Astral Plane, first single from new Chris Pandolfi banjo album

And now for something completely different… trance music for banjo.

Chris Pandolfi, who wields the five for the Infamous Stringdusters, has blended his prodigious technical mastery of the banjo with his passion for electronic music. Often included under the term EDM, for “electronic dance music,” this style is highly composer-centric, as it is generally built in a computer, using multiple layers of percussion, recorded samples, and digital instruments. One person can create this entire environment of sound, with some sort of live performance often added, vocal but most often instrumental.

Trance music is a subset of this scene that has been popular at music festivals since the 1990s, based on a repeating rhythmic pulse that reaches occasional peaks and then subsides, potentially sending the listener into a… wait for it… trance.

A fan of this type of sound, Pandolfi, spent some months creating audio files, then adding banjo for his latest project under his alter ego, Trad Plus, called Trance Banjo. A debut single is available today, called Astral Plane, and it is not only a hard left turn from bluegrass, it’s even out there for the ‘Dusters.

Chris explained a bit about his process.

“This is a concept record that grew out of some experimentation that was happening as I finished my last TRAD PLUS record, Interference, in 2015. I was searching for texture in the music, and I started creating my own vinyl samples from old classical records.

It was the perfect complement to all the clean, modern sounds of the virtual instruments I was using, and just sounded beautiful under the stuff I was writing on banjo. The writing progressed and the tracks just started growing from there, but it was a massive project, and it took being home during quarantine to really immerse myself in the project to where I could finish it. Some tracks have 20 or more voices, so it was a lot to write, play and piece together. But I wanted this big, unique sound, and I am always trying to re-contextualize the banjo. That’s what Trance Banjo is all about.”

It really is quite interesting, as much of the banjo is traditional, Scruggs forward roll-style picking, set against an extremely different backing. Trad Plus, indeed.

See what you think of the single, Astral Plane.

The single is available now from popular streaming and download sites.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.