(Canadian Rational/bigHelium, 2007)
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Michael Brook’s BellCurve is best defined as a companion piece to his 2006 album RockPaperScissors. Originally conceived as an ambient version of the latter album, the new work took on a life of its own in the hands of English producer James Hood. The resulting eight tracks evoke, each one in its own way, both the instrumental essence of RockPaperScissors’ song structures and something altogether more atmospheric. Brook’s guitars and synthetic textures mesh with choirs and orchestral accompaniments Eastern Europe in the gold-toned, reverberant ambiance conjured by producer/remixer Hood. A singular atmosphere pervades BellCurve, one that energizes in the same moment as it fosters contemplative states.
Hood, whose deft touch previously graced recordings by the Pretenders and Moodswings, was already familiar with RockPaperScissors. “I knew that album well, so my intention was to cross-pollinate between the tracks, using the vast amount of music that Michael had provided me. My initial directive was to create an ambient album from this material. There’s ‘ambient’ in Brian Eno’s sense of the term, and then there’s the approach that I chose for BellCurve, with Michael’s encouragement. I would add more bass content and subtle beats, creating an overall psychedelic vibe, so that the results might resemble the records considered ‘ambient’ in Europe, the downtempo music that people use to chill out after being in dance clubs.”
The first two months of the project saw Hood working on his own, deepening his involvement with the integral components of RockPaperScissors. After working without supervision for a lengthy stretch, Hood called Michael over to approve the direction – which by this point had become not so much a remix as a re-imagining of the original material – that the album was taking. “I was enjoying the process of deconstruction and reconstruction, not knowing what Michael’s favorite bits were. I just what created new tracks that turned me on; it was the sound of his music being pulled to pieces. What I love doing is constructing albums that run seamlessly from start to finish. When Michael heard this, he said it was like viewing the Macy’s Parade on acid, otherworldly pieces approaching slowly, coming past you and dissolving into the distance.”
As it happened, Hood didn’t have to worry about Michael’s response. “He made some notes, which amounted to telling me that I should be more extreme in my approach to his music. And that was how I proceeded.” Melodies of Hood’s own construction then began to evolve as his work on the project intensified. When new chords or other forms of ambient sound were needed to complete a new progression created for BellCurve, Michael became an active participant in the making of the album. James would request guitar chords and melodies as needed, which Michael would then perform in his own studio. Michael’s wife, violinist Julie Rogers, also contributed string parts to the new mix; the new guitar and violin tracks would subsequently wend their way back to the remixer’s studio via internet.
Of his experience making BellCurve, James Hood reflects “I very much doubt that I’ll get another project anytime soon where I’m allowed to do whatever I’ve wanted, and to have such superb music to do it to. I kept waiting for reality to strike, as it was too good to be true in many regards: the combination of not having any interference from the artist, and then to have Michael’s help when I’d painted myself into a musical corner and required something that he hadn’t recorded yet. [It was] Very exciting, to hear Michael playing something that I’d only imagined during my experimenting with his tracks.”
What James Hood imagined, and ultimately realized with Michael Brook’s input, now exists as an assured work in its own right. Though the DNA of RockPaperScissors may be readily detected throughout BellCurve, the latter album has assumed a shape and purpose of its own; whether used as a palliative to stress or as the optimum setting for meditative practice, the cinematic shadings of BellCurve compliment any variety of settings and moods
“BellCurve is an interesting and satisfying listen. It’s as if an epic movie had been made about the RockPaperScissors world and this was the soundtrack. The record swells and glides, until finally it closes with a stunning and extended reworking of “Want” featuring the vocals of Lisa Germano. BellCurve is a grand and lushly cohesive record. You can gladly get lost in it for days.” -David R. Perry
“Brook’s complex work has been transformed into a completely new piece that’s complimentary without being redundant.” -Jason Ferguson, Harp Magazine