Lorenzo Senni's latest output for notable leftfield label Editions Mego, 'Quantum Jelly', turns trance music on its head. Eliminating the beat and focusing solely on the "build-up", Senni unfurls a batch of hypnotic, serpentine electronic compositions that'll make your head spin faster than a whiskey shot and a vintage blotter. We had the opportunity to send a few questions to the Italian native, and his responses offer a compelling perspective on compositional progression and the core nature of trance.
Percussion Lab: 'Quantum Jelly' is a fascinating study on reductionist trance - you've eliminated the 'release' of a build up, in favor of slow change through evolving repetition. What inspired you to compose music in this fashion?
Lorenzo Senni: I think of the build up as the most important part of a trance track. I don't really like drum beats in trance songs. The build up is the point where a producer of trance music can express him/herself in a creative and technical way…that's why i think it is a dense part, full of information. The idea was to extend this to a five, seven, or ten minute piece of music - but a dramatic progression from 0 to 100 was too much and i also wanted to work in a more "dry" territory, and make a kind of real track from this …and not re-make just a longer uplifting build-up. I'm not a trance producer and i had no interest in making a classic build-up; I prefer to listen to them.
Slow changes and micro-modulation are very important in the way that 'Quantum Jelly' tracks are ascending tracks …but it's not so full of emotion and dramatic like a standard trance build-up because i think that the structure, chord progression, and arpeggios implicitly preserve the song's emotional tension and drama..
PL: And these compositions were all performed in real time w/o any overdubs - did you practice these movements in advance, or simply set the parameters and improvise?
LS: I first composed the MIDI parts, then sent them into the JP8000. I practiced a bit, modified the arpeggios, searched for the right sound, tried to find a way to tweak the sounds without being too playful and dramatic with filters etc etc …and then I'd play each song over and over again, choosing the best take for the final record. For example: the first track, XMonsterX, a thirteen minute track (the longest of the record), is a good example of what we are talking about …this track is very simple, and in the middle you can easily hear that i'm playing around with the JP8000 DELAY (i think is a good delay) and then, after a while, i sync it with the pulse and i keep building up a dark-supersawed-percussive-rave final …so, this middle part of crazy delay changing is very helpful to say "I'm playing with this" and live it works a lot cause the tension grows. And, you know, the JP has been designed very much as a performance instrument and the level and flexibility of real-time control is great.
PL: What else about the JP8000 attracted you to focus on this synth for the entire release?
LS: THE SUPERSAW: "The Supersaw is a special waveform originally created by Roland for their JP-8000 and JP-8080 line of analog modeling synthesizers. The idea behind the Supersaw is to emulate the sound of more than one sawtooth oscillator using just one oscillator. The waveform is described as a freerun oscillator and its shape is produced from 7 sawtooth oscillators detuned against each other over a period of time." (via Wikipedia)
PL: What was your computer-to-synthesizer setup? What did you use//do to wield and manipulate these arpeggios?
LS: MAX/MSP, SUPERCOLLIDER or LOGIC9 + MIDI INTERFACE …and my hands on the synthesizer manipulating parameters ...and sometime using arpeggiator in a unusual way.
PL: What would you say are the differences in emotional drama between "non-build-up" and "build-up" music? Or, what kind of emotion do you think repetition/"percussive arpeggiated melodies" channels?
LS: When I say "non-build-up", I mean something that is still uplifting, exciting, and full of energy, but not in the classic super-dramatic way. 'Quantum Jelly' tracks build-up from 75% to 90% …classic trance build-up from 0% / 20% to 100% (I hope these percentages help explain the difference). I wanted to have tracks that already start "up in the sky" and evolve in an interesting way from a both musical and sonic perspective, not just emotional. I used to work a lot with textures, timbre and dynamics… and about trance i like the structure, the chord progression and the mutable approach to a very closed musical genre … so i tried to bring it to me.
About repetition, I don't know…too many people have already discussed this topic. We should ask Terry Riley or Steve Reich; I just use it. I think that repetition of good things is good; repetition of bad things makes them better.
PL: After a few years of 'maximilist' electronic music flooding the mainstream, do you see a growing trend of reductionist electronic taking its place? Recent releases from yourself and other members of Editions Mego, as well as Ricardo Donoso's latest output, seem to find more promise in stripping away the beat rather than relying on it.
LS: I don't know if it's reductionism so much as just music made by people who work in a different way. The way I worked on 'Quantum Jelly' is an important part of the concept of the LP: I just wanted to work with a certain sound texture (the super-saw) within the context of my background, and channel it through certain trance-music-archetypes. The result is something that, if you listen in a club, you can dance to even if there's no drum beat.