THE BLOG
05/30/2013 07:20 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Van Buuren and Bach on a Rave

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I'm probably the last gay man on the planet to discover the allure of trance music, and at my age that's slightly ridiculous. But you see, I've spent the last 20 years listening exclusively to classical music, mostly of the baroque variety, so I may be forgiven. I claim to have a thorough understanding of the compositional techniques as well as the social applications of J. S. Bach's music, and that of his sons and heirs. I love classical music, period. Never bothered with pop. For years I thought trance music was written for silly young people on E.

I discovered trance by accident. I was at a bar with some friends, and "Intense" came on. The violin caught my attention, and it suddenly hit me: This is the structure of a baroque concerto. Bach's music and van Buuren's trance compositions are essentially the same thing. They feature a basso continuo ("the beat"), a simple theme with ingenious variations that span a usually narrow harmonic range and a right hand on the keyboard that carries the subtly evolving melody. The repetitions and modulations make up a musical landscape that creates patterns in the mind of the listener. So I wondered: Was Bach the first trance composer?

I won't bore you with a detailed analysis of the techniques involved, but whereas before, I was a snob and a purist when it came to classical music, I now understand that the true heirs of baroque music are not the serious classical composers of our day but the van Buurens and other creators of intricate networks woven of musical patterns. Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, a seminal book on the importance and meaning of patterns that I must have read eight or nine times over the years, should have pointed me that way long ago. Yet it took a boozy night at a club to make me realize the full implications.

The next morning I sat down with my musical reference works to test my assumptions. It turned out that my alcohol-induced epiphany was spot-on. A Bach cadence -- meant to extend musical tension to the breaking point -- is exactly the same tool van Buuren uses to get the crowds screaming. (Numerous countesses are reported to have fainted during the ultra-long cembalo cadence of the fifth Brandenburg concerto!) In almost every aspect, including the religious overtones and the mind-altering qualities down to the substitution of harmonic elements and the "far-off point" structure of the melodies, van Buuren and Bach are essentially of the same stock. Compare "Sound of the Drums" with any of the more dramatic Bach cantatas. In trance (and modern pop) we've replaced Bach's "Gott" (god) with "love," but I'm told those two also are the same thing.

Socially, Bach's concertos served a very similar purpose as van Buuren's sessions. They brought together people in search of closeness, in pursuit of a form of social interaction that transcended gossiping and laughing and instead lifted them onto another plane: that of human-to-human connectedness through a third medium: the shared experience, part-drug, part-ecstasy, of group sensuality. Now think of a dance party on the beach with hundreds of shirtless bodies heaving, swaying, jumping, gyrating to a van Buuren trance session. The purpose is the same, even if the drugs aren't.

That is not to say that Bach's music was drug-free. In fact, yours truly has always enjoyed the Brandenburg concertos with a whiskey or two. However, It is the music itself that is the drug. In the historical literature we find numerous references to the "intoxicating effects of Mr. Bach's compositions."

So there you have it. I took a very circuitous route to arrive what 18-year-olds have known for two decades. Trance music isn't half bad! And having sex to "Intense" by van Buuren is simply brilliant (especially if you top -- give it a try!). Almost as brilliant as Bach & Co. "who aroused the women in the audience with the cadence in this concerto so very much that their faces flushed to a crimson red and they began to fan themselves so hard that the noise of the fans grew louder than the music itself." Hmm. Sounds like a rave to me.

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