In 2016, when Brian Transeau first heard his music pumping through the corridors of Walt Disney Co.’s new $5.5 billion Tomorrowland amusement park in Shanghai, he knew he had done something “magical,” and not just because of Disney’s claim to build the most magical kingdoms in the world.
The 12-hour musical project took three years to complete. It was as much a work of orchestration as civil engineering, with BT, as he is more commonly known, speaking with everyone from gardeners to surveyors to accent coaches (to learn how native Mandarian pitches might interfere with the music) to come up with a totally immersive musical experience.
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“I had to be very mindful of how the pieces of music interacted with one another and the landscapes, because they’re all playing at once,” he said in a recent interview with CoinDesk.
Transeau says he feels similarly about his latest work of art, revealed at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2021 conference. It’s his first foray into non-fungible tokens (NFT). The Grammy-nominated composer is known for pushing the technological boundaries around musical production. He has a strong claim to have founded trance music and is known for working with and pushing artists to do their best work. He made boyband NSYNC a little bit more experimental. He’s done remixes for Madonna, Tori Amos and Seal. He was a pioneer in technical processes of stutter edits, granular synthesis and nano-correcting.
His latest work, Genesis.json, named after a file pun, is just the latest step in this process of blending real and digital worlds. “That’s really what this piece is, it’s an installation for the blockchain,” he said in an interview.
“I am offering this work as an NFT as I believe the blockchain and decentralized technologies are a paradigm shifting system that respects artists and their work,” BT added in a press release about the project. “Creating and sharing it feels more like uploading my DNA to blockchain than a creative work. More than anything, Genesis.json represents my three greatest loves: beautiful art, meaningful music and elegant code.”
Created over 10 months, BT’s work is among the most technologically sophisticated works of crypto art to date. It’s a one-of-one “piece of software” that contains upwards of 15,000 hand-sequenced audio and visual moments that will play out over the course of a 24-hour cycle. “It’s the only work of art that puts itself to sleep,” BT said.
“I had the pleasure of previewing BT’s piece and was blown away by the amount of thought and integration that art, sound and technology were integrated within the masterpiece,” one of the worlds largest NFT collectors, Whale Shark, said over email.
To call Genesis simply an NFT might undersell its advancements. It is a fully programmed 24-hour artwork that will repeat daily as long as the internet is around. The musical and visual journey tells the story of a day. It’s programmed to play specific musical movements depending on when and where a listener is tuning in from, much like other programmable NFTs that bring in real world data to influence an ever-changing digital painting.
BT thinks this is his most technically advanced work to date. It’s composed of 15 separate pieces of music that might be considered one long song. Each piece – like an Indian raga – is programmed to play at a specific time of day.
“I’ve come to appreciate this idea of time being our only finite resource. Music obviously is a temporal art form, and this piece tries to demarcate the day in very specific and deliberate ways,” BT said.
Much of BT’s output has been lauded for its intellectual merit. If dance music has been passed over by the musical gatekeepers as a hedonistic form, BT’s work is dedicated to showing how things that make the body move can also delight the mind.
BT was a musical prodigy. He began playing piano on a little Schroeder-like piano at three, could perform Rachmaninoff by five and was one of the youngest composers to enter the Washington Conservatory and later Berklee, where he studied jazz. But instead of practicing the Real Book or his scales, BT was busy ripping apart synthesizers and coding MIDI on computers.
Los Angeles in the 1990s was behind his style of electronica. At the time the music establishment was more interested in finding the next grunge band, than listening to sounds of short-circuiting loops, he later told Sound on Sound magazine. It wasn’t until he was discovered by a London-based producer that BT thought he found a scene where he could pioneer intelligent dance music.
Then, in his very next project, BT turned his back again on the electronic scene to return to more classical produced arrangements. It was a bit like Bob Dylan pulling out an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival.
“I have friends making careers out of regurgitating the same idea a thousand times. I’d rather fail at experimentation than prostitute something that I love so much. I’m trying to bring myself out of this box I’ve been framed in, which is ‘the dance music guy,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 2000, around the time he began experimenting with bringing analogue technologies into what was then a purely digital arena.
Over the past two decades, BT has released dozens of albums and produced music featured in more than 40 film and video game soundtracks, with each project another attempt to bring thoughtful and novel production techniques into his work.
Crypto represents the next phase of this career.
Of course, NFTs have had a big moment this year – though there are signs the market has played itself out. Many of the largest NFT marketplaces have shown a significant slowdown in activity. OpenSea, the largest such platform, saw volumes drop to $93.6 million in April from $150 million in March. While the Winklevoss-backed Nifty Gateway reported a near $80 million drawn down over the same period.
The money may not matter for BT, whose piece is now up for auction, who sees his artistic motivation as being driven 20% by “cathartic, creative” self-expression and 80% by the puzzle of combining musical movements and code.
“This is all uncharted territory,” he said. Though he hopes NFTs can help support the very musical movements he’s always attempted to lead. “There are generations upon generations of artists coming up that are going to get to enjoy the ability to create for smaller and smaller, more meaningful and vibrant communities of people.”