Lowland… Petri Alanko… Whatever name you know him by, the man is a legend. Approximately seven years after the release of the far-famed Classical Trancelations album, the Finnish producer reached out to Armada Music for the highly anticipated second volume of his brainchild. In his Classical Trancelations 2, ten renowned trance classics received an orchestral treatment, appealing to both trance fans and classical music enthusiasts. With the album harboring some of the most exceptional cross-over reworks, it leaves to wonder what’s behind the music itself. How it came to be and why classical music and trance allow for such an incredible cross-over. Read on, as Petri Alanko explains in detail…
Where did the idea of turning trance classics into orchestral compositions originate and how did this project come about?
Well, that definitely is a long story, I must say. But to cut it short, I think it was DJ Orkidea, a very good friend of mine, who asked whether any of the classic trance tunes could be reformed, rearranged or reinterpreted into something else. Maybe lounge versions or even more elaborate classical piano versions. I thought about this for a short while and suggested to try the piano stuff with the orchestra.
Back then. we were both more or less connected with the Club Unity posse, and they were having their 10th anniversary. They were to celebrate with a really classy, fancy and highbrow party with dinner suits and everything, and those ‘classical tunes’ were supposed to be the party opener. First, we thought it’d be enough to have just a man and his grand piano, but it soon turned into… Well, something completely different. In a flash, I managed to squeeze in a huge orchestra and some choir and this and that, plus war elephant drums and percussion and, and, and… It kind of got out of hand and turned into what would later become Classical Trancelations pt.1.
The original idea would’ve been a lounge pianist with a suit, nice hairdo, and a constantly refilled glass of single malt scotch and a cigar. But those damn arrangements required both hands on the piano, so we had to ditch the amusement section and I concentrated on the main duty. And then slightly afterwards, they prohibited the smoking indoors, so we had to redesign the geezer concept in a flash. And there I was,… With a grand piano, tuxedo, and orchestral backing tracks, in a classic, old night club in the middle of Park Kaivopuisto.
How do you decide if a record ‘deserves’ a classical rework?
It’s a gut feeling, actually. The chill down your spine, the cool air in your face. Some tracks have that certain forever uplifting feeling. Something that makes you a better human being, something that makes the track connect with you at some metaphysical level, whether it be harmony, melody, energy, groove, or any combination of those. Very few tracks manage to make you cry or jump with your fist in the air, but each of the Trancelations 2 raw tracks had that vibe to them. There are certain conditions, however, that define how a track is formed. Call them “stylistic blueprints” if you like. It seems as if these blueprints change on an almost monthly basis nowadays. A long time ago, trance was much more harmonious. The older tracks have that certain ‘hallelujah’ aspect to them, that almost supernatural uplifting wave of energy. Anyway, I think I listened to 300+ tracks in total, asked help from friends and Armada even – they were VERY helpful, by the way – and little by little got into what became the song list.
Fortunately, there’s enough material to provide such magnificent hair-rising stuff, but I’m slightly worried about the state of electronic music and trance nowadays. Have people become lazy due to cheap laptops, applications, and plugins? Or is the current two-three-chord plus easy ‘naivistic’ melodies just a reflection of our current state of things? I mean, thinking about what’s going on in Europe, it’s all more or less regression, a sad progress. Which is why we need stuff that lifts us up!
I usually like to work with a song with an ostinato pattern (say, a repeating little riff) that breaks into a larger, longer breakdown or melodic section. On top of that, the original song must have an arc that contains smaller arcs, development within development. For instance, ‘Mirage’ is a nice example of turning something simpler into a desert fantasy. But that wouldn’t have happened unless there was something that lured me into thinking about the desert. Whatever was in the original song got somehow dragged into my version. I didn’t have, for instance, any desert quasi-Arabic drum pattern stuff ready onto which I copy-pasted chords and melody. It was the original track that lured me into thinking about such a thing. Besides, when you hear the word ‘Mirage’, you don’t actually start thinking about a red double-decker in London…
In short, harmonies and melodies provide more ground for reworks. Not that surprising, actually.
Where do you start the process of reworking those tracks? What original track elements are at the heart of your orchestral interpretation and why?
In all cases except one, I used melody as the basis. I started playing with the main riff, ostinato or arpeggio pattern, and let the idea build itself from there. At times, it felt like being remote controlled or something. Maybe the flow effect kicked in. It wasn’t a short process, actually, and I may have to apologize to Armada the next five years in the row for not providing the material early enough. What originally seemed like a three-month project turned into a two-year project.
It was intense, as my way of working is a bit… rough. I’m very intensively involved in the progress, and I can literally lose track of time. I had to set up two or three alarm clocks to remind me to eat, deal with my main project (Remedy Entertainment’s Quantum Break) and even sleep. I never count hours when I’m doing something, and I seldom use anybody else around me. There are no assistants or engineers, so all help to keep me functioning as a human being had to be used. Sometimes I tested using bits and pieces of the original, slowed down to 1/10th of the original tempo to listen to what that brings out of the originals, and, to my surprise, sometimes there were loads and loads of tiny snippets and meandering lines that provided some inspiration. Sometimes, some of the stuff was thrown into my Kyma system, just to do tricks there, invert a spectrum etc. All ‘happy accident inspection’ probably took a day, maybe two per song max. After that, I think I had the frame and the content for a whole track.
Usually both the bassline and the harmony guided the directions, but I think I avoided the basslines actively. Instead, I sometimes wanted to treat the low end little more sparingly. Let it breathe, so to speak. I guess the most used elements were melody/riff, harmony, and in some cases, the rhythmical feeling. But of course, even that was reinterpreted to suit the rest of my arrangement.
Can you explain why the blend of Trance music and classical music works so well?
There’s this immense and intense vibe to both. Based on the harmony and dynamics, both genres fly their colors bravely. Lots of classic trance stuff is more or less based on classical chord progressions, and both require a certain amount of emotional intelligence. I think we’re sort of reliving the renaissance of a classic era – the “orchestral” classic era, that is – that produced the most beautiful harmonic and melodic structures. A good tip: check out Caccini’s “Ave Maria” from Youtube. Armin, would you like to do a version of that with me…?
If you allow me to sound like a mad cult leader wannabe, trance is about being fearless, really. To be able to feel and to be able to show your feelings without fear. To not be afraid of showing other people how much you enjoy the music and showing other people the love you’ve kept inside. Having said it that way sounds a bit crazy, but think of this for a while: if you love music, could you be closer to yourself anywhere else but on the dancefloor? I think Faithless put it really well with their immortal “This is my church, this is where I heal my hurts” line.
Why should these classical reworks appeal to trance fans, and why should fans of orchestral music check out the trance originals?
Oh, a tough question. Didn’t really expect this, but… well, perhaps to some orchestral music fans, Trancelations 1 and 2 could provide an interesting insight into the world of trance. Maybe both albums function as bridges both ways, helping people find something new and interesting in another genre. In my opinion, the only difference to be found are the ones in the arrangements and orchestrations. The genres themselves are already formed. One minimal thing is good when done into minimal house style, whereas the same thing/motive/ostinato could work really well in any Philip Glass-ish environment. The ideas in pop culture are usually stripped to their basics, whereas in classic genres, they’re often layered and all forms and arcs intertwine with each other. But still, the essence of a good idea can be planted into both worlds.
To some classical music enthusiasts, all great music was already conceived about 300 years ago, and nothing good has come out from any being ever since. I’d like to think a bit differently here. Even though the reworks have kept the essence of the originals vital and alive, they have taken a departure from their previous form. I’d like to think the original butterflies somehow turned into cocoons once again, and were reborn as a different species – one that’s still compatible with the original one. Now, connecting those two species on a gene level might produce something extraordinary, and that’s what could happen in the heads of the listeners. “Hey, maybe I could check something from Eric Satie”, would be the outcome. Or, “I’ve spent the whole week listening to Musorgsky, but this rendition of Blue Fear sounds oddly invigorating… who the hell is Armin van Buuren?” Now THAT would be great.
What was the hardest part of reworking these originals into your own composition?
The structure. I didn’t want to make it too repetitive or A-A-A-B-B-breakdown-B-A-A. Instead, I added some parts that were created according to the original’s guidelines and content, keeping the vibe alive with longer compositional intros and such. The outcome is practically partially mine and partially the original track. But since what I created there was born BECAUSE of the original, the improvised parts are treated as versions of the original in most cases. The trickiest parts were intros and outros, since, well, obviously, there’s not much room for beat intros and outros. I thought the pieces all deserved heavy concentration on their harmonic content. I think that turned out pretty well.
One track was particularly tough to convert into something else, but it eventually became my all-time favorite. If I ever play any gigs (which I SHOULD, at least the guys at Misc Management have told me to pack my computer every now and then), I’ll start the gigs with that piece. It’s ‘Till The Sky Falls Down”, in which I layered the original chord structure multiple times. Its bass note is actually playing in a different tempo than the chords – and the chords are in different tempo with the melody. It has this constant crescendo thing, a bit like standing on top of a mountain, watching down and feeling the moving air on your cheeks and hair, only to watch the world slow down at your feet. It works as a ‘disconnector’ and connector at the same time. The melody at the end of that track is like “Welcome to my world, let the sky fall down to see the stars”. That was a series of happy accidents.
Apart from the original tracks themselves, where does the inspiration for a rework come from?
Film music. For instance, epic longer pieces with lots of stuff happening at once. There’s a lot of these songs on my hard disk that I like to listen to on an almost constant basis, and I’ve found a lot of interesting music thanks to movies and licensed tracks in, say, games. During the making of the album, I literally walked hundreds of kilometers all across the Southern parts of Finland. And since I brought my laptop with me to every town I visited during that two-year period, most tracks tend to have something from each city in them. Barcelona, Prague, Nice… they’re all there. The tricky bicycle gear box from Barcelona, the bridge from Prague, that clangorous deep tone here and there. In “Till The Sky Falls Down”, I used slow waves from Dubai’s beach, slowed down even more. They provided the ‘breathing’ towards the end.
I guess it’s a cliché to say I got my inspiration from nature, but… I did. Sorry! However, this is not a WWF concept album with panda farts and bald eagle screams. It’s more like I finalized the arrangements whilst walking here and there. If it felt good there, and I noticed my pace got lighter and speedier, I knew I was on the right track. I didn’t write anything down. Instead I relied on remembering what’s important. If it really was important, I’d remember it after a two-week stint.
Oh. On another note, I must admit some percussion work was done fueled by red wine. For instance, the plastic bucket track(s) in Mirage were due to inspiration after a glass of a nice Hewitson’s. And, after the third, the bottle was played in, too. But that was a rare occasion, I must emphasize.
Can we expect more of these amazing Classical Trancelations in the near future?
Well, if it’s in my power, YES. I hope it won’t take too long though. I’ve got a good track list waiting already, so… But, one thing. I’m not sure if it fits in with the concept, but I’ve been thinking about finding a few collaborators to fuel the inspiration.
Want to enjoy the second part of the album in the way it’s meant to be experienced? Grab your favorite chair, place it in the middle of your living room, and sit down, waiting for the music to take over your mind. Oh, you can get the CD of Classical Trancelations 2 via the Armada Music Shop.