October 15, 2004—3:30 p.m.
New York, NY
Transcribed and edited by Molly Sheridan
Videotaped by Randy Nordschow
Listening to Nick Brooke’s work quickly becomes as compulsive an activity as the looping samples that function as its building blocks, mixed up with all manner of instrumental accompaniment, bits of sound effects, and deliberately plotted silences. Long after the pieces are over, the phrases echo on. It works like a drug, as maddening as it is addictive, and after an eventful hour chatting with Brooke, I find out that’s exactly how he wants it. It’s a way of “both administering adrenaline and morphine to the audience simultaneously, and doing that strategically,” he admits.
Brooke didn’t exactly come out of nowhere when his hour-long performance piece Tone Test was staged as part of last summer’s Lincoln Center Festival, but his work was a new discovery for many in the crowd and brought him to the attention of a wider audience. The 35-year-old composer’s reputation had been built mainly on his talent for cutting up and processing audio material and his inventive use of unusual instruments and bits of vintage machinery—calling cards that had attracted commissions and performances from the Paul Dresher Ensemble, the Nash Ensemble of London, Orchestra 2001, and Dan Druckman. A two-year fellowship to Central Java added additional layers to his evolving style after studying with Steve Mackey, Paul Lansky, Louis Andriessen, and Christian Wolff and earning degrees in music composition and philosophy from Oberlin and a Ph.D. from Princeton.
Unlike composers for whom each work is a blank canvas, Brooke seems to be driven by overarching musical and philosophical questions regarding technology and performance practice, as well as a desire to understand by deconstructing. I hardly knew Brooke when we sat down for this interview, but after an hour in his company learning more about his artistry and his motivations, I can’t wait to hear what’s next.