Trance is a genre of electronic dance music that developed in the 1990s in Germany. It is characterized by a tempo of between 125 and mid 160 beats per minute, repeating melodic phrases, and a musical form that builds up and down throughout a track. Trance is a genre on its own, but also will include other styles of electronic music such as techno, house, pop, chill-out, classical music, and film music.
A trance refers to a state of hypnotism and lessened consciousness. This drifting sensation is portrayed in the genre by mixing many layers and rhythms to create build and release. For example, a characteristic of virtually all trance songs is the soft mid-song breakdown, beginning with and occurring after the orchestration is broken down and the rhythm tracks (typically provided by a Roland TR-909 drum machine) fade out rapidly, leaving the melody, atmospherics, or both to stand alone for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Although the genre can be devoid of vocals, with mixes done by semi-amateurs posted online at informal locations, mixers who have gained recognition of major labels put out mixes for the radio market with mostly but not limited to female vocals, notably photogenic. Vocal talents range from mezzo-soprano to soprano sometimes without verse/chorus structure. Catogorized as vocal trance, vocals have been described as “grand, soaring, and operatic” and “ethereal female leads floating amongst the synths”.
Germany is regarded as the birthplace of electronic trance music, with the original melodic trance sound first appearing around 1993 in Frankfurt.
The origin of the term is uncertain; one theory suggests that the term is derived from the Klaus Schulze album Trancefer (1981). The earliest reference to ‘trance’ in modern dance music is British act The KLF on their 1988 track What Time Is Love (Pure Trance 1), on which the record sleeve is also annotated ‘Pure Trance’. Dance 2 Trance are also an early example of trance music having first released single in 1991.
Other schools of thought argue the name may refer to an induced emotional feeling, high, euphoria, chills, or uplifting rush listeners claim to experience, while other suggestions trace the name to the actual trance-like states the earliest forms of the music attempted to emulate in the 1990s before the genre’s focus changed.
Some trace trance’s antecedents back to Klaus Schulze, a German experimental electronic music artist who concentrated on mixing minimalist music with repetitive rhythms and arpeggiated sounds. In truth it was really Sven Vath, his labels and others in the same group that saw the initial releases of trance. In France, Jean Michel Jarre, an early electronic musician, released two albums in the late 1970s: Oxygène in 1976 and Equinoxe in 1978. Also a possible antecedent, Neil Young’s 1982 electronic album, Trans, bears a resemblance to the trance music genre. Another possible antecedent is Yuzo Koshiro’s electronic soundtracks for the Streets of Rage series of video games from 1991 to 1994. It was promoted by the well-known UK club-night megatripolis (London, Heaven, Thursdays) whose scene catapulted it to international fame.
Examples of early Trance releases include but are not limited to German duo Jam & Spoon’s 1992 12″ Single remix of the 1990 song The Age Of Love., German duo Dance 2 Trance’s 1990 track “We Came in Peace”.
As for the roots of contemporary trance, some trace it to Paul van Dyk’s 1993 remix of Humate’s ‘Love Stimulation’. However, van Dyk’s trance origins can be traced further back to his work with Visions Of Shiva, which were his first ever tracks to be released. In subsequent years, one genre, vocal trance, arose as the combination of progressive elements and pop music, and the development of another subgenre, epic trance, had some of its origins in classical music., with film music also being influential.
Trance was arguably at its commercial peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Classic trance employs a 4/4 time signature, a tempo of 125 to 150 BPM, and 32 beat phrases and is somewhat faster than house music. A kick drum is usually placed on every downbeat and a regular open hi-hat is often placed on the upbeat or every 1/8th division of the bar. Extra percussive elements are usually added, and major transitions, builds or climaxes are often foreshadowed by lengthy “snare rolls”—a quick succession of snare drum hits that build in velocity, frequency, and volume towards the end of a measure or phrase.
Rapid arpeggios and minor keys are common features, the latter being almost universal. Trance tracks often use one central “hook”, or melody, which runs through almost the entire song, repeating at intervals anywhere between 2 beats and 32 bars, in addition to harmonies and motifs in different timbres from the central melody.Instruments are added or removed every 4, 8, 16, or 32 bars.
In the section before the breakdown, the lead motiff is often introduced in a sliced up and simplified form,to give the audience a “taste” of what they will hear after the breakdown. Then later, the final climax is usually “a culmination of the first part of the track mixed with the main melodic reprise”.
As is the case with many dance music tracks, trance tracks are usually built with sparser intros (“mix-ins”) and outros (“mix-outs”) in order to enable DJs to blend them together more readily. As trance is more melodic and harmonic than much electronic dance music, the construction of trance tracks in such a way is particularly important in order to avoid dissonant (or “key clashing,” i.e., out of tune with one another) mixes.
More recent forms of trance music incorporate other styles and elements of electronic music such as electro and progressive house into its production. It emphasizes harsher basslines and drum beats which decrease the importance of offbeats and focus primarily on a four on the floor stylistic house drum pattern. The bpm of more recent styles tends to be on par with house music at 120 – 135 beats per minute. However, unlike house music, recent forms of trance stay true to their melodic breakdowns and longer transitions.