version of my mockup to Alan, and he was the one who ultimately approved the final version. When we got to the scoring stage, I think I even
added a few more touches as it was being recorded.”

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