The Portland, Oregon, multifaceted composer's latest is premised on relinquishing control and following chance.
Announcing the release of Partners, Peter Broderick included as part of the notice the text of an email from February that he had written to Robert Raths of Erased Tapes about the album. Its sentiment brings to mind a short passage from the writer Alexis M. Smith’s new novel, Marrow Island, which is set in the author’s native Pacific Northwest: “’What we hold on to says a lot,’ Sister J. said once. ‘But what we let go, sings.’”
Partners is premised on relinquishing control and following chance. In an overt yet genuine gesture of faith, Broderick actually let rolls of the dice guide the direction of the album. His fondness for poetry, John Cage, and a rekindled connection to the piano are the wind in its tattered, fluttering sails. “To remain at the beginning / Until the end / Starting anew every single moment / With regard for all living souls / And finding life in mistakes / And peace within chaos”, goes the first section of Broderick’s opening recitation, unaccompanied save for a few flicked high notes, before the title track’s disarming pivots between poems of heavy and light heart.
Broderick’s version of Cage’s 1948 piece “In a Landscape”, the spark that inspired Partners, follows. At once somehow circular and linear, for an enduring compositional achievement it is as elusive as wisps of rising smoke. Broderick taught himself the song in five-second segments, one at a time until he had a grasp on the whole ten minutes. The dice that determined the order of the poems read in “Partners” were employed to even greater consequence for “Under the Bridge”, where numbers were given notes, and the subsequent crapshoot did the arranging.
The results aren’t nearly as chaotic as that process might make it sound. “Under the Bridge” is a stoic, alpine procession. Without knowing the context behind the song, one would be unlikely to argue against its intentionality. Properly trained ears may be easily able to discern between the fates behind “Under the Bridge” and the decisions behind the music of Cage and other similarly minded modern composers, but, to the outsider, the similarities between them, at least in tone if not as much in structure, could be seen as pointing to some connecting truth.
The choice of album title is also tinged with curiosity. In not a vast amount of time, 29-year-old Broderick has worked with a range of collaborators that includes his years spent in the Danish group Efterklang, his Oliveray pairing with Nils Frahm, the Album Leaf, and more. The list of other projects he has touched in some way is, frankly, stunning. Partners, though, is a contentedly lonely wander. Among his catalog, it might most easily slot alongside his 2008 album Float, which was revisited and reissued five years later as Float 2013.
Drifting or looped vocals join the piano on “Carried” and “Conspiraling”, notable where they might go buried in denser compositions. Even the reverb is a team player. Concluding the unembellished collection is Broderick’s cover of “Sometimes” by Brigid Mae Power, the Irish songwriter whose recently released self-titled album he recorded in Oregon. It is a soft left turn, affecting both for the element of surprise in hearing Broderick’s voice take equal prominence with the instrumentation, and also in the way that the lyrics seem to speak for the way the rest of the album feels, that in rarely in solitude are we really alone.