The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Peter Broderick

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Interview with Peter Broderick.

Peter Broderick is an artist, in the truest sense. His music is divine art. As a singer-songwriter, musician, composer and collaborator, Peter Broderick’s art in making music is one of undeniable genius and inspiration. Each of Broderick’s works transcends time, from his guitar based folk songs and film scores to intimate 4-track recordings and instrumentals based on piano and strings. His newest work is a collection of ten vocal and lyrical experiments, entitled ‘These Walls Of Mine’, freshly released on Erased Tapes. For me it’s Peter Broderick’s most compelling work to date, where he effortlessly combines electronica, folk, gospel, soul, hip hop and classical music. Yet again, the Berlin-based composer has created a true masterpiece.

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

2008 was the year I first heard Peter Broderick’s music. I walked into my local recordstore, Plugd, wherein this unknown, beautiful music was swirling in the air. The sound of piano and strings was utterly enchanting to me. I immediately asked Jimmy, “Who is that?” and he replied, “It’s Peter Broderick.” The album was ‘Float’ (2008, Type) and the very piece was ‘A Snowflake’. The album ‘Float’ is based around piano and strings with a theme returning throughout. Pastoral beauty is etched on its rich canvas of cinematic sound. Later that year, ‘Home’ (Bella Union, 2008) was released, which was Broderick’s first proper vocal album, based around layered voices and guitars. A rich tapestry of sound is created, combining warm ambient textures, found sounds, layered vocals and floating guitars.

A short time later I witnessed Peter Broderick in concert. Alone onstage, Peter would move back and forth to his array of musical instruments, more often mid-song, as ever capturing that moment that transcended space and time. Musical saw, piano, violin, guitars and vocals were each looped into the live mix that was awe-inspiring to observe. A deep connection was made between the audience and musician. At times, Peter walked into the audience and played the violin. The strings floated magically through the air. The solo musician and audience were one. The music transported audiences to new, unknown horizons. Peter spoke into the microphone, “This next song was written by my father. He used to play it to me on the guitar when I was a child. It goes like this.” His foot pressed a pedal and this voice passage was looped over his acoustic guitar melody of sliding notes. “This next song was written by my father” was played again, at which point Peter raced over to his violin. The violin notes graced his father’s guitar melody so beautifully. The intimate feeling captured during this song, of a son’s love for his father, was utterly transcendent. Peter Broderick’s music, forever makes a deep connection with the listener. Music that makes you feel. His later releases share the same spark of wonder, from ‘Music For Falling Trees’ (2009, Erased Tapes), ‘4 Track Songs’ (2009, Type) to ‘How They Are’ (2010, Bella Union), ‘HTTP:WWW.ITSTARTSHEAR.COM’ (2012, Bella Union) and ‘These Walls Of Mine’ (2012, Erased Tapes).

‘I’ve Tried’ was my first introduction to ‘These Walls Of Mine’. The song is a symphony of sound. The vocal refrain of “I’ve tried” with electronics and dreamy synths are the first tones of ‘I’ve Tried’. A spiritual feel permeates from the words and music. A magical dimension exists within the song’s walls akin to Talk Talk circa ‘Spirit Of Eden’. The bassline groove on the verse is repeated over Broderick’s refrain. The dynamic changes gorgeously on the verse, with heartfelt vocals and waves of synthesizer. The lyrics are sheer poetry:

In this brave new world, the only God is you
In this game of hearts, the only card is you
In this song of love, the only voice is you
In this voice of you, every sound must be true

“This song of love” continues to evolve with the addition of majestic violin strings over the chorus refrain of “I’ve tried”. As the verse is repeated, Broderick’s vocal turns to a whisper, gently reading his words from a page.

Album opener ‘Inside Out There’ is complete with the warmth of electronica, acoustic guitar and drifting violin strings. Broderick’s looped vocals and harmonies melts into the mix of bubbling electronics, conjuring up indietronica soundscapes reminiscent of Schneider TM. ‘Freyr!’ is a country folk gem that is based on “an email from Pop” dated Thursday November 12th 2009 giving news to his son that ‘Freyr’, “his beloved cat” has disappeared and is gone. This email is read out by Broderick; his spoken word is orchestrated over a haven of folk sound. Magnificent harmonies are added later, sharing the quality of Brian Wilson’s ‘Pet Sounds’ creations. The song is immersed in emotion and ends with reverb of electric guitar notes. ‘Proposed Solution To The Mystery Of The Soul’, combines the soul of Sam Cooke and Tom Wait’s beat boxing. “I love when words ring out true” is a lyric that certainly rings true for all of the singer-songwriter’s songs. ‘When I Blank I Blank’ is a dialogue of voices dotted on a sonic backdrop of funk, soul, dance and rap. The sound is compelling. Broderick’s words, his innermost thoughts breathes between looped harmonies and infectious dance groove.

‘These Walls Of Mine I’ is a spoken word piece, introduced as “some words on a page with an intention of recording an audio interpretation of these words”. These words are sheer poetry; “So even though I don’t know where I’m going to go/I keep my eyes wide open and I’m always hoping/That I might see a place or a pretty face, She walks with grace/And everyday it gets late and I crawl into bed/Darkness ahead”. ‘These Walls Of Mine II’ is a second audio interpretation, reworked as a compelling hip hop tour de force. Broderick’s artistry is in full flow. Violins, beats, piano, and immaculate production is the backdrop to the Buck 65-esque hip hop rhymes. It is amazing to hear the two versions back to back, hearing the infinite possibilities of song. ‘I Do This’ is a folk opus recalling older releases such as ‘Home’ and ‘How They Are’. The acoustic guitar notes rise and fall beneath Broderick’s spoken word. “A melancholic longing for something which seems to be so near but out of reach” is a lyric that resonates strongly through the music. Comments from fans and strangers are scattered in the song’s verses. ‘Copenhagen Ducks’ is an electronica/ambient exploration. The hypnotic dance beat and found sounds combine with Broderick’s layered harmonies.

Endless possibilities are journeyed through the sublime ambient clouds of sound. I love the electric guitar tones and Peter’s spoken word that appears in the second half of ‘Copenhagen Ducks’. Perfect headphone listening. The sound of an artist pushing the sonic envelope, and in turn, covering new and exciting ground. ‘Till Danmark’ closes ‘These Walls Of Mine’ with a soothing gospel lullaby, bidding you good night. A special album encompassing worlds of Arthur Russell and beyond, awaits you.

Congratulations on your new album ‘These Walls Of Mine’, Peter. It’s been swirling beautifully inside the air that I breathe for the past month.  My first introduction to your awe-inspiring music was ‘Float’ (Type, 2008), and shortly afterwards, ‘Home’ (Bella Union, 2008), which I vividly remember purchasing in my local recordstore. Forward four years, and you have done so so much; releasing a plethora of solo albums, film scores, music for dance, collaborations and much more besides. You must be one of the most consistent artists around today and it’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions during this time of the release of your finest solo work to date, ‘These Walls Of Mine’ (Erased Tapes).

Please discuss the creative process behind recording your new album, ‘These Walls Of Mine’.

For much of 2007-2010 I was posting images and stories from my travels quite regularly on flickr. At some point in 2009 I started recording some little experiments and sketches and posting them as free mp3’s alongside images and some words. Many tracks were created as a kind of collaboration between me and my flickr audience, bringing strangers into the creative process and using their comments as song lyrics. During this time I also had surgery on my knee, which left me rather immobile for several months. So I spent much of that time sitting alone with my laptop and a minimal recording setup, trying out different styles of music. I think it’s also fair to say that my newfound love (at that time) for cannabis played quite a large role in the flow of inspiration… Anyhow, I hadn’t thought much about ‘releasing’ the music properly until Robert from Erased Tapes wrote to me . . . he had been following the work online, and suggested that we put some kind of album together. I was quite humbled and thrilled that someone wanted to put this wacky stuff on a record! But back then I was still in the middle of making my ‘http…” album, so I decided to hold off on doing something with this music until that other project was finished. That took quite some time . . . but once I finally wrapped up ‘http…’ in early 2012, Robert was still interested in making a release of all those experiments, so I decided to rework all the music for an album. Since mostly everything had been recorded directly into my computer with one cheap microphone, I wanted to find a way of warming up the sounds, to somehow make it not sound so digital and clean. And so began the process of working Martyn Heyne at his Lichte Studio in Berlin, literally taking all the separate tracks I had recorded and running them through his collection of tape machines and echo boxes. I added a couple newer songs (I’ve Tried, Proposed Solution…) to the mix, which I had made in a similarly curious fashion after I stopped updating the flickr page, and in the end I think we arrived at what feels to me like a strange yet cohesive collection of music! Martyn certainly brought a lot to the general sound, as did Nils Frahm with his mastering. And to tie it all together we designed some deluxe versions of the cd and vinyl, complete with embossed boxes and string-bound books with pictures of cats I’ve taken over the last years.


You have said “I loved that uncertainty, of surprising myself and others around me”. This couldn’t be more true for ‘These Walls Of Mine’, where you continue to cover new ground and experiment with sound. Hip hop, beat box, spoken word, classical, electronica, folk are just some of the genres you combine so wonderfully.

‘I’ve Tried’ reminds me of Talk Talk circa ‘Spirit Of Eden’. A spiritual feel flows through this song of love. Can you remember the feeling you had when this song was formed in your head, and then later, when it was recorded to tape?

I remember very clearly the process of making this song. I was alone in my Berlin apartment late at night, smoking and writing lyric ideas in a notebook. And as I was writing this set of words, I started singing them as if they were from a cheesy R&B song from my childhood. I paced around singing over and over again what became the main melody in the chorus. I got really excited about making a song in this style. So I figured out how to perform a version live, with just a beatboxing/choir loop and a casio keyboard, and I made a live recording of the song right away, and this very primitive performance of the song is the final version on the record! Of course I added a few extra layers to fill it out a bit. But I’m happy to hear the Talk Talk reference! I wasn’t consciously taking inspiration from there, but I do love ‘Spirit of Eden’!


The lyrics are so beautiful. Was this the song that shaped the album, ‘These Walls Of Mine’?

The lyrics from “I’ve Tried”? I wouldn’t say they really shaped the album, as that song came into the mix quite late in the process . . . but for me it was like the icing on the cake, the last piece to complete the puzzle.


I love your spoken word pieces on the album, which always exudes this special force. ‘These Walls Of Mine’ is a collection of words on a page with the intention of recording an audio interpretation of these words, as you say on ‘These Walls Of Mine I’.

How much of your songs begin with poetry, later to be audio interpreted?

It really depends . . . sometimes I go through phases where I’m starting more with melodies and musical phrases, and sometimes I’ll spend a while writing words and then adding music to them.


You have published your own book of poems, some of which became songs on the wonderful ‘How They Are’ E.P (Bella Union, 2010). Do you hope to publish more poetry in the future? (I hope so).

I hope so too! At the very least I’d like to make a new edition of that first book of poems, just to give to friends and offer at concerts. But I have many ideas for other poems and stories . . . I just don’t know if and when I’ll get around to finishing for publication.


Who are your favourite writers?

To name just a few . . . Miranda July, Jack Kerouac, Jeremy Narby


“That sound that’s always there and waiting to be found, again” is a lyric from ‘These Walls Of Mine’. Is this the essence of making music for you?

You could say that! But that line is also about accepting natural sounds which are already there, or even the voice inside your head…


I love how the two versions of the title track; one is an intimate spoken word piece and the second is compelling hip hop reminiscent of Buck 65, are sequenced back to back. Your lyric “Even though I like to sing, I just think it’s fun to try everything” epitomises this feeling of joy in creating music that’s dotted all over the album.

Did you envisage two versions early on in the recording process of the song ‘These Walls Of Mine’?

Despite the running order on the album, the rap song actually came before the spoken text. I was really interested in the difference of how the words come across when they are spoken normally compared to how they sounded in context of the song. More and more I come to believe that the way in which the content is delivered or expressed can often times be more important than the actual content itself. Rather than try to write the perfect song or melody, I’m more interested in finding a way of delivering (performing) music in a way that feels consistently good and positive.


‘When I Blank A Blank’ is sublime. I love the groove. It’s soul, rap, funk, dance all in one. What is the inspiration behind this song? The dialogue of voices between your spoken word and the looped harmonies “of thoughts left unfinished”, is so compelling.

I can’t remember how or when I got the idea to make that song . . . I just know that at some point I made this sentence (When I ___ I ___, and my ___ is ___.) and asked people to fill in the blanks on flickr. Many people posted their own versions of the sentence as a comment, and immediately I got to work making a piece of music to fit the words.


‘Freyr!’ centres on “an email from Pop” dated Thursday November 12th 2009, telling you that Freyr, “your truly magical cat” has disappeared and is gone. This is set to beautiful country music. There is a playfulness here, yet immersed in depths of emotion. It is like a classic Wes Anderson film.

Does ‘Freyr!’ originate from this very email?

Indeed. I was very touched by that email from my father . . . firstly because that was my cat and I really loved him . . . and secondly (and perhaps more relevant) because most emails from my father are extremely brief and to the point . . . but this one, although still quite short, seemed to me like he was pouring his heart out. I had to do something with those words.


The harmonies that loop over your spoken word share the glorious tones of Brian Wilson and ‘Pet Sounds’.

You sing “I love when words ring out true” on ‘Proposed Solution To The Mystery Of The Soul’, combining the soul of Sam Cooke and Tom Wait’s beat boxing. I think anything you sing does just that, it rings out true. 

‘I Do This’ is beautiful folk music, echoing your ambient folk opus ‘Home’. “This song is waiting to breathe life” is my favourite lyric. The song hits you, like all your music, with its directness and honesty.

“A melancholic longing for something which seems to be so near but out of reach” lies at the song’s core.

I love the electronic/ambient track ‘Copenhagen Ducks’. Where does the inspiration lie in this song?

That song started with a field recording I made of a marching protest band playing on the streets of Copenhagen. That’s the first sound you hear. I made a loop from a particular part of the recording that I really liked, and then I just starting singing over it. Then I ended up beatboxing and making my own beat which matched the tempo of the street band . . . Then years later I found a recording I made in Christiania, where I’m just sitting outside and talking rather blandly into my dictaphone. I cut up that speech and then selected bits to sing along with or comment on with more layers of vocals. I guess the inspiration comes from wanting to make a track that’s more beat driven, which could almost work on the dance floor . . . but to make a track like that with very few elements . . . mostly just my voice and the field recording.


The lyrical contributions from friends and relatives on ‘These Walls Of Mine’ you have said, was made possible by the internet. From a musician’s perspective, what are your thoughts on the internet and its effect on music as a whole?

I have very much a love/hate relationship with the internet these days. I know that I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now if it weren’t for the internet . . . but at the same time I really hate how much time gets sucked away at the computer! But in general my attitude is . . . the technology is there, so let’s embrace it and try to use it in a constructive way.


The Broderick household must have been immersed in music while growing up in Copenhagen, with your extremely talented sister, Heather. How soon did you realize music was so important for you?

I actually grew up in Carlton, Oregon, in the USA . . . very small town. I didn’t move to Denmark until I turned 20. But yes, our house was filled with music. I’ve been playing instruments since the beginning of my memory . . . I especially idolized my older brother who was really good at the electric guitar and saxophone.


Describe the city of Berlin, where you now live and how the place shapes your music?

Berlin is still quite cheap and is very central for most of the traveling I do around Europe. In addition to that it is filled with tons of creative people experimenting and trying out different art forms, some more successfully than others… But that exploratory nature is what’s nice about the city. Whatever you are into, you’re likely to find at least one place in Berlin which is specializing in that area. And unlike many other big cities, there are lots of nature areas like parks and lakes in and around Berlin, so it’s also possible to get to a more relaxed atmosphere very quickly, even when in the middle of the city!


You have been a long-term member of the wonderful Efterklang. I recently saw you and the band perform ‘Piramida’ with the Major Lift Orchestra in Cork and needless to say it blew me away. How does your involvement in Efterklang shape you and your own solo music?

Those guys gave me the boost I needed to believe in my own music and make a career out of it. Before I ever started playing with them, I was in love with their music and very directly inspired by it. But of course now I’ve been playing with them for five years, so it’s really hard to tell in which ways I’m still influenced by them . . . I spend so much time around those guys and their musical ideas, I’m sure it all feeds itself into my music somehow…


In terms of collaborations, you have worked with so many diverse artists from Machinefabriek to Nils Frahm. I loved oliveray, your collaboration with Nils. The version of Efterklang’s ‘Harmonics’ is gorgeous. You also introduced me to Tiny Vipers with the closing song ‘Dreamer’.

What is it like working and collaborating with like-minded artists, such as Nils?

When me and Nils play music together something magical happens. There is this energy in the air . . . a kind of energy that makes you think that anything is possible. And what better circumstances to make music under than when everything seems possible!? Nils is a musician and producer and a friend that I love and cherish… I like to believe I learn something new with each new collaboration I partake in.


Who are your favourite composers?

To name a few . . . John Cage, Arvo Pärt, Arthur Russell


You have very recently reworked Philip Glass. Tell me about this project.

Yes! I was invited to participate in this Philip Glass remix album curated by Beck. And of course I was thrilled! I worked together with my friend Greg Haines (also living in Berlin) to make a new version of “Island” from his classic album ‘Glassworks’. What an honor!


What albums are you listening to lately?

Awesome Tapes From Africa (vinyl reissue series)
John Cage – “Empty Words (Parte III)”
ESG – “Step Off”
Nils Frahm – “Screws”
Kyle Bobby Dunn – “Ways of Meaning”
Plus I’ve been listening a lot to some recent collaboration projects I’ve been working on . . . one is a little mini album I made together with my father, based around his nylon guitar songs . . . another is an album by pianist/composer Lubomyr Melnyk, which I produced and compiled and played on most of the tracks. Both of these projects should be released sometime early next year 😀

‘These Walls Of Mine’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

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October 23, 2012 at 11:23 am

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  1. […] Visst. Vrid i gång! In med Satellite Stories (bilden)! Och finsk musik! Huskey Rescue! Peter Broderick har släppt nytt. Och The Kissaway Trail är trevliga. Svenska Juvelen! Fan. Det här är det […]

  2. […] Broderick (taken from our interview in October […]

  3. […] In 2012 we spoke with Peter Broderick about the making of ‘These Walls Of Mine’, READ INTERVIEW HERE. […]

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