Welcome to Breakdown, an unofficial resource and discussion list about the innovative guitarist/producer Michael Brook. This site is infrequently updated, but contains a great deal of background info which will remain online. For up-to-date news and information, visit Michael Brook's official site and MySpace page.

Babbling Brook a compendium of articles reviews and interviews

Michael Brook
from Radio Real World
[archived here without permission]

Michael BrookAs a musician and producer, Canadian Michael Brook has established a niche of his own. Artists both from Real World and other labels clamour for his services. While famed for his acclaimed world music productions - notably Youssou N'Dour's 'Set' and 'Mustt Mustt' with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Brook is also in demand as a writer of film soundtracks. In 1986, he collaborated with U2's The Edge on the soundtrack to the film, 'Captive', a precedent- setting move which signalled U2's first solo outing and introduced the pure vocals of one Sinéad O'Connor to the world.

Brook was especially enthused after the rapturous acclaim greeting the score (which he composed and played) for the 1992 documentary film, 'The Fires of Kuwait'. It's an area in which Brook wants to expand. If, that is, he gets some breathing space with all the musical luminaries knocking at his door. You might think world music an unlikely speciality for a man born and bred in Toronto, but Brook's interest - compounded by a few right place, right time scenarios - was fostered after studying African influence in American music at the city's York University, and studying Indian music under La Monte Young.

Other world music credits include, with Don Was, Algerian artist Cheb Khaled's 1991 album, albums by Armenian duduk player Gasparian and Indian electric mandolin player U. Srinivas. With U. Srinivas, Jane Siberry and Nigel Kennedy, the multi-skilled Brook produced, composed and played on the lauded experimental collaboration, 'Dream'. 1994 saw Brook and Srinivas capitalising on their chemistry with another album, and following the phenomenal 'Mustt Mustt', Brook and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan moved mountains with 1996's 'Night Song'.

Right Place, Right Time

Early on, after dabbling in photography, Canadian producer and performer Michael Brook also explored electronic music and electronics and psychology in the arts, when a fortuitous meeting with trumpeter and minimalist Jon Hassell led to a tour and an introduction to La Monte Young, through whom he studied Indian music.

Working as a house engineer for another famed producer, Daniel Lanois, saw Brook achieving Canadian fame in the late seventies with pop band Martha and The Muffins, and hooking up with the likes of Brian Eno. A quid pro quo situation evolved - Brook helped Eno make videos and Eno helped Brook make music. After credits on the former's 1982 'On Land' album, and Hassell's 'Magic Realism' in 1983, Brook - with Eno and Lanois on board - released the solo, seminal 'Hybrid' in 1985 which, even in these days of ambient ubiquity, is still lauded as one of the great ethnic / ambient works of the mid eighties. 'Cobalt Blue', released on 4AD, followed, with 'Live At The London Aquarium' - recorded at the press launch of 'Cobalt Blue' at London Zoo aquarium - hot on its heels. During the late eighties, Brook continued his mixed-media collaborations with Eno, developing video sculptures and sound installations in Italy, Germany, Canada, Sweden, Holland, Japan, Australia and the USA.

Aside from significant world music credits, there's been producing stints for Roger Eno, Pieter Nooten, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Balloon and The Pogues. In 1991, Brook guested with David Sylvian's Rain Tree Crow on a one-off album, and on Brian Ferry's 'Taxi'. As a solo artist, he opened for John Cale on the latter's Europe and Stateside tour in 1992; in 1993 he joined Robert Fripp and David Sylvian on their Road to Graceland World Tour, where he performed solo as a special guest to open the show, before joining Sylvian and Fripp as a band member for the main set. Then there's those Real World recordings with U. Srinivas and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Michael Brook: polymath or what?

Michael Brook and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Night Song

As collaborator with phenomenal Pakistani Qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and producer of the recent 'Night Song', Michael Brook waited six years before following the universally acclaimed 'Mustt Mustt' - bite size Qawwali given the pop treatment - which compelled Massive Attack to do a club-friendly remix of the title track. Six years may be a long time in the music business, but it's been worth the wait. Brook learned valuable lessons from the pair's first venture, and from producing the 1991 album, 'Shahbaaz' - an inspired and powerful performance captured live at Real World Studios one summer afternoon. "In traditional music, it's non-stop vocals," he says, "and we in the West run out of steam trying to listen to that. On 'Mustt Mustt' we tried to create a bit of structure that would match Western listening ability. Nusrat's nephew, who also acted as our translator, called up and said there's gaps in the songs which will have to be changed in their market because it will sound like he forgot the words. They're really coming from a different place."

Though the most daring of their collaborations, 'Night Song' is also the most accessible and inspirational. But how does Nusrat the traditionalist maintain his integrity when recording with everyone from Bally Sagoo (Asian-American hip hop) to Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (as they did on the 'Dead Man Walking' soundtrack) to Massive Attack and, it's been proposed, Bjork? "We can't map our ideas of the sacred and profane on the way he thinks about it," Brook recently said. "The way he thinks about it, he's not exactly spreading the word but spreading the sacred music."

Brook describes Nusrat as "pedal to the metal", meaning that his voice can rise to levels Western ears find incredible. For this album, one filled with wobbling bass, infinite guitar and slow dub grooves, Brook created more space in the tracks and asked Nusrat to scale down his intensity so to highlight his pitch and timing. "It was very much choreographing what he does," he says. "The way he toys with or flexes the rhythm. A great deal of his expressivity is in that. He'd do this incredibly fast scat singing thing which wasn't just an exercise in technique. The passion was there." And from past experience, where short songs are anathema to the great Qawwal, Brook knew that the best way to capture this passion was to record lengthy takes and edit them down. The result is nothing short of stunning.