The 1995 recording of Trance was a wolf in sheep's clothing; the title might suggest zoning out and floating away in a sea of cascading post-minimalist repetitions and spacy ambience, but the music was actually much harder-edged. Aside from a few comparatively understated interludes and the ominous and spacy "Trance Drone" with its vocal chant samples, Trance featured crescendos suitable for blotting out the jackhammers at a construction project across the street from your house. One would expect no less from Bang on a Can composer Michael Gordon and the British ensemble Icebreaker, for which Gordon began composing this 52-minute monster in 1994. And if anything, the Trance remix completed in February 2002 adds even more muscle to the original's bones. Drier, crisper, and just plain louder, and with new guitar and keyboard overdubs squeezed into the intricate arrangements of (take a deep breath) flute, piccolo, pan pipes, alto and soprano saxophones, keyboards, accordion, violin, cello, guitars, bass, percussion, and four trumpets and four trombones, the remix pushes Gordon and Icebreaker away from the occasionally orchestral feel of the original toward an avant rock aesthetic, once again positioning the Bang on a Can folks and their British compatriots on the razor's edge between the classical and rock worlds. Individualized remixing decisions are notable as well: the trombone glissandos at the end of "Trance 2" are much more prominent and pan through the center of your brain if you're listening on headphones (recommended), and a repeating vocal sample during the initial tension-building minutes of "Trance 5" -- stationary in the original mix -- crops up seemingly randomly anywhere in the sound field, like a playful ghost appearing and disappearing where you least expect it (this nearly 14-minute piece is also wisely split into two separate tracks). Overall, Trance is rooted in the minimalist conventions of Glass, Reich, and (as expected) Andriessen, although like the latter composer Gordon seems attuned to minimalism's greatest danger, predictability (which in turn can lead to boredom and perhaps "sleep" instead of "trance"), and so takes Trance in a post-minimalist direction. The additive layers in "Trance 1" -- short riffs, phrases, ostinatos, and noisy squiggles played on a sizable bunch of the instruments listed above -- pile up not so much in or out of phase as in their own worlds, punching in and out of the mix over a polyrhythmic base that is often perceived in the mind's ear more than actually heard. Imagine Einstein on the Beach, but also think of George Russell's 1980 liner notes to his Vertical Form VI album, in which he describes "layers or strata of divergent modes of rhythmic behavior" akin to what you'd hear "standing in the middle of New York City on a typically busy day or night, focusing on all the patterns of sound around you...." Intricate polyrhythms and polyphony continue as the album progresses, hocketing phrases are tossed back and forth between players in the right and left channels, and phased instrumental groupings echo one another with superhuman precision. There's even a pounding crescendo in "Trance 4" that, although far less pastoral, might bring to mind the closing moments of an early-'70s Mike Oldfield epic. As a single Michael Gordon work that draws heavily on minimalist prototypes as well as Bang on a Can-styled post-minimalism, Trance doesn't represent Icebreaker's range as effectively as CDs issued under that ensemble's own name. But if post-minimalism is your cup of tea (or in this case, strong coffee), you couldn't do better than Trance if you're looking for something ambient to drown out those damn jackhammers -- or at least make them part of the music.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Lynch