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The Marvellous Aphorisms of Gavin Bryars: The Early Years

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Uncle Dave Lewis
Unless you were the kind of super-connoisseur of the avant-garde to collect records on labels like Incus or Brian Eno's Obscure Records in the 1970s, chances are you've never heard very much of Gavin Bryars' early musical efforts. One of them, however, has become better known through a lucky coincidence; a slightly revised version of his then nearly three-decades-old composition "The Sinking of the Titanic" became sort of a classical "hit" when issued in 1997 amidst the furore attendant to James Cameron's film Titanic. Bryars early works were highly loose in terms of form, often consisting of no more than verbal instructions to aid their realization or consisting of a ...
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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Uncle Dave Lewis
Unless you were the kind of super-connoisseur of the avant-garde to collect records on labels like Incus or Brian Eno's Obscure Records in the 1970s, chances are you've never heard very much of Gavin Bryars' early musical efforts. One of them, however, has become better known through a lucky coincidence; a slightly revised version of his then nearly three-decades-old composition "The Sinking of the Titanic" became sort of a classical "hit" when issued in 1997 amidst the furore attendant to James Cameron's film Titanic. Bryars early works were highly loose in terms of form, often consisting of no more than verbal instructions to aid their realization or consisting of a computer printout of dots and dashes. Inspired by his participation in the Scratch Orchestra and Portsmouth Sinfonia and the influence of arch-English avant-gardist Cornelius Cardew, Bryars washed his hands of such music in 1972 and did not resume composition until 1975. From that time forward, Bryars pursued the conventionally notated, somber, and experimentally informed, but not "experimental" music that has since become his calling card. Mode's The Marvellous Aphorisms of Gavin Bryars: The Early Years is the first CD that revisits Bryars' 1969-1971 period in a retrospective fashion. The CD opens with Seth Josel's realization of Bryars' "The Squirrel of the Ricketty-Racketty Bridge," played on electric guitars laid flat on their backs, written for guitarist Derek Bailey and first recorded by him in 1971. Here guitarist Seth Josel plays the piece as prescribed and comes up with a result rather unlike Bailey's. Some who enjoyed the understated, retiring, and monastic qualities of Bailey's barely audible version may feel that Josel's more punk rock approach to "The Squirrel of the Ricketty-Racketty Bridge" is a bit more aggressive than Bryars intended. Nevertheless, Josel's result is just as valid as Bailey's, based on the minimal score material at hand. "The Squirrel of the Ricketty-Racketty Bridge" is just that variable, and Josel is a player coming from a wholly different set of experiences, background, and skill set from Bailey. "Pre-Mediaeval Metrics" is a 1970 composition never previously recorded, but performed at the time on BBC Television. The score is a computer printout, generated by old-fashioned punch cards, of dots and dashes representing short rhythmic pulses derived from metrical figures present in early chant. The combination of instruments is unspecified, but you only get to play one note. Realized on a number of instruments by Josel and Ulrich Krieger, at 15 minutes this performance is likely to challenge the most patient of listeners. The most approachable work on the disc is "Made in Hong Kong" 1970, written for toys and performed by Krieger, which is suitably eerie, subtle, and lasts just as long as it needs to. "1, 2, 1-2-3-4" 1971 is obviously inspired by the Portsmouth Sinfonia's deconstructions of popular classics. In it, a group of musicians plays along with cassettes of familiar music, structured with a set of pieces that gradually slow down, while listening to headphones. The cassettes are a little out of sync and no one listening to something and trying to play it at the same time is likely to accurately reproduce it. The performance of "1, 2, 1-2-3-4" is given by Krieger, Josel, guitarist Eli Friedmann, jazz pianist Yayoi Ikawa, and a rhythm section with bassist John Davis and drummer Kenny Growhowski; the sequence on the cassette is culled from Beatles' songs. One wishes they had chosen almost anything but the Beatles, deconstructed by many post-modern artists already; even though deconstructed, it still sounds like the original, only played in a manner sounding just like a band warming up prior to rehearsal or a recording session. One wants to like this; Bryars' concept is certainly an intriguing proposition, but the inevitable conclusion has to be that something about this Mode recording simply does not work. Perhaps had a different source been chosen -- say Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," or even various pieces of Johann Sebastian Bach -- it would have yielded a result that had more qualities of individuality. Rather than revealing the positive qualities of Gavin Bryars' early works, Mode's The Marvellous Aphorisms of Gavin Bryars: The Early Years serves more to indicate why Bryars left this milieu behind, emphasizing the conceptual weaknesses of this style. However, perhaps the exposure it will provide to this forgotten corner of the repertoire will inspire others to try and revisit some of these pieces -- older recordings reveal that there was something magical about Bryars' approach in these times, and the experience he gained from these experiments serves to enlighten us still.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 10/23/2007
  • Label: Mode
  • UPC: 764593017721
  • Catalog Number: 177
  • Sales rank: 285,466

Tracks

Disc 1
  1. 1 The Squirrel and The Ricketty Racketty Bridge, for guitars - Gavin Bryars & Gavin Bryars (10:58)
  2. 2 Pre-Mediaeval Metrics, for saxophones & guitars - Gavin Bryars & Gavin Bryars (15:25)
  3. 3 Made in Hong Kong, for various toys - Gavin Bryars & Gavin Bryars (10:40)
  4. 4 1, 2, 1-2-3-4, for ensemble - Gavin Bryars & Gavin Bryars (32:50)
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