Mixing dance beats with symphonic sounds is nothing new. But it might never have been done on such a grand, ambitious scale as what DJ, producer and composer BT is cooking up Sunday night at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami.
His “Electronic Opus,” a unique project also conceived in part by “Video Games Live” creator and composer Tommy Tallarico, will feature selections from BT’s vast musical catalog over the past 25 years, updated and performed live with a symphony orchestra and synchronized to HD video footage and state-of-the-art special effects and lighting.
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“’Electronic Opus’ is two worlds that you wouldn’t think are compatible coming together,” said Tallarico. “It’s reimagining what electronic music could be: It’s traditional meets the future; it’s organic meets technology; it’s electronic meets real instruments. You’re hearing sounds and things that you’ve never quite really heard before. I call it ‘electronic symphonic.’”
Although BT – real name Brian Transeau – is a prolific remix artist, and can rock a turntable with the best of them, he offers much more than your average DJ. In fact, the multi-instrumentalist is closer to a modern-day musical Renaissance man, having attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston at age 15; written and produced music with a diverse group of artists including Tori Amos, Madonna, Depeche Mode, Sting, The Roots and Paul van Dyk; and composed original scores for films including “Go,” “The Fast and the Furious” and “Monster.” He’s also a pioneer of trance music, and the creator of the production technique known as the “stutter edit.”
“It was guys like BT that the whole EDM scene and dance music sprouted from,” said Tallarico. “He’s known as the Godfather of Trance, and his music is so deep and rich and powerful and emotional and melodic. Sting calls up BT and asks him to write music with him. Peter Gabriel calls him up and asks him to write music with him, you know? He really is a complete artist. He’s also a technologist as well – he creates software and is a programmer, for crying out loud.”
The audience will see nearly every musical side of BT throughout “Electronic Opus,” except, perhaps ironically, his DJ skills.
“I will be playing a total of seven different instruments -piano, guitar, bass guitar, dulcimers, glockenspiel and more,” BT said via an email interview. “I will also be singing on four of the songs we perform. No DJing for me at all in this show.”
From a visual standpoint, “Electronic Opus” aims to break new ground by enlisting the services of Volvox, “the cutting-edge visual company right now in the EDM world,” according to Tallarico.
“We have this 20-foot-high by 55-foot-long projection surface that is a 3D surface, so it’s not like a flat, white screen at all,” he added. “It’s almost like a mountain range, but it’s all three-dimensional. There’s a lot of nature stuff, but mixed with electronics, and at certain points you’re gonna feel like you’re within microbiology, like you’re inside an electron microscope. And other times, you’re gonna be floating in the universe, and sometimes it might be mountains and water and clouds, and other times you’re inside gears and electronics. It’s like the Nature Channel meets ‘The Matrix,’ basically [laughs].”
But the electronic eye-candy doesn’t stop there.
“We’re even doing crazy things like the conductor’s baton is actually a tracking device,” Tallarico said. “So when the conductor is moving her hands around, she can actually control things that are on the screen in real time. But we also have an effects screen that the audience can’t see, that’s in front of her, that they don’t realize is there, so during certain times when she moves her hands, we can actually have 3D particle effects shooting out of her hands and arms when she’s conducting. It’s like nothing anyone has ever done before.”
It’s no accident that “Electronic Opus” falls on the final day of the Winter Music Conference, the annual gathering of thousands of internationally renowned DJs and EDM artists that descends upon Miami in late March. The timing in part was meant to demonstrate that electronic music can be much more than the thump-thump-thump of the beats that permeate the city during this week. Call it a more highbrow entertainment option that still packs a mean rhythmic punch.
“I wanted to find a way to take dance music and pull it out of the dark basements and VIP bottle service clubs it is inherently always tied to,” said BT, who headlined Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in 2008. “I wanted to showcase that our music can contribute to the global music conversation.”
“Electronic Opus” also serves as an inadvertent introduction to classical music for an audience that otherwise might not be caught dead in a concert hall.
“Another goal is to usher in young people to appreciate the arts, and the symphony,” said Tallarico. “A lot of people going to this show are probably seeing the symphony live for the first time, so exposing those audiences to a new style and a new genre is also kind of cool. Because the reality is, 20-year-old kids aren’t going to see Mozart and Beethoven, unfortunately.”
Although the team behind “Electronic Opus” expects a positive response to the show, the precise reaction from the audience is proving difficult to predict.
“It’s funny – when we talk about it, we’re like, ‘Are people gonna get up and dance? Or are they gonna sit there in their chairs?’ We kind of don’t know,” said Tallarico with a laugh. “I think it’s gonna be a little bit of both, because there’s definitely slower, emotional points in the show, and I think people will be sitting down for that, but there’s gonna be times when the beat is just kicking, and the symphony is playing along, and BT’s jamming on his synth and rocking it back and forth. And it’s gonna be hard for anyone to sit in their seats. I think it’s gonna be a lot like church.”