Discovering New Order in New Places

by Michael Bratt


To the Curious Individual in Charge of the Music Selection at the Giant on Town and Country, You don’t know me; we’ve never met. I’m a composer whose specialty is in experimental, ambient, electroacoustic music. All that mumbo jumbo simply means is that I write music where electronics are integrated with acoustic instruments in weird ways. My wife once claimed that my music resembled “a robot cat that was put through a blender.” Her words. But I consider myself an expert in this area and have a Doctor of Musical Arts degree to back up that claim. Since I live nearby, I frequent your establishment. And lately while at your Giant, the one on Town and Country, I’ve found myself humming along to the ubiquitous Muzak. Humming along. At your Giant. And while I’ve found myself paying closer attention to the music playing at other Giant Supermarkets in the area, only your playlist has me humming. So, congratulations, Curious Individual. You and you alone have done it – you’ve figured out my favorite type of popular music: Britpop from the 1980’s. Of all the Britpop bands from the 80s—Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, Adam and the Ants, Stone Roses, The Cure, and so on—there is one band that reigns supreme: New Order. They move me, every time. Few bands were as innovative as the Manchester quartet and even fewer have influenced the entire generation of dance music that followed. What you may not know, Curious Individual, is that New Order was previously a punk band called Joy Division, which was formed by guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist Peter Hook after they attended a Sex Pistols concert. Their frontman Ian Curtis suffered from a number of personal issues: a marriage on the rocks and epilepsy. (Reports say he even had seizures on stage during concerts). Sadly, the pressure of it all was simply too much to bear and Ian Curtis ultimately killed himself. From the ashes of his death, New Order was formed. In 1981, New Order found their way stateside to New York City, where all of their equipment was immediately stolen. But rather than spend all of their money rebuying gear, they made a choice that changed everything. They invested in synthesizers and drum machines instead of guitars and drums. At this time, the new wave scene was just beginning. The band was really taken by all of the new sounds and it radically transformed them. Among their new instruments was a Moog Source synth, an Emulator sampler and the Oberheim DMX drum machine, which were encouraged to talk to one another using a home-made sequencer Bernard Sumner, who was also now the lead vocalist, had made. This equipment would be used to create the widely popular single “Blue Monday” in 1983. Yes, Curious Individual, New Order certainly wasn’t the first band that used these instruments and they weren’t the last. What made New Order unique, however, was how they integrated these new musical elements. They brought their own voice and energy to their output. They carried the sensibility of London’s post-punk scene and breathed new life. The success and failures of the past only brought gravitas to the quartet. New Order had something to sing about. They had something to say. As a composer, I learned quite a bit about my own music through New Order. It started an infatuation with music hardware that I have yet to grow out of. I love analog gear; it’s quirky and doesn’t always do what you expect. Today, I use a lot of the same equipment New Order did. In fact, you can imagine my jealousy when a close friend was gifted a Moog Source. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from New Order is that equipment is fascinating, but what defines your music is how you use your tools. New Order was great because they were able to get that equipment to do their bidding. They controlled it and not the other way around. So if we ever meet, Curious Individual, I’m the guy that’s humming in the aisle to “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again” or “True Faith,” as he’s picking up another gallon of milk. And if our paths do cross, know that we have that instant connection, one embodied in the music you chose to play overhead, and that I approve. In fact, you probably deserve a raise. Sincerely, Michael Bratt


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Michael Bratt is a modern experimental composer whose music has been described as “traveling through a circuit board at the speed of light" (Cleveland Classical), and “bursting with inventive, energetic spirit” (The Plain Dealer). Dr. Bratt has received numerous honors including official selection at the Foro Internacional De Música Nueva Manuel Enríquez 2013, Composer/Fellow for the Canton Symphony Orchestra 2008-2009, regional finalist for the 2008 SCI Student Composer Commission, 2007 Verdehr Trio Composition Contest, honorable mention at the 2007 Minnesota Orchestra Institute, and the 2005 Bain Murray Composition Award among others.


He has been commissioned by many organizations including The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, The Cleveland Clinic, The Cleveland Public Theatre, The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, and others. Having attended Kent State University, Berklee College of Music, Cleveland State University (B.M., M.M.), and the Cleveland Institute of Music (D.M.A.), Dr. Bratt has an extensive background in modern music. He has studied with many award-winning composers such as Keith Fitch, Margaret Brouwer, Paul Schoenfield, Andrew Rindfleisch, and Greg D’Alessio. He has also taken master classes with Pulitzer Prize winning composers Bernard Rands, Michael Colgrass, Melinda Wagner and the late Donald Martino.

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