Two years ago, Brian Transeau’s Ima turns 20. You can hear some of its echo in the following ESCM, but he’ll never be that epic again. Ima was a real reflection of the time. It sounds like a combination of ethnic New Age which had a revival in the early 90s and the new sound of house and trance music. And it’s British music, even though Brian himself is from the US. Ima attracts you with its naivety and joy of living. The Japanese name Now sounds exactly like a statement: this is how music sounds now. And in 1994–1995 it really was the cutting edge. But this edge wasn’t recognised in his own country — one of BT’s earliest works, Embracing the Future, which came out in 1993, got into the hands of Sasha who already was a British progressive house icon. Later, he’d make his own version of it, and it’d become an introduction to the 40 minute trip included in all editions of Ima. Sasha explained to Brian, who before that was unsuccessfully trying to get his share for participating in Deep Dish duo records in Maryland, how much Embracing the Future excites the British public. Sasha and Guy Oldhams brought him to the UK.
“After releasing Embrasing the future for MusicNow I got a call from Sasha. I had no idea who he was at the time — I was just insanely impressed to have someone on the phone who had an English accent! I remember him specifically saying ‘The music that you’re making is important, and people are going to embrace it in the country”. I thought — “Wow, this is really intense”. Sasha the bought me a plane ticket to England, and I signed to Perfecto on that trip.
It’s a funny story — we were in Sasha’s studio, and I met Spencer, the A&R guy from Perfecto. I played him a few tracks, like Divinity and Loving you more, and he said ‘Listen, do you want to come into the office tomorrow? People would be interested in hearing this’. I was like, ‘Sure, no problem.’ I’d love to. And went into their office the next day. I met Spencer in the lobby, and he said he was going to take me up the conference room so I could play for everybody what he had heard the day before.
The president of the label came down, and everyone filtered into the conference room, when Spencer asked for the DATs, I was like, I didn’t bring my DATs. I brought an acoustic guitar, I figured I could sing and play you some songs. I could see the panic in his eyes when Paul Oakenfold came in. They turned all of the phones, and I sat down and played them ten songs. Paul came up to me when I was finished and said, ‘Mate, we don’t know what you’re doing, but we want to be a part of it’.”
Oakenfold was interested in releasing Tranceau’s debut album on the Perfecto label. Finally, everything started to work out. Because only five years ago, 19-year-old Brian first dropped out of Berkeley College and then flew away with his girlfriend to conquer Los Angeles. As the interviewer later noticed, “he was doing what every good artist does — suffering”. He made tea at the record studios, went to different labels and offered his services. In the United States, electronic music wasn’t in a good position and when the times got hard, Brian stole food from supermarkets. And he came to the island with a 9 kilogram IBM PS/2 — a portable computer with an 11 inch monochrome screen (orange and black) and 8 megabytes of RAM. It was used to record all of Ima and a part of ESCM. The presence of New Age had nothing to do with its popularity, but rather with the influence of Vangelis in his youth. Ima is generally a deeply personal album — exactly what the author himself wanted to listen to. Everyone else can either be interested or pass it by.
This track was a start of something really important for me. It was the first time that a lot of the production techniques and creative ideas I had been working on finally crystalised. The woodwind sound is a Persian flute, which is one of the most beautiful instruments on the planet. It looks like an oboe and it‘s played with a reed inserted along the inside of the throat and down into the oesophogus. It’s fucking amazing. The track also has samples of Native American and Tibetian chanting. It was recorded during summer, which was a big inspiration because that‘s when the cicadas are at their height. They’re these insects which are a bit like locusts and they make a really beautiful noise. I’ve got this total obsession with recording insects and using them as percussion instruments. When I came to the end of track, I suddenly got the idea for Loving you more. All the chord sequences just pulled together. So, in a way, this track did the job of two.
These sounds are inspired by the hills of Cumbria. It started off with me begging my friend Guy Oldhams, the British DJ, to show me some nature. I was freaking out after being stuck in the city and I needed to go for a walk in the woods to pull my head together. But he just wasn’t having it. Not at first, anyway. No fucking way. He eventually caved in and we ended up hiking for nearly 20 miles. By the end of it, he was bitching like you have never heard, he had raw, bleeding heels and all that. But it was so beautiful. We walked up this ridge and suddenly we were starting down into this valley with the amazing lake. I had to sit down with my eyes shut for 10 minutes, then look at the view for 10 minutes, just to take it in. Guy was making fun of me, you know, saying I was this sad American who liked taking pictures of sheep.
This is analogue heaven. We were in a studio called Planet 4 in Manchester the day before we went hiking. I said, “Put a microphone up, I want to sing some shit” and it just went from there. Sometimes the smallest things will set you going. There are sheep sounds way back there somewhere. They’ve got all sorts of old analogue gear in the studio, stuff I’d never even seen before, so I was like a mad scientist with patch cables. This was about a five-hour track. Sometimes I labour for two weeks, sometimes just a few hours.
Every sound here has been tweaked to fuck. The engineer just said, “That’s your corner friend, I’m not anywhere near that heap of spaghetti”. It shows that when I get opportunity to experiment, my work comes in 50 different directions. Unfortunately, with some of the remixes I’ve done, they’ve no always put out the best mix. There was a mix of Mike Oldfield which was deep as fuck, but there were like, “Nah, we want one with the pianos on it”.
I wanted some tracks to stand out for themselves, but I also wanted Sasha to show how he interprets songs. He makes every individual record more than just the sum of its parts. The guy’s a fucking genius. So on the album, you get a choice. There are tracks people can select individually and the there’s whole passage mixed together which you just have to roll with.
With Embracing the future, the water noises come from this cave near Capri and the cicadas are from my girlfriend’s backyard. When Ali and Sharam first heard this they were saying, “Dude, this sucks, this is eight fucking records rolled into one. You’ve got to use each part”. Sharam’s big line is “Dat‘s da hook, man, dat‘s da hook!”, but it’s more fun this way. On this, Sasha has time-stretched Quark underneath it, so it fits in time and key. So many DJs who make records turn up at the studio saying, “I want to make a record which sound like this, okay? Right, I’m off to get a cheeseburger”. But Sasha really wants to learn.
The reason I did Loving you more as a vocal track is basically because people always said to me, “Man, you can never do vocals on your tracks, they’re too crazy, there‘s too much shit going on”. I took that as a positive challenge. Oh, and you hear that whale on Deeper sunshine? I’m playing that. The sound was originally one flat note, so I just gave it a major seventh. I’ll never forget the day this record came out. I’d never done anything which come out on CD before. This is my favorite track to dance to. This is and the Casa De X record.
Absolutely, without a doubt, the most important record for me. And it came from the most incredible place, too. I’d started learning how to overtone, which is this thing when you project one note from the nasal cavity and one from the throat. For some reason, I went to this cave in woods near my parents’ house, chair over one shoulder, DAT player in my pocket and guitar in hand. I put the DAT player on the chair in the tunnel at one end and walked about a third of a mile to the other end, which was a foot deep in water. I started to overtoning and playing my guitar for about an hour and a half. I was into it really deep, my eyes were closed for a long time and when I opened them, the entire tunnel was filled with this beautiful white pollen blowing past me in the air. There’s also a subway noise in there, which has been time-stretched to go with percussion and pianos, which I just tried to take as high as it would go.