Peter Broderick is painfully young and unnervingly talented. Born in 1987 in Oregon, by high school he was playing whatever instrument he could get his hands on, including piano, banjo mandolin and musical saw. An accomplished session musician for studio recordings, he began touring with the experimental pop Danish band Efterklang in late 2007. He often opens concerts with solo performances.
His own recordings have tended to be piano-based instrumental works, though he broke new ground with "Home", a more folksy album with acoustic guitar and haunting vocals, in late 2008. (A "quietly superb album," judged the Guardian's Graeme Thomson.)
His latest work, "Music for Falling From Trees", released this July, is a 30-minute piece for strings and piano. Created in seven sections to accompany a dance by Adrienne Hart, a London-based choreographer, the composition is meant to evoke a man in a psychiatric hospital who struggles to maintain his identity. The score veers between melancholic melodies and playful surrealism with occasional dissonance.
We recently cornered Peter Broderick to ask him why all his albums sound so different, what it was like to move from Oregon to Copenhagen and which instruments are his favourites.
More Intelligent Life: What drives your passion to play so many instruments?
Peter Broderick: Well, I think a lot of it has to do simply with my impatience and curiosity about sounds and instruments. I sometimes wish I had the patience and discipline to study one instrument and become really good on it. But instead I'm more excited about learning a little bit on as many instruments as possible.
MIL: Any favourites?
PB: I think my favourite instrument will always be the piano. All I have to do is touch one note and I think it sounds so beautiful. And all pianos are different, so I love to hear the different tones of the different instruments. There's one instrument I've been really wishing I could try. It's called a key harp, and it's kind of like a violin, but it has keys (kind of like a piano), which you press down to change the notes. It makes a beautiful, pure tone and I look forward to the day when I find one of these.
MIL: The move to Copenhagen to work with Efterklang sounds like a life-changing one. What was that like?
PS: This was a dream come true for me. Efterklang was one of my favourite bands, and I got in touch with them on MySpace, and asked if I could send them some of my music. We kept in touch every now and then until one day they just invited me to move to Denmark and join the band. It was definitely life changing, in all of the best ways. They are the ones who helped me start my career in music, and helped me to believe I could do it. Since I joined the band after the last record was made, my role has mostly been to play parts that were already written (mostly violin, but also some guitar, drums, singing, and lots of little things). But now they are working on a new record, which I will be a part of, and I'm extremely happy about this.
MIL: How's the North European cultural climate compared to Portland, Oregon?
PS: It's funny, because in some ways these two areas are so similar. But for me, it feels like my music career (and maybe my life in general) didn't really begin until I moved to Europe. I don't know if my music just fits better in Europe, but I've made many more connections, and I have so many more offers for concerts and jobs.
MIL: Though you play many instruments, your records so far have featured only one or two at a time. Why this restraint? I always imagine multi-instrumentalists would want to break out as many instruments and toys as they can find.
PS: I really like to limit myself in recording situations. To say, 'let's see if I can make an album only using these two instruments,' etc. I think some of the most interesting results come out of a process like this. But at the same time, now I'm kind of excited about making an album that has everything. And I'm kind of working on an album like this now.
MIL: You have changed tack a lot in your recordings so far, moving from piano-led pieces to folky guitar. Why such seismic shifts?
PS: Yes, that's true. For me, though, all of these instruments and tones are just sound. I guess I would hope that while the instrumentation on my albums has changed, people can still tell it's me, through the melodies, the mood, the pacing, etc. I think I would get bored if I made the same record over and over again. I am more excited about trying to challenge myself by making music in as many different ways as possible. Maybe the "sound" of me will be known as a sound of inconsistency, but like I said, I can only hope that people might be able to hear a thread running through all of my music.
MIL: What’s the story behind "Music For Falling From Trees"?
PS: Adrienne contacted me toward the end of last year, simply asking if I'd ever considered writing music for dance. She proposed a collaboration, and I gladly accepted. I think it was a great fit, because everything I sent over to her while I was working she responded positively to. And often times it can be a struggle trying to work with film directors, choreographers, etc, because it can be hard to fit your music into that other person's vision. But I think Adrienne was very open, and trusted me with the music, so that made it a very easy and enjoyable collaboration.
MIL: Were the parameters defined or did you have free creative range?
PS: Adrienne gave me a script of the dance, with all of the seven sections written in text, and with how long each section should be. And she sent me video clips of some of the rough choreography sketches. This is what I had to create the music. I had less than three weeks to create the entire score, so I approached the music in a very open way. A lot of things were improvised, and there are a lot of experiments with drone and texture, while still a lot of movement in the piano and strings. Of course it's always a challenge to start from scratch on a project like this, but really, I think that was the only challenge. Getting started. After that everything seemed to fall into place.
MIL: What other projects are you involved in?
PS: Oh wow, I have so many projects right now, it's hard to keep track of them all. I have more touring and recording planned with Efterklang, several solo releases and film score projects this year, tons of solo touring (mostly in Europe). Maybe I've taken on too many things, but I think it's good to stay busy.
"Music for Falling From Trees" is available from Erased Tapes and Western Vinyl
Picture credit: Hanne Hvattum