Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Delta': Gary Brooker's ballet

A revealing press-conference: part I

[Introduction is here]

Laura Dean
I'm happy to be here. This is a great hono(u)r for me, and when Frank [Andersen] … two years ago now, since we first spoke about this - I had to admit I had never seen the company, and Frank said to me (I was in Amsterdam at that time), he said, "Come and see some of the classes," and of course, I was overwhelmed because of the tradition. This is the oldest ballet company in the world, so - I came and I saw the classes, and I was really bowled over.

The way it came about with Gary was really kind of wonderful. I only work with living composers and their commissioned scores. Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Barry DeGismonti, and Anthony Davis: these are the other known composers that I've worked with, and I was saying to Frank, "It would be wonderful to have a commissioned score, and it would be wonderful too, if it could be come from something that we both loved and were influenced by." And we immediately found a common ground.

We were in the canteen downstairs, and the people who were in the canteen at the time must've thought we were nuts, because both of us looked at each other and said, "Procol Harum!" Our eyes lit up and Frank grabs me across the table and goes, "That's it!" I'd never met Gary yet, but Frank said, "I've spoken to him once, and I'm going to call him right away," and he did. He went upstairs and called him that day, and Gary was in! That was the most amazing thing: he was there!

Gary Brooker
Well, when you get Frank Andersen, a Dane, on the telephone and he says, "Excuse me, I'm from the Royal Danish Ballet, could you write some music for us?" I thought, "Hm, hello! It's a wind-up - it's one of the boys or something!" So I took a bite and asked him if he'd got the right person - you know, Procol Harum. And he did, but I met him in London to make sure that he wasn't just after an autograph or something.

The idea was a challenge to me obviously, I've never done anything like this before, and I only went to the ballet once before. When I was about 17, I saw Swan Lake in Southend Odeon Cinema - the Bolshoi Ballet - and I thought it was quite nice, very nice music and very well done. But I haven't had the opportunity since, but following that I of course thought about it, and I was thinking about the Greek mythology and the great mime and everything.

But Laura was in fact going to do something completely, entirely different to my conception of ballet, and I realized that there was a lot more scope in the music for ideas than I thought there would be. Of course, I had to speak to her quite a lot on the phone about just what she wanted the music to be like. It's not an easy thing, but I always think we had a slight rapport on that.

Yeah, I think it was wonderful because one of the first things that Gary asked me was, "What's the story?". And it was terrific because as soon as I explained to him that it was abstract and it was about patterns, he went: "Oww, I understand that. That's fine. Good!" Then I sent him some video-tapes, and we had another conversation after that.

Continuity - that's how Laura's dance goes. That gave me an idea of what direction to take, and I thought about a rhythm and went and saw her in New York …

… where I was dancing in the living-room floor …

…she leapt up in the air, that sort of thing …

… he first had laid down some of the percussion, which was really wonderful, and I said, "This is terrific, just what the ballet needs," because the whole sensibility, the whole phrasing of it is entirely different than 19th century phrasing and of course this is going to affect the structure of the dance and the steps. For me it's just been a wonderful piece of music. I want to say thank you, because it's terrific.

Frank Andersen (in Danish):
Laura isn't actually a stranger to ballet, normally having her own dance company, "Laura Dean's Dances and Musicians", working quite differently from a classical trained ensemble.

Karsten Overgaard
I would very much like to ask you, Gary Brooker, how did you make this music, did you play it by yourself in your own home-studio or did you make the scores on sheet?

I played it all on a piano, on a modern keyboard. By doing that I could record it in a digital form by MIDI music. I was sometimes sketching things I didn't - well, in the early days I forgot what I was going to play. I got the ideas first when I was in the mountains and I thought up a few bits and then they stuck in my mind. When I came to do it next, I couldn't get rid of these chords and a bit of rhythm, and I played it just individually by playing the different parts and by playing the tunes above then you could - you can with a keyboard these days - then you can make sounds not exactly like an orchestra, but you can hear an oboe, and if you like what the oboe does there, then - that's what it is.

If you think, "Well, I'll try a clarinet", you actually just have to press a button, and you can have a clarinet do it. I'd had a little bit of experience as you know from that Procol Harum Live with a symphony orchestra, but I had never had enough experience to - well, it would take me a couple of years, I should think, to work out the score and to get all out of my head, and then I try it with an orchestra and thought, "No, I didn't quite like that combination.". People with a lot of experience, of course, they've heard what it's going to sound like. It's a bit more difficult for me to do that, so it was a big help to use a keyboard like that.

So you have very quickly adopted this new invention, I believe it was from 1983 or something, the MIDI?

I've never used it before. I borrowed a MIDI-recorder off somebody with an instruction book, and I think by the second day I was thinking this was a bit limited, I wish I would do a bit more, it wasn't the top-range way of doing it, but it was adequate for this.

Thanks, Niels-Erik Mortensen

Other pages concerning the Brooker Ballet Introduction to this interview Part two of the Press Conference transcript

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