Albino Alligator

Written by Jeff Keibel on Wed, 19 Feb 1997 19:27:35 -0500.

Out already in parts of the world, the soundtrack is in stores in Canada on February 25th. The film is currently running in limited engagements... Michael is co-nominated for a Grammy (with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) for Night Song (on Real World) --- Good luck! Michael will be in Toronto March 3rd through 5th for some a promo blitz -- keep your ears to the ground.

Michael Brook

Michael Brook has established his presence in contemporary music by means both numerous and varied. His credits as producer, engineer, guitarist and collaborator have graced albums by some of the past decade's most celebrated artists. As a solo performer, he has toured the world performing compositions which are sleek, elegant, disturbing and powerful. His technical aptitude has yielded inventions on the order of the Infinite Guitar, a signature element within Michael's sound. The unique complexion of this sound, born of love for Middle Eastern and Indian musics, has attracted opportunities to score feature films. The newest 4AD release by Michael Brook comprises his score for Albino Alligator, the much-anticipated directing debut of actor Kevin Spacey.

In Albino Alligator

Music supervisors throughout Hollywood have taken notice of the atmospheric and dramatic qualities in Michael's work; tracks from his albums Hybrid and Cobalt Blue have frequently been licensed for use in film soundtracks. Kevin Spacey also recognized the cinematic potential of these recordings, but for his directorial effort, Albino Alligator, he commissioned Michael to provide an original score. Spacey's tale of a hold-up gone wrong presented many challenges that even a seasoned film composer might have found daunting -- much of the character-driven thriller takes place in one room -- but Michael was successful in creating the disquieting music appropriate to the film's portrayal of raw nerves and bungled plans. After completing the cues requested by the director (Michael is quick to cite the guidance and inspiration afforded by Spacey during the recording process), he returned to the tracks with the intention of adding to them, creating slightly more substantial 'record-like' versions for the 4AD release. The resulting collection veers from swampy, blues rock to modal keyboard ostinatos a la Phillip Glass. Multiple woodwinds (sax and Persian nez flute) and manic percussion underscore the palpable tensions depicted in the film. Rather than a typical score album, which leaves a listener feeling that something is missing at the core of the enterprise, Albino Alligator -- as musically augmented for CD -- showcases both this unusual film and the work of Michael Brook in the best possible light.

In The First Place

Michael was born and raised in Toronto, where he played guitar in several local bands. During late '70s music studies at Toronto's York University, his abilities were recognised by his visiting instructor, the composer and trumpeter Jon Hassell. Michael helped in the recording of Hassell's Vernal Equinox album and went on to play guitar in Hassell's concert ensemble through the early '80s.

In Character

His grounding as a teenage guitarist in blues-rock bands gave little clue to the direction that Michael would take as a solo artist. He studied with avant-minimalist LaMonte Young and the Hindustani classical violinist Pandit Pran Nath, which helped Michael to determine a non-orientalist means to employ the lessons learned from world music. On his 1985 debut album, Hybrid, Michael grafted Indian and Arabic melodies into an ambient framework, introducing the singular colours of his invention, the Infinite Guitar. The rhythmic component in his music has gained prominence in recent years, but Michael still hews to the basic conceptual template from which he fashioned his first collection and its sequel, 1992's Cobalt Blue. In part, the admixture of ethnic and electronic elements which characterises his work grew out of musical experimentation in the company of Brian Eno and producer Daniel Lanois, both of who have guested on Michael's two studio albums. On his sonic palate, playing a bluesier finger-picking guitar that hearkens back to his beginnings in Toronto bands. New timbres, in the form of saxophone, Persian nez flute and string bass, appear in the mix as well. The real surprise on the soundtrack, the representation of Michael's biggest stretch as a co-arranger and co-producer (in this instance, with Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers), is the end-song; a slow motion treatment of Koehler & Arlen's jazz standard "Ill Wind" which features a duet between R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Jimmy Scott, in a setting that suggests Otis Redding singing for David Lynch.

In The Studio

Concurrent to his development as an artist, Michael Brook has become a producer in demand during the past ten years. The ease with which Michael functions on either side of the mixing console, as artist or producer, owes much of his extraordinary technical aptitude, and his ability to reconcile art and technology. While he was administering the A Space video lab in Toronto during the late '70s and early '80s, Michael constructed a home studio. The basement facility was affectionately known as 'The Crypt', and it was here that he honed his engineering chops, producing local artists while developing his own vocabulary as a guitarist and composer. The Infinite Guitar, whose flute-like timbre and limitless sustaining tones have become Michael's sonic logo, was invented in this subterranean workroom. To date, there are but three Infinite Guitars in existence, with Daniel Lanois and U2 guitarist The Edge owning the others. He eventually surfaced to engineer at Daniel Lanois' Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton in the early '80s.

The numerous projects which Michael has helmed in this decade for Peter Gabriel's Real World label have done much to enhance his reputation as one of today's preeminent world music producers. Michael has produced four critically acclaimed albums for Pakistan's most famous qawwali singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Other Real World projects to benefit from Michael's involvement include albums for Indian mandolinist U. Srinivas and more recently the Sardinian vocal quartet Tenores di Bitti. Additional production credits accumulated through the '80s and early '90s include albums for Roger Eno, Laraaji, the UK pop group Balloon, The Pogues, fellow Canadian Mary Margaret O'Hara's Miss America album, and Set by Senegal's Youssou N'Dour, the latter taking Michael to Senegal for pre-production, with tracking and mixing done in Brussels. Through much of 1996, Michael has been involved in the production of singer-songwriter Julia Fordham's fourth album for Virgin Records.

Aside form his musical endeavours, Michael provided technical assistance in the design and installation of Brian Eno's video environments, as featured in art galleries around the world during the late '80s.

In Concert

Michael toured during the mid '80s as a guitarist with Martha & The Muffins. The Toronto-based group scored a substantial chart hit in the U.K. with their single "Echo Beach", triggering a demand for live appearances overseas. Michael, whose musical versatility was the stuff of common knowledge in Toronto, was the obvious first choice for tour support. He then moved to England and became part of the now-legendary Opal Evenings concert package, alongside Roger Eno, Laraaji and the California pianist Harold Budd; Opal Evenings were staged in locations ranging from concert halls to formal gardens in Rome, to a volcanic grotto on the island of Lanzarote. It was during these concerts that Michael perfected his solo presentation, having reconfigured his home studio to provide much of his musical backing onstage, with James Pinker handling percussion on many tour dates.

In the late '80s, Michael accompanied the famously concert-shy Brian Eno during a rare performance staged for the dedication of a Japanese Shinto temple. Sufficiently comfortable with live work by the '90s, Michael toured both as a solo attraction and as an opening act in support of John Cale and Sylvian/Fripp. (During the latter's global tour, Michael would also become a third guitarist in the headlining band after finishing his solo set.) He has also performed one-off dates with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, extending their cultural cross-pollination to the concert stage.

In Collaboration

His contributions to an album he was producing for 4AD artist Pieter Nooten (of Xymox) were sufficient to have label head Ivo Watts-Russell declare the project a duet, marking Michael's first official collaboration and his first appearance on 4AD. In the past few years, others among his production clients have become collaborators, most notably Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The two albums which they recorded, Musst Musst and the recent Night Song, generated degrees of controversy when each was released, but are now praised for their successful merging of eastern and western musical influences. Production work for U. Srinivas, the Indian mandolinist, on a Real World release of Carnatic classical music sparked another fruitful musical partnership resulting In an 'ethno-ambient' album entitled Dream. For this project, Michael created a digital collage from samples of Srinivas' mandolin and a cast of international musicians, configuring their 'virtual' performances into moire patterns of sound. Another unusual ambient release by virtual artist Russell Mills, entitled Undark, has just been released by England's Time Recordings: the album features infinite guitar and co-writing by Michael.

In The Cinema

In 1986, Michael Brook collaborated with The Edge, guitarist for U2, on the soundtrack to the film Captive. The film and its accompanying soundtrack album (on Virgin) introduced the voice of Sinead O'Connor to the world at large. Later, in 1994, Michael composed and performed the score for the IMAX documentary, Fires Of Kuwait. A vision of hell on Earth, the film provided a stark canvas for which the Arabic inflections of Michael's Infinite Guitar were perfectly suited. Last year, tracks licensed from his 1992 Cobalt Blue album were mixed with cues specially written and performed by Michael for the soundtrack of Michael Mann's drama, Heat. His current scoring project, Albino Alligator, functions as a summation of Michael's artistic progress to date, while opening the door to new possibilities.

Albino Alligator, available on vinyl CAD7003 and compact disc CAD7003CD from 4AD. Distributed in Canada by Mercury/Polydor and in the US by Warner Bros. Thank you Gerry at Mercury!

Jeff Keibel
Scarborough, Ontario

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