Having fashioned the underscore for David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” and the forthcoming Gwyneth Paltrow country music vehicle, “Country Strong,” Michael Brook’s profile as a film composer appears on the upswing, but his methods are anything but conventional.
For example, the rich textures and swelling ambience that accentuate Mark Wahlberg’s and Christian Bale’s performances in “Fighter” were orchestrated with bowed wine glasses and processed marimbas.
“I like to use both an intuitive and experimental approach,” he explains. “You start by setting up the experiment in a rational way with a rigid structure.”
Brook’s deft application of both minimalism and the occasional forceful crescendo in “Fighter” succeed in accentuating a torrent of emotional currents, not to mention the intensity of mano-a-mano battle, washing through the gritty, blue-collar Americana of 1970s Lowell, Mass.
Like Danny Elfman, Brook’s avant-rock roots helped form a distinctive film resume, defined by his signature tonal atmospherics in scores for “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Into The Wild.”
But early in his musical career, the Canadian-born Brook worked as an engineer with U2 producer Daniel Lanois. His background as a performing musician, producer, and inventor of the perpetually looping “infinite guitar” led to a long association with Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. There he crafted a series of exotic, acclaimed recordings that fused traditional ethnic voices and instrumentation with the pulsing throb of the latest electronic beats, most notably with the late Pakistani Sufi master, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
“Anything you do in music affects what you do later in music,” explains Brook. “Using studio equipment to manipulate sound was something I learned from Brian Eno.” Eno’s penchant for sonic design and minimalism is echoed in the music he composed for “The Fighter.”
“Something that struck me about it was how eerily real it felt,” he says of the film, “like an ‘uber-documentary,’ it had a sort of hyper-reality to it.”
Given the heady subject matter and the steady inclusion of classic rock and R&B songs, Brook’s scoring had to focus on a few critical scenes. “You look at the part of the scene that’s not on the screen, then you try to complete it,” says Brook. “Particularly working in ambient music, you actually want to give someone an incomplete piece of music, and allow the listener to put something of themselves into it.”
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