Photo: Noah Stone
Producer, guitarist, and composer Michael Brook was looking for a follow-up to RockPaperScissors (Canadian Rational, 2006), a world music album that melded diverse elements like Bulgarian choirs, a Lebanese violinist, a rock rhythm section, and Brook's guitar work. Rather than starting anew, he decided to rework those same tracks into something more electronic and ambient.
The Canadian-born Brook has had an eclectic career, with much of his work focused on world music. He has produced artists such as Brian Eno, the Pogues, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, to name just a few. For a couple of years he was doing so much production at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios that he literally moved in there. He has also composed music for films, including An Inconvenient Truth (Lawrence Bender Productions, 2006) and Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage, 2007). In addition, Brook invented the Infinite Guitar, which was popularized by the Edge of U2.
So last year, when Brook was toying with different ideas for following up on RockPaperScissors, he hit on the concept of a remix that would serve as a companion piece to the original. “You're always trying to find some sort of angle or way to introduce stuff to people who may not find it in their normal exploration,” explains Brook. “I thought, what would interest me more: hyping it all up and putting on drum loops and that kind of thing, or turning it into something more ambient, textural, and atmospheric?”
Brook turned to James Hood, a former drummer for the Pretenders and founding member of the ambient group Moodswings, to remix it. “He just went to town with it and did quite an amazing job of turning it into a continuous piece of music,” says Brook. The result was BellCurve (Canadian Rational, 2007), which took the organic-sounding tracks from RockPaperScissors and gave them a more trancelike feel.
“I was sent an iPod with 80 GB worth of sound files on it,” says Hood, “and a brief, which was to make it brilliant — and ambient.” So Hood hunkered down in his studio with his Mac and a Digidesign Pro Tools HD system and began editing, layering, and mixing. He even added his own music in a few spots. Hood's tools included SoundToys effects plug-ins and Korg Legacy and Arturia Analog Factory synth plug-ins, among many others.
“James did this great job of it,” says Brook, “and then as that progressed, it became apparent that the direction he was heading in created some musical implications that basically required me to play a little more on it. I gave it to him, he worked on it, he gave it back to me [Brook worked in Apple Logic Pro], and I played guitar on it a bit. I didn't really do any of the mixing or production.”
Because it was Brook's project, Hood had to get approvals as he went along. “He'd say, ‘I didn't like that bit,’” recalls Hood, “and then I thought, ‘God, he didn’t like that, I spent a whole week on it.' But [it turned out] what he didn't like was one tiny little thing. That's why it was such a dream gig, because my heart would sink — ‘Oh God, I have to change everything’ — and then he would say, ‘You know that tiny little thing there, I don't like that.’ And I would say, ‘Great, it's gone. Anything else?’ And he'd say, ‘No, it's great.’”
Brook sums up the process this way: “It was, for me, this really positive, collaborative experience of just kind of letting somebody have their way with your work.”
Home base: Los Angeles
Sequencers used: Digidesign Pro Tools HD (James Hood), Apple Logic Pro (Michael Brook)
Preferred soft synths: Korg Legacy, Arturia Analog Factory (James Hood)