"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Los Angeles Times JANUARY 25, 2007 - by Steve Hockman
READY TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
Michael Brook, who's recovered from an injury, is all set to go play the world again.
Michael Brook is in every way the globe-trotter.
The Toronto-born musician-producer has performed in India, Moscow and the Canary Islands. Brook's new album, titled RockPaperScissors, has a border-crossing tone in music and geography, having been recorded in locales including Bulgaria and England. He's collaborated with late Pakistani star Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a group of singers from Sardinia and Mexican rock group Maldita Vecindad - not to mention having an association with a little Irish ensemble known as U2. And among his many soundtrack projects, he did the (pardon the expression) chilling score for last year's Al Gore global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth and is finishing up work on music for Passion of the Game, looking at the international love of soccer by English director Michael Apted.
Against that history, his working habits of late may sound a little odd. "I actually didn't set foot outside the door for five days at the beginning of the year," says the wiry, mild-mannered musician, sitting amid a clutter of guitars, computers, pedals, wires and chords in the studio at his Hollywood Hills home.
Rather than go out into the world, he was busy creating musical worlds here, not just with the intense work to finish the Apted score, but assembling the equipment and sonic elements that will allow him to re-create the vast span of his music in a series of concerts, including one tonight at Largo. And in what spare time he has, he has been supervising an ambient remix version of RockPaperScissors, titled BellCurve, by producer James Hood. That, like the original album and the Truth soundtrack, is being released on the bigHelium/Canadian Rational label that Brooks runs in partnership with manager Hugo Veriker.
Intense as all that has been, this is not a bad place to be stuck for a while, as is clear during a rehearsal a few days later. The guitar-and-electronics maestro is joined in the cozy quarters by his wife, violinist Julie Rogers, and multi-instrumentalist-singer Lisa Germano to run through the tricky pieces the three of them are to present during a two-and-a-half-week jaunt that started with showcases at the Sundance Film Festival last weekend. With white whippet Buck slinking in to say hello, the trio irons out intricacies of distinctive compositions ranging from the densely layered, pulsating Doges to the fragile rustic ambience of the Germano-sung Want.
Clearly, after the sedentary time, Brook is keyed up about hitting the road for his first real tour since the early 1990s - even more so because this tour was originally scheduled for the fall, but had to be put on hold because of his own little inconvenient truth. Just before he was scheduled to go out, he broke his collarbone in a bicycling accident. The timing was terrible, as the cancelled shows were meant to capitalize on both the release of RockPaperScissors and the cultural-consciousness crest of An Inconvenient Truth.
"We definitely lost some momentum," Brook says.
It might have been for the best, though. He says the extra time to prepare the complexities of realizing this music live is a positive for him. And a few extra months for fans to live with the complexities of the music may not have been bad as well. With his guitar-based textures mixing with recordings he made with various Bulgarian ensembles and Armenian duduk player Djivan Gasparyan, archival tapes of Nusrat and Sir Richard Burton (the latter reading a Dylan Thomas poem) and new vocals by Germano and the Blue Nile's Paul Buchanan, among many other puzzle pieces, RockPaperScissors is a lot to take in.
"One thing I've found with the album is a lot of people won't like it the first or second time," he says. "But after multiple listenings, they get it. I guess at first you don't know where to focus your attention. Maybe there are too many layers or something. I've been involved in world music and hybrids so long that I don't notice things like that. Certainly, that's been a lot of the feedback I've gotten. But then I remember the first time I heard Jimi Hendrix. It seemed like a lot of noise. Now it's psychedelic blues, but at first to me it seemed random and chaotic. I can't imagine that now."
The notion of disparate and even jarring elements working together comes naturally to Brook now, having been mentored by musician-producer-theorist Brian Eno. The two got to know each other in 1980 when Englishman Eno was doing some work in a Toronto video production facility that Brook ran.
"I convinced him to trade video services with musical ones for my first album," Brooks says.
The relationship expanded, with Brook contributing his ethereal guitar sounds to Eno's ambient experiments, including some with another Canadian, Daniel Lanois. And when Eno and Lanois began producing U2 in the early '80s, Brook introduced the Edge to his "infinite guitar," a system that allows for endless note sustain and which quickly became one of the band's sonic trademarks. Around this time, Brook's work also came to the attention of Peter Gabriel, who, spurred by the incorporation of some Indian inspirations, recruited Brook to produce albums for Pakistani qawwali king Nusrat - works that would introduce that remarkable talent to the western world.
Since then, he's been a go-to guy for a wide range of productions, soundtracks, sessions and collaborations, along with sporadically releasing solo albums. But to him it doesn't matter on what - or where - he's working. It's all part of the same world.
"Maybe it's a little like that TV show Mission Impossible," he says. "The mission changes, but what they do is roughly the same. I'm roughly doing the same job all the time. And I'm amazingly lucky that I have a range of things that come in."