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30 March 2016

The meaning of trance

Tools of the trade: Uyghur Khushtar (viol) and a laptop mouse. Image: Tools of the trade: Uyghur Khushtar (viol) and a laptop mouse.  

Towards the end of 2015, Piotr Nowotnik put in an expression of interest to work on a collaborative project with trance artist MaRLo, as part of a new artist development program AMPlify TRANCE, initiated by the AMC and APRA AMCOS SongHubs program. Nowotnik became the first-ever AMPlify participant - here he describes the first stages of collaboration with MaRLo and the common musical ground that was discovered in the process.

Since the early 1990s when the word 'trance' was first used as a term to describe a sub-genre of electronic music, the 'average music consumer' has had two choices: love it or hate it. Equally, many proponents of electronic dance music (EDM) are unimpressed by the music of the concert hall. Yet, the primordial core of the music - the circulation of rhythmic events with its subsequent anthropological development of tonality - is as valid in trance music as in any electronic music style, jazz, folk, period, pop and classical music.

The word 'trance', in the musical context, has a particular meaning for me. For years, following extensive research of traditional musical styles and instruments of Europe, Asia and the Americas, I concluded that one cannot separate the origins of a musical folklore from its culture. So, we have to consider 'trance' not only as an electronic music genre, but also as a state of heightened rhythmic consciousness - a human condition shared by shamanistic societies of Northern Europe, indigenous peoples of Americas, and animistic/tribal societies of far North Siberia.

At the start of our creative journey, MaRLo and I discovered the common platforms of communications while omitting socio-stylistic labels imposed by the omnipresent pigeonholing system. This allowed us to see more clearly - see through the musical substance and be able to mould it better and without the danger of misperception. So far, MaRLo has brought his long experience in sound quality, knowledge of textural intricacies, love of riveting patterns and fascinating variations. I have brought my devotion to wood, air and metal in the form of musical wonders such as Khashgar violas, hurdy-gurdies, overtone flutes from Slovakia, Swedish bagpipes, and more. Moreover, exclusively for our collaboration, I created an array of software samples derived from authentic musical instruments, recorded, sampled and quantified for our project.

My university years, spent at the Victorian College of the Arts, helped me to understand that, in order to create better music, boundaries needed to be demolished and a sense of purpose reacquired. That's the role of a contemporary composer. That's my role in the project. That and of course a handful of electronic circuits to make the outcome remain both primordial and whimsically futuristic.

The most recent part of the journey took us on a discovery of unusual aesthetic qualities, most likely unique across the EDM/trance realm - with its time signature ascending from 4/4 to something moreā€¦ mystical, while not alienating or patronising the listener. The weaving of rattles, triangles, Buffalo drums of North America, jaw harps of Vietnam and orchestral percussion into layers of Scandinavian joik, riffs of Khushtar, Koncovka or a hurdy-gurdy, feel natural when the raw materials of music are faced with their electronic synthetic counterparts. It could be no coincidence that the sound of Lira Korbowa's trompette goes so well with that bass drop.

Whoever erected that Tower of Babel in the midst of the musical realm, must have had it all wrong.

AMC resources

Piotr Nowotnik - AMC profile
AMPlify framework and AMPlify TRANCE - AMC Online

Further links

Piotr Nowotnik - homepage
MaRLo - homepage


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