In the world of electronica, the term trance covers a lot of territory. Some trance music, like that of Ian Van Dahl or ATB, sounds very close to pop dance music. BT and Paul Oakenfold create music that is equally at home on the dance floor, in the car, or at home on headphones. At the other end of the spectrum, artists like Sasha and William Orbit are pushing the boundaries of popular electronic music with their more abstract trance music .
Trance became a definable style in the early 90’s, growing out of techno and dance music. Trance electronica is often very repetitive melodically and rhythmically, but with continually shifting sounds. The most common way musicians generate interest in the repeated melodies is by varying the filter cutoffs on their synthesizers. Varying the cutoff makes the synthesized phrases change from dull sounding to very bright and piercing.
Trance music carries the torch for electronica, because it is the most popular forms of music that is uniquely electronic. Trance music relies on sequencers, synthesizers, and electronic effects for its sound.
The most commonly used instruments are Roland TR 808, TR 909, and TB 303. These instruments form the backbone of trance. These instruments are about 20 years old, but it is common for newer bass synths and drum machines to emulate these classics. Other synthesizers are used as a lead instrument, pads and to add spice and variety to the mix.
Trance music became popular as it was played by the early “superstar dj’s”, like Sasha, Paul Van Dyk, and Paul Oakenfold. In many ways, trance combines the darker urban sound of techno with the more european sound of electronic dance music.
One of the most important early influences on trance music has to be Giorgio Moroder. While he’s best known for his disco work, he also created a lot of significant early pop electronica. His work with Donna Summer on “I Feel Love” is probably the biggest influence on today’s trance sound. “I Feel Love” has all the features of today’s dance/trance tracks. It’s got the 4 on the floor drums, the sequenced bassline, the filter sweeps that change the sound of the synthesizers as the play and, of course, the diva. His theme from the movie Midnight Express sounds like a blueprint for a lot of current trance music.
Another important influence on trance music was the early detroit techno music, from people like Juan Atkins and Carl Craig.
By the late 90’s, trance was becoming more and more complex. Artists like BT were combining samples, synthesizers, computer treatements and even orchestral arrangements to make trance more complex and expressive. BT applied his talents to producing and even moving scoring. Trance hit the mainstream at the turn of the millenium.
Some good introductions to trance include: Paul Oakenfold’s Tranceport, BT’s ECSM, compilations like Trance Classics, and Robert Miles’ Dreamland.