The creative process that Peter Broderick undertook to record his new album, Partners, is almost as fascinating as the record itself. The figure of John Cage looms heavily over Partners, Broderick citing him as an inspiration and including a rendition of his 1948 composition In A Landscape – Cage was a proponent of ‘chance operations’ to compose music, and it was on this basis that Broderick recorded Partners.
So, before a note was recorded, Broderick wrote a series of poems, assigned each poem a number, and then rolled a dice to decide which poems would make it onto the album. In a similar manner, the track Under The Bridge was written by assigning different numbers to different notes, and then rolling a pair of dice to decide in which order to play the notes. The version of Cage’s In A Landscape was recorded by Broderick self-teaching himself the song in five second segments, until he’d learned the entire track by ear.
By all accounts then, this should be terrible – an audio version of Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man novel, a chaotic, formless mess. Broderick is too talented a musician to let this happen though, and the resulting seven tracks have a rare beauty about them that, at times, can take the breath away. It may not be for everyone – Broderick’s vocals are mostly silent during Partners, with most of the tracks being built on piano – but it’s an often fascinating listen given the circumstances under which it was created.
The title track opens the album and is pretty atypical of the album as a whole – Broderick reciting a poem with various effects distorting and echoing his voice while a piano slowly chimes underneath him. Under The Bridge is more representative: not the Red Hot Chili Peppers song covered by All Saints, but a slow, stately piano piece that, considering it was literally written in a random sequence, is surprisingly melodic and haunting. It’s reminiscent of Nils Frahm or Max Richter at times, the stillness and quietness almost acting as notes themselves.
In A Landscape is a 10 minute version of Cage’s own track, the seemingly endless rolling piano chords producing a strange, building intensity that becomes oddly moving the longer the track progresses. Carried, meanwhile, makes creative use of vocal loops, indistinct voices drifting in and out over Broderick’s piano, while Conspiraling uses a similar technique but sounds more urgent and yearning, rather than relaxed and wistful.
You may have guessed that this isn’t a conventional album by any means – for that, newcomers may be best directed to Broderick’s last album Colours Of The Night or his breakthrough record All We Are. Yet even on an apparently more avant-garde outing like this, there’s a closing track like Sometimes, a gorgeous cover of his friend Brigid Mae Powers‘ song where Broderick stops the experimentation and random chance compositions and plays it straight, and the result is stunning. It’s a testament to Broderick’s talent that even on an endlessly intriguing and clever record like this, he can still play straight to the heart.