Over recent years Berlin-based, American-born musician Peter Broderick has been a steadily growing presence in the contemporary music scene. Effortlessly switching between releasing glacial modern classical music and song-based albums, in many ways he embodies the collaborative spirit and forward-thinking attitudes that are found so gratifyingly frequently in music today.
His latest album, Music For Confluence (released on the esteemed Erased Tapes label), is a soundtrack to a documentary by American filmmakers Jennifer Anderson and Vernon Lott that covers the unsettling cases of several young girls that were murdered or went missing during the early 1980s in Lewiston, Idaho. Brodericks accompanying score is sensitive, respectful and entirely effective in conveying the anxiety, worry and darkness at the heart of the story. Yet, despite this he also manages to retain and build upon the purity and beauty found in his earlier work.
We caught up with him earlier this month to speak about Music For Confluence as well as talk about his music, his collaborations, his contemporaries and his influences.
musicOMH: Your latest album Music For Confluence is a soundtrack to a documentary film by Jennifer Anderson and Vernon Lott. Could you tell us how you came to be involved in this and how you approached writing the music?
Peter Broderick: Vernon wrote to me out of blue last October, telling me about the project and asking if I might like to make the score. He sent me over a rough cut of the film with temporary music placed in some spots, and I went about trying to create some soundscapes to fit the picture and under the dialogue.
OMH: The subject matter of Music For Confluence is quite dark, something I thought was well reflected in your music. Did you find it in any way difficult to write about a film covering these events?
PB: Not really… I think my music is often associated with melancholic thoughts anyway, and I often start with a rather troubling idea as a basis for creating sounds… So in a way it was quite natural for me. That said, the topic for the film is really heavy – families in complete despair over the loss of their loved ones. And the last thing I’d want to do is belittle their struggles and genuine emotions. So my main aim was to never become too intrusive or overly dramatic with the music.
OMH: You are incredibly prolific do you ever worry about stretching yourself too far or struggling for inspiration?
PB: Actually right now I’m in the midst of trying to slow things down. I have a new studio album coming out next year, but soon I’ll be taking a break from touring and not taking on any more big projects for a while. My musical brain could use a bit of a rest and I have a number of other things I’d like to focus on a bit more.
OMH: What are your biggest influences? Are there any non-musical factors?
PB: My influences seem to change all the time, but these days I think they are mostly non-musical. I take a very direct influence from whatever the environment is like where I’m creating music, and from the environments I’ve recently been in before creating. I think all the traveling I’ve done over the last few years has had a huge impact on my approach to making music. Seeing so many new places and meeting so many new people, hearing so many new sounds… But musically speaking, I’m really influenced by all the friends around me creating such amazing work . . . people like Nils Frahm, Greg Haines, Jefre Cantu Ledesma, Laura Arkana, etc. My friends are a huge source of inspiration.
OMH: Do you have a piece of work you are particularly proud of/satisfied with?
PB: Well, I usually tend to be most excited about whatever is newest. But in general I’m still feeling really pleased with my mini album from last year, How They Are. This one was recorded all live in one day… and there is something so satisfying about this simple, honest approach where less becomes more (at least for those who like how it sounds!). That said, I tend to lose any objectivity on my projects by the end, so I try not to pick favorites.
OMH: You have released several albums designed for particular concepts/occasions (e.g. Music For Congregation, Music For Contemporary Dance etc). Do you enjoy writing for a specific purpose?
PB: Absolutely. I love to be given a theme and even some restrictions to create music. Especially when the ones asking me to create the music are really trusting of the sounds I create. And I think I’ve been really lucky to work with some filmmakers and choreographers who really trusted me, and so our creative process was really smooth.
OMH: You have released song-based albums alongside your instrumental music. Do you write songs at the same time as your instrumental music? Or do you consciously plan separate time to do this?
PB: It all kind of happens simultaneously for me… I am often working on several projects at once.
OMH: You have collaborated with several other musicians. Do you bring specific ideas to the studio or do you prefer to approach things with a blank slate which can take shape once at work?
PB: I try to keep my mind as open as possible for collaborations. It’s usually not until well into the process that I start to get really specific ideas. And more often than not, the end result is something much different from anything that was in my head along the way.
OMH: You played violin on two of the most acclaimed albums of 2011 by A Winged Victory For The Sullen and Dustin OHalloran. How did you come to be involved in these projects?
PB: There was a time when Dustin and Adam Wiltzie were creating records I absolutely loved, before I ever knew them, but over the last few years I’ve become friends with so many other musicians and a lot of my heroes. Nowadays Dustin is a good friend also living in Berlin. He simply called me up and asked me to stop by his studio to contribute to these two records.
OMH: Recent years have seen several player-composers emerge and release standout albums that have been grouped under the umbrella of modern classical. Do you ever consciously feel part of a group of like-minded musicians or as part of a scene/movement?
PB: Well, before I started releasing albums of my own, I remember buying records by Jhann Jhannsson, Eluvium, Max Richter, Sylvain Chauveau, etc., thinking these guys were creating a very beautiful new realm of music… and the fact that sometimes I get compared to these artists now is really mind blowing. But now that I’ve been somewhat lumped into this ‘scene’, I feel I’ve lost all objectivity on the subject and it’s really hard for me to say who’s part of a movement and who’s not.
OMH: Are you currently working on any other projects? I believe there is a forthcoming collaboration between yourself and Nils Frahm?
PB: Indeed Nils and I have a little mini album coming out before the year is over, and right now I’m just wrapping up work on my forthcoming solo album, to be released early next year. Other than that I’m not taking on many projects at the moment aside from fun collaborations with friends in Berlin.
OMH: Are there any artists/musicians you would particularly like to collaborate with?
PB: Oh sure… At the top of the list is probably Miranda July. She seems like such an amazing artist and all around person. I love the way she sees the world and her approach towards creating things.
OMH: Do you have time to listen to much music these days?
PB: I do listen to a lot of music still, but not nearly in the same intense way that I used to several years back. Those days I was collecting records as if they were the most important things on the planet. And now I spend so much time creating music and listening back to my own projects while working on them, my ears are usually a bit tired when I’m finished with that. Most of my music listening these days seems to happen in the kitchen, when I’m cooking food and eating meals. And most of it seems to be music from friends of mine.
OMH: What music was important to you when younger? Were you introduced to classical music at an early age?
PB: Well, I started studying the violin at age seven, so I had an introduction to classical music then, but I didn’t really appreciate it back in those days. I was much more into whatever my older brother was listening to. First was the soft hip-hop of the early ’90s such as MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, and then came the alternative rock explosion with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and Weezer…
OMH: Finally – returning to Music For Confluence – do you have any plans to play this live? Are there any other live shows lined up?
PB: This music is really difficult for me to play live, as most of it is based on layers and layers of different instruments… and when I play solo that’s really difficult to recreate. I do have a short number of shows lined up before the end of the year and a couple early next year, and after that I plan to take an extended break from travelling and playing concerts.
Peter Broderick’s album Music For Confluence is out on 28 November 2011 through Erased Tapes. Questions were posed by Steven Johnson.