A tweet-sized attempt to describe the music of Battle Trance: A fluid soundscape of punk friction cutting across airy harmonies.
Listeners can only shudder at the chaos and exalt in a rapture of Total Confusion. Simply put, when the ensemble of four began to play, I thought I was being pranked (I suggest you listen as you read on).
At first glance, Battle Trance doesn’t appear very complex. Four guys dressed modestly stood in a semi-circle and held their tenor saxophones unassumingly. The outfit played at BRIC Arts in downtown Brooklyn this past Wednesday evening to a full room of people, and it is difficult to say whether people were happy or upset by their decision to attend.
With hindsight, I assume most attendees must have heard Battle Trance before and had a general expectation of their sound, for if, like myself, they had arrived ignorant of the band, they would have, like myself, wanted to laugh. The foursome must have snuck their way into this fancy art center and then, once inside, blasted out this nonsense as a joke.
There must have been a mix-up, I thought. Assuredly, I assumed, ‘This can’t be real.’
Like a knotty Slavoj Zizek essay or a dry mouth chock full of sticky peanut butter trapped in the gums, listeners had the music forced almost violently upon them. There were no kind requests to meet the band halfway.
Weaving jazz and chamber music through an industrial core machine of noise, Battle Trance is the acoustic and non-lyrical blend of Death Grips and Sigur Ros.
Put four saxophones on stage and ask yourself, ‘what are both the most horrific and most glorious sounds that can be made?’
Battle Trance represents the full spectrum. In a time when so much ‘meh’ music evokes nothing more than a shrug of my shoulders, Battle Trance succeeds, stark in the foreground. Filling the background: sounds neither terribly disagreeable nor remarkably innovative, just a wash.
Lead man Travis Laplante lays his vision out there, unapologetic, knowing the guarantee that those who listen will undoubtedly feel <em>something</em>. Positive or negative, he doesn’t seem to much care. And by the manner in which the rest of the band bookended the show, I don’t believe reception matters much them either.
Tribal, visceral, and childishly playful, yet intellectual and composed, the specific audio of the instruments worked against the stoicism of the four, who displayed little histrionics throughout their set. The show began with a prolonged (and intentionally awkward pause) and ended neither by bow nor the recognizable look to the audience that would usually have said, ‘We’re done. That was the last note. You can clap now.’
Perhaps an appearance of aloofness is part of a larger ‘hipster’ Brooklyn aesthetic. Or maybe it’s an intentionally unique choice informed by Battle Trance’s equally unique and frankly divisive sound.
I’m new to town, so it may be both.
I do suspect Battle Trance to locate self-worth, not in the approving nods of fans, but in their solipsistic rehearsal room. I went home after the show and did some research.
To play their uninterrupted style of meditative punk for 45 straight minutes, the ensemble needed to become well-trained in circular breathing techniques, build their lung strength and physical endurance. The spectacle of their huffing, puffing cheeks burned red were the face of the screeching high notes, which shot out like a fluttering rocket into the air.
For what it’s worth, Battle Trance gained my respect, for we the listeners were given autonomy. We were respected as equals, and in comparison to the flow of typical concerts — some songs, a break with banter, more songs, a set break, then an encore — I too as a listener felt respected.
In disregard of audience presuppositions, their music required serious critical thought. Forgoing recognizable rhythm, not only within the songs themselves but for the whole of the concert going experience, Battle Trance shatters the form of live music wide open.
Or more likely, this level of experimentation is commonplace in New York City — the Babylon of the modern world — and if I’m lucky enough, I’ll figure out where to look.