Exit To Eden: An Interview with Pieter Bourke
Since 1988, Australian composer Pieter Bourke has nurtured his remarkable talent through his work with Eden, Snog and Soma. In 1994, he began to collaborate with Lisa Gerrard, complementing her amazing vocals with impeccable percussion. Alas, songs such as theirs often go unappreciated by the masses. Fortunately, director Michael Mann ( Miami Vice , Manhunter , Thief , The Last of the Mohicans , Heat ) has been wise enough to grace his latest endeavor, The Insider , with the kind of music that can only make the world sound better.
Did Michael Mann approach the two of you? I know he’d already used a Dead Can Dance song in his old TV show, Miami Vice , and some of Lisa’s songs in Heat . I take it he’s a fan.
Yeah, that was the basis. There was already this relationship there with Lisa, even though they hadn’t actually met. It was more of a licensing thing. His original idea was to license a piece called “Sacrifice” from Duality . He already had strong ideas about how that piece was going to work in the film, and it was a really important piece. It plays into a really key moment. That was the basis. Lisa and I were traveling through the United States, doing promotion for Duality . Michael came and saw a little showcase performance that we did together. And we had a meeting with him and he gave us the script. He also took us on a ride through the film, took us through the complete synopsis so that we understood what was going on. I think his original intention was just for us to do three or four cues of music and that was it. We went back to Australia, and independently of each other, wrote three or four cues each. We sent that tape to Michael and got a great response from the music that was on that first tape. Then he started sending us scenes from the movie to work on. It just seemed like every time we’d send material back to him, we got this great response. They’d send us more scenes from the film to work on. Originally, we thought we’d be working on this maybe two months maximum, but it ended up being six to seven months. The project grew. I think Michael began to realize that our music was really helping to reveal another level in the film. The music doesn’t play like typical soundtrack music. The music is like the window into the characters. Have you seen the film?
No, I haven’t.
It’s hard to explain… It’s not until you see the film that it really makes sense ’cause you think, “Oh, it’s a story about a corporate whistleblower and CBS News and 60 Minutes … How does that work with this music?” When you see the film, you’ll see how it just opens up this other layer of the characters. I think maybe three months into our working with Michael, he realized that we be doing pretty much the whole soundtrack. At that point, he said, “Would you like to come to Los Angeles to finish the project?” That was a pretty big move. I think we had about a week’s notice to just relocate to L.A. It was the right thing to do. I’ve been there many times, but it was my first time living there. All the other times, it’d been on a tour or something when you’re there for maybe four or five days.
I’ve heard the soundtrack. It’s really good. It’s one of those soundtracks that you can actually listen to. The last song, “Meltdown”, seems to have the most contemporary feel. Were the drums in that more your influence than Lisa’s?
Definitely. All the percussion is pretty much my department. All the music in that is pretty much me, with Lisa singing over the top. That’s a good example of my work with Soma and my background in more electronic stuff, more textural stuff… It’s a good example of that sort of thing creeping into the work and that’s definitely an area that Lisa and I want to explore more. We don’t want to make another Duality . Lisa’s got a long history with Dead Can Dance, The Mirror Pool , Duality … Not to say that all those records are the same, but there’s a continuity there. We both got really excited by things like “Meltdown.” The film is great in that respect. It pushed us into little areas that maybe we wouldn’t have gone down and explored ourselves. We had to do so much work. There was a lot of demand placed upon us in that respect. It was hard work and a lot of pressure but it was great because things had to happen quickly and you couldn’t really sit around and debate about them too much. You just had to do them.
Were there any things you recorded that were left off the soundtrack?
A lot of material, yeah. There’s more music in the film that isn’t on the soundtrack. There’s more music that didn’t make it into the film. I think we ended up with about two hours of material.
What’s going to happen to the stuff that didn’t make it? Will it ever be released?
Yeah, I think so. There’s lots of legal issues involved, and we also have to respect the soundtrack, which has just come out. We can’t really release another CD at the same time. We have to let the official soundtrack have its own life. We definitely already had talked about releasing an album of other pieces as well. Hopefully, it won’t be too far away.
You first teamed with Lisa on her ’94 solo tour… How did that come about? Were the two of you already acquainted?
We got acquainted a couple of months before that tour. Lisa’s originally from Melbourne, Australia. Her and Brendan left Australia in, I think, 1980, and were pretty much based in Europe for about ten years. When she came back to live in Melbourne, we got introduced through a mutual friend. Lisa came and saw a band I was playing in at the time called Eden. At that particular stage, I was getting right into hand drums and Middle Eastern percussion. And I was studying Egyptian rhythms. I sort of come from an electronic background. She saw me playing and said, “Would you be interested in coming up to my studio and playing a bit of percussion?” This is when she was recording The Mirror Pool . I did. She also discovered while I was up there I could do the engineering/recording side of things as well. We went on the tour, came back. Then, I went on the Spiritchaser tour with Dead Can Dance. After that, we both came back to Melbourne. She began working on some ideas of what was going to be her second solo album. Once again, she said, “Would you want to come up and do a bit of percussion? A bit of engineering?” That eventually became the album Duality . It was during the making of Duality that I went from being like a session musician to creating a really closeknit partnership.
Had she already been familiar with your music?
Yeah, Sean Bowley was the mutual friend that introduced us. I think we’d sent her some CDs and demo tapes over the years. She was kind of familiar with what we were doing, but she wouldn’t have been aware that I was into hand percussion and things like that. I don’t think Eden really represented all the ideas that I had, all the things I was trying to do. She had a rough idea of what was going on.
Had you been a fan of Dead Can Dance?
Yeah, definitely. They were pretty influential along with things like the Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil when I was growing up and forming my own ideas about music. It was funny, because I used to pretty much ride my bike past Lisa’s house on the way to school every day, but at the time, I didn’t know that Lisa was from Melbourne or lived in the same suburb as me. So it was kind of ironic to later on find out that I was going past her place each day, probably as I was listening to Dead Can Dance on my headphones. I definitely had a respect for Dead Can Dance’s work.
Last Eden release was in ’94… What led to Eden’s end?
Sean Bowly–the guy who continued as Eden–released a few things after I left. The last one I was involved with was, I think, in 1993. An EP called Healingbow . That band Eden went back a few years. It was really like the first band I was involved with. So I just got to a point where I felt like I just needed to branch out and do some other things. It was around that stage that I sort of hooked up with Lisa and also began working with David Thrussel.
To someone not familiar with Eden or Snog or Soma but impressed with your collaborations with Lisa Gerrard, how would you describe your previous musical incarnations? Are they totally different entities? Is one any more like your work on Duality than the others?
The one thread that runs through them all — that runs through the work that I do — is a strong rhythmic sensibility and a sort of textural ambiance (for want of a better word). I’ve always written instrumentals. I’ve never done lyrics or vocals. All through the work with Eden — not so much with Snog — but definitely with Soma, there’s always been that filmic quality… When I work with Lisa, it’s a much more harmonious partnership. There’s more of a sense of purity about the work we do. Something like Soma will be more about a clash of ideas between myself and David Thrussel. There are similarities but there are going to be differences because there are different people involved. In things like Soma, there’ll be more beats. Not so much reverence, if you know what I mean, where the work with Lisa has that purity about it. The other things have a bit more edge, a bit more grittiness to them.
I’d read somewhere — I’m not sure whether it’d be Soma or Snog — you experimented in trip hop and drum n’ bass…
Yeah, that’s the Soma project. I’m a huge fan of dub. Old school dub people like Sly & Robbie and Lee “Scratch” Perry. And there’s a whole new generation of dub, sort of digidub thing. People like Bill Laswell, I really like his work. Most of the stuff I get into is European or English. If you’re into electronic music, the tradition is there in Europe. More so than America. So I just naturally gravitated towards the English things.
What about there in Melbourne? It seems like most of the people you work with are from there as well. Is there some sort of big thriving music scene that’s similar to what you’re doing?
There’s a fantastic scene in Melbourne. The thing is people don’t appreciate it. They think the scene must be really happening in New York or in Germany or in England. People here work really hard to try to get up to the level they think they need to. They don’t realize that the work they’re doing is of a really really high standard. But there’s a fantastic scene here that hasn’t really been tapped into. Most of the corporate record industry structure is in Sydney. Even just between Melbourne and Sydney, there’s a big difference between the scenes. Melbourne is very much non-corporate people doing very interesting work. In terms of that sort of thing, it’s a great place to go see different bands and pick up ideas and find other people to work with.
Are there any particular labels that pretty much just deal in bands out of Australia?
Not really. That’s what I mean when I say it’s kind of untapped. Things like Eden and Soma hardly got any response in Australia. All our response came from Europe. If we sell a thousand copies of a release in Australia, we’ll have a party. It’s just so hard to get any response in Australia from the general public if your music isn’t mainstream. There’s only eighteen million people here. The percentage of people that appreciate music that’s unusual doesn’t really make it. You couldn’t survive off selling CDs in Australia, but Europe has always had a great response. Places like France and Germany really respond well to a lot of the work that’s coming out of Melbourne.
What’s popular there?
Oh, the same stuff that’s popular in most Western countries. You’ve got all your Mariah Carey stuff.
It’s not a lot different here.
Sorry to hear that.
To further acquaint yourself with Pieter Bourke’s work: http://www.living-net.com/pieter-bourke/
For more information on Michael Mann’s The Insider : http://movies.go.com/insider/index_flash.html