BT – This Binary Universe

BT is firing on all cylinders with his latest release, This Binary Universe. BT takes a creative leap, creating a dynamic, glitchy electronic work that also captures the range of acoustic instruments, from delicate to full orchestral power.

This Binary Universe comes as a CD/DVD set. While both are excellent, the DVD offers 5.1 sound, along with computer-animated videos. I listened to the music in both formats, and this is one of the first electronica releases to really showcase the capabilites of 5.1. While many 5.1 releases sound like the stereo release, opened up, here it sounds like 5.1 is the master, and the stereo version is a reduced, edited version.

This Binary Universe is likely to disappoint some listeners expecting dance tracks. The tracks are abstronica – glitch-filled abstract electronic music that is close enough to popular music forms to be recognizable, but unabashedly experimental, nonetheless.

This is a new direction for BT which may leave some people guessing. The music is bold, and it’s likely that it will take some time for people’s ears to get used to it.

BT kicks starts things off subtly, with All That Makes Us Human Continues. This track has an underlying ostinato on which BT layers relaxing bell tones and glitch noises. BT then builds to a guitar-focused section that recalls the Americana sound of his Monster soundtrack, before returning to the more relaxed sounds and density of the beginning, fading this out slowly until just the ambience of the sounds remains.

The track is This Binary Universe in a nutshell. BT takes a simple theme and repeats it, but instead of just looping it, he makes every measure different. And the variations aren’t just random, but help build the piece from nothing to an intense climax.

The next track, Dynamic Symmetry, is one of the highlights of the release, and the track that will probably be most accessible to fans of his more pop-oriented music. BT starts the track of with a short melody played with bell-like tones, but immediately builds it up with his trademark drum sounds – except that they are in 9/4.

But as soon as he gets it going, BT breaks it down and explores glitchy variations. Then BT moves to a mellow jazz interlude, that is interrupted by a driving 4/4 section, before returning to the jazz glitch vibe. .

The Internal Locus
continues in a similar vein, exploring delicate parallel keyboard harmonies that would be familiar in Debussy or jazz. BT backs this with environmental sounds and hints of glitch. BT then moves to a full orchestral section, where he filters his theme through the orchestra and back through his electronics, blurring the lines between the electronic and the acoustic. BT returns to the beginning to wrap up the piece, but not before taking a quick detour into the land of 4/4 breakbeats.

1.618
is the golden ratio, and the title of the next track. The golden ratio has fascinated mathemeticians and architects for thousands of years, and musicians for nearly as long, because the proportions it represents can be found in both simple and complex ways throughout nature. BT’s music explores delicate ambient sounds, contrasted with percussion effected with different acoustics, giving it an almost breathlike effect. This is one of the most restrained tracks on the CD, but also one of the most powerful.

See You On The Other Side
flows from the subtle ambience of the end of 1.618 and gradually brings in a repeating motif, again played with bell-like tones. This is the most hypnotic of the tracks, evolving slowly with a minimalistic focus. BT is bold enough to take his time, drawing out this initial section. He moves on to a pensive section that adds bass and guitar and finally to a more electronic third section. Even at its peak, though, See You On the Other Side keeps the intensity restrained. This track recalls Eno’s idea that ambient music should be as ignorable as it is listenable. In this case, BT’s approach makes it almost relaxing, but the complexity and constant, subtle change, adds an intensity that gives the music a depth that lets it be listened to repeatedly, with each listen revealing something new.

Next up is The Antikythera Mechanism. The title refers to a mysterious geared mechanism, that dates from over 2,000 years ago, that was found in a shipwreck. Its complexity has confounded scientists and historians for years. While the mechanics of the device are thought to describe the mostion of the planets and the sun, no one is certain of how exactly it worked.
BT’s work seemlessly builds from a gentle section built around a piano motif, to a full orchestral section to a climax that brings the orchestra together with his more electronic effects.

BT ends the CD/DVD with Good Morning Kaia, a reflective piano piece that seems to capture the poignance of love and loss that one can feel when one has children. Every wonderful moment one has quickly becomes a memory of something lost.

The work is inspired by BT’s daughter Kaia, and is one long crescendo. BT takes a simple piano motif, processed to give it an underwater parking garage effect, and repeats it, gradually introducing instruments. The piece builds to become a passionate rock anthem, before fading back to the piano motif at the end.

The DVD features visuals that are largely abstract. While they aren’t as compelling as the music itself, they gel together with the 5.1 sound in an impressive way. The abstract animations are at times stunning. The most emotionally powerful video, though, is the BT-directed Good Morning Kaia, which features a scrollling love poem from BT to his daughter, set against a backdrop of images of Kaia and her family.

This Binary Universe may be BT’s finest work yet – it could be up there with works like Brian Eno’s Ambient 1, or Giorgio Moroder’s I Feel Love, music that opened up worlds of music that weren’t fully appreciated for years.

All in all, BT’s This Binary Universe is one of the most interesting and affecting releases, in any genre, of the year. It’s highly recommended, and make sure you check it out in 5.1.

Here’s the preview for the DVD:

BT talks about his This Binary Universe in a promo for M-Audio:

Tracks:

  • All That Makes Us Human Continues
  • Dynamic Symmetry
  • The Internal Locus
  • 1.618
  • See You On The Other Side
  • The Antikythera Mechanism
  • Good Morning Kaia

Disc: 2

  • All That Makes Us Human Continues
  • Dynamic Symmetry
  • The Internal Locus
  • 1.618
  • See You On The Other Side
  • The Antikythera Mechanism
  • Good Morning Kaia

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