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Classical - Released May 26, 1993 | Decca Music Group Ltd.

Distinctions Sélection du Mercury Prize
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Classical - Released September 5, 1994 | Decca Music Group Ltd.

One of the two works for which composer Gavin Bryars is best known (the other being "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet"), his epochal "The Sinking of the Titanic" had been recorded three times in the 25 years since its creation. The first, for Brian Eno's Obscure label, was a landmark recording, but went swiftly out of print and became a much sought after collector's item, while the third, a relatively bland performance on Point, was widely distributed in the late '90s. In between, on the independent Belgian label Les Disques du Crepuscule, Bryars recorded what is possibly the definitive version though again, it is a difficult disc to locate. The composition is an attempt to metaphorically replicate the disaster of 1912 utilizing various elements associated with it, including the songs and hymns reported played on board that evening both before the iceberg was struck and as the ship was sinking. It's structured as an "open" piece, in that material subsequently uncovered may be added and information that becomes discredited may be discarded. The overall mood is, befittingly, sub-aqueous with long sustained tones on the strings, bass clarinet, and horn written to give the impression of sounds traveling great distances beneath the sea. This album was recorded in a large, abandoned water tower that adds enormously to its reverberative nature. The hymns used (particularly "Autumn," which modern listeners will recognize as being very similar to "Amazing Grace") take on a remarkably plaintive and ethereal character as the image of an undersea orchestra takes form. Bryars also incorporates taped narration from survivors and various underwater sounds, including the forlorn pinging of sonar, carrying the enormous and melancholy weight of searchers for the wreckage. Indeed, much of the great success of this work is its combination of minimalist compositional technique, the emotional impact of the hymns, and the scientific examination of the event from a distance over time. Always in the background is Bryars' romantic notion of the sounds of the drowning orchestra still reverberating beneath the waves. The Sinking of the Titanic is arguably one of the signal compositions of the 20th century and an extraordinarily beautiful work. While the performance on the Point label is serviceable, the interested listener is well advised to search out either this recording or the original on Obscure. © TiVo
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Vocal Music (Secular and Sacred) - Released April 25, 2005 | GB Records

For purists, Gavin Bryars has raised issues of appropriation in his contemporary adaptations of fourteenth century Cortonese laude, but it is sometimes difficult to know how much of the material on Oi Me Lasso he has quoted and how much he has elaborated. In their original form, these sacred songs were written for unaccompanied soprano voice; one can be sure that the drones, passing dissonances, and instrumental parts are Bryars' inventions, and that he has reshaped the pure vocal lines to his own expressive needs. Devotees of early music will blanch at the liberties Bryars takes -- particularly in his use of viola, cello, and double bass -- but casual listeners who liked Chant and other serene discs promoted in the 1990s as "chill-out" music will welcome this gentle, meditative CD. Indeed, the melismatic parts for soprano Anna Maria Friman and tenor John Potter are relaxing and beautiful in their elegant contours and melancholy modes, and nothing loud or abrasive disrupts the placid mood that is maintained from beginning to end. Add to this the warmth of the performances, the crystalline reproduction in a resonant venue, and the informative booklet with complete texts, and this is sure to be a favorite among Bryars' already popular albums. © TiVo
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Classical - Released August 5, 2016 | GB Records

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Classical - Released November 20, 2015 | GB Records

Ensemble Pieces is a fascinating early collection of four pieces by three composers, two of whom would go on to achieve considerable popularity with works far less experimental than those captured here. Christopher Hobbs, who, at age 18, had become a member of the legendary improvising group AMM, was still in his mid-twenties when he composed the two striking pieces represented herein. "Aran" is a brief, extremely colorful for reed organs, percussion, and toy pianos that manages to evoke ancient Britain and contemporary minimalism at the same time in a delightful manner. His "McCrimmon Will Never Return," for two reed organs, similarly reminds one of Scottish bagpipe music while clearly owing a debt to Terry Riley's electric organ explorations. Nonetheless, it stands on its own as an absorbing work. John Adams' "American Standard" is one of his earliest pieces and might be the first to be recorded. He uses references to certain brands of Americana (Sousa, religious hymns, and Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady") as a basis for three thoughtful and provocative excursions into aspects of minimalism rarely visited. In the second section, subtitled "Christian Zeal and Activity," he uses a found tape of a radio talk show. One can see where Brian Eno, who produced this recording, may well have gotten the seed for his 1980 collaboration with David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. At the time of this recording, Gavin Bryars was still composing works of an extreme and imaginative experimental bent and the charmingly tilted, "1, 2, 1-2-3-4" is a wonderful example. The ten performers wear headphones over which their part is played. They are to play along as well as possible but, since they cannot hear their companions and due to the vagaries of cassette machines and speeds thereof, they necessarily go out of sync, possibly out of tune as well. The result is a dreamlike piece with generally jazz-based themes where the dislocations and disjunctions seem oddly natural and proper. © Brian Olewnick /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 8, 2008 | LTM Recordings

After a period of silence in the early '70s where Gavin Bryars, by his own account, "wrote little or no music," he embarked on a new series of pieces that marked a profound change from his early experimental, minimalist phase. That period included The Sinking of the Titanic (1970), a work whose score is a written text that contains not a note of music, but usually produces similar results from one performance to the next. When Bryars got back into the game of composing in 1975, he embarked upon a path that comes midway between the minimalist strategies of Titanic and the fully scored, though understated, neo-classic idiom he has pursued since the late '80s. These pieces still evolve as much from oblique strategies -- to borrow a phrase from Bryars' one-time collaborator, Brian Eno -- as from specified music, and reap the benefits of Bryars' particular preferences in harmony, his interest in the re-creation of the works of others, and in improvisation. Hommages summarizes this period excellently well; it was originally released on the Belgian Disques du Crepuscule label in 1981, an album very difficult to locate outside of Belgium, though some in the know managed to obtain it. Even though the master tape has developed a bit of flutter, goes out of phase, and has other preservation-related issues, this is a highly valuable re-release for fans of Bryars. Bryars' fellow composers -- Dave Smith, John White, and Christopher Hobbs for example -- interpret the works on these recordings, perhaps as the performing community wasn't quite yet on the same page with Bryars and his style, which emphasizes intuition. A high point is My First Homage, which evokes and transforms the idiom of Bill Evans circa 1961, much as Bryars' first collaborative excursion in the group Joseph Holbrooke did a little closer to that point in time. Its relaxed, exploratory ambience should appeal very strongly not only to fans of Evans but also of Brian Wilson; although implacably English, it's just as strongly evocative of California as it is London in 1981. Though written for percussion, The English Mail-Coach has a monolithic efficiency similar to the effect of the Misha Mengelberg pieces that Bryars' close friend Derek Bailey was so fond of playing, such as like Where Are the Police?, whereas The Vespertine Park is atmospheric and redolent of open field, like My First Homage as reconceived in the daytime. Written for a dance ensemble, of the pieces here, Hi-Tremolo is most easily reconciled to the minimalist idiom of the time. The bonus tracks, Out of Zaleski's Gazebo and Danse Dieppoise, were recorded earlier than the rest for a projected album that did not achieve release at the time, and as these tapes were never used, they sound brighter and more immediate than the balance of Hommages. Out of Zaleski's Gazebo is an uncharacteristically loud and extroverted piece that "rocks" in a rhythmic sense; Danse Dieppoise has a wandering sense of intonation unique in Bryars' work; however, in other ways it presages his mature style as it began to definitively emerge in the 1990s. It seems appropriate to say that without the piece of the puzzle that Hommages represents, one cannot get a grasp of Bryars' particular musical alchemy; therefore, it is essential. Although unavailable for a long, long time, there is no reason why devotees of Bryars would want to pass Hommages, and for them, its return to the catalog really is something to write home to Mom about. © TiVo
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Classical - Released November 21, 2005 | GB Records

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Classical - Released March 1, 1991 | ECM New Series

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Classical - Released April 14, 2014 | GB Records

Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic, the genesis of which dates back as far as 1969, is one of the classics of British minimalist music. The piece is related to other minimalist works that use spoken words and other preexisting material, but it stands apart from Steve Reich and the other specialists in this technique. It shares with certain works of Arvo Pärt the quality of having evolved as its musical life has proceeded, but this evolution is different from and more organic than anything Pärt has achieved. The Sinking of the Titanic takes as its inspiration the story, by now familiar above all from James Cameron's film treatment, of how a string quartet on board the doomed ship continued to play as it went down. Bryars uses a specific Episcopal hymn, called "Autumn," and takes an imaginative leap, suggesting that the sound waves of the stringed instruments continued to reverberate under the ocean's surface. It is this idea that has been realized in multiple ways, here with a small ensemble of instruments, spoken words, prerecorded material, and a turntablist. The string quartet at the work's center (two violas, cello, and double bass) is augmented this time around by a second, lower quartet, played by the composer's four children. These forces make their way through the 15 sections into which the work has been divided here (in earlier incarnations there have been fewer sections, in one case just one). The cumulative effect is extraordinarily powerful, mixing entirely abstract concepts with direct evocations of the disaster, and the several minutes of wild applause at the end of the live performance are retained. (No venue is specified beyond the 2012 tour by the composer and his Gavin Bryars Ensemble.) Highly recommended, even for those quite familiar with the work. © James Manheim /TiVo
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Chamber Music - Released February 9, 2009 | GB Records

Choreographer Edouard Locke presented Gavin Bryars with the challenge of creating a new ballet incorporating selections from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, but arranged for a chamber ensemble and filtered through a contemporary artistic sensibility. Bryars responded with a series of movements that are recognizably derived from Tchaikovsky's familiar scores but are clearly newly imagined. Scored for the dark-hued ensemble of two violas, cello, and piano, each of the movements retains one or more elements of the original -- the melodic shape, or rhythm, or harmonic progression, or emotional tone -- but refracted through a distorting lens that creates a mixed sensation of familiarity and strangeness. Bryars is largely successful; the result is a somewhat odd mixture of conventional nineteenth Romanticism and postmodern eclecticism, but it works as a large-scale piece of music to accompany a dance. For the staged performances, Locke also interspersed Bryars' movements with short pieces by David Lang, most of which are not discernibly derived from Tchaikovsky, which are recorded here, as well as a series of soundscapes by Blake Hargreaves, which are not. Violists Jennifer Thiessen and Jill van Gee, cellist Elisabeth Giroux, and pianist Njo Kong Kie perform with panache and vitality. The sound is clear, well-balanced, and nicely ambient © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 2000 | CBC

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Classical - Released December 22, 2017 | GB Records

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Classical - Released November 20, 2015 | GB Records

Out from the silence, a lone tramp raises his frail voice in song "Jesus blood never failed me yet, this one thing I know, for he loves me so...." Originally recorded as footage for a documentary that was never released, this unidentified man's voice serves as both a backdrop and a centerpiece for Gavin Bryars' touching but challenging epic, running over 74 minutes in length. Some critics prefer the out-of-print 1975 recording (released on Brian Eno's Obscure Records label) because it was shorter, though Bryars' personally felt limited by the time restrictions of vinyl pressings. When compact discs hit the scene, he set about to lengthen and re-orchestrate the piece and make the most of the format. This newer version on Point Music still inches along gracefully enough, but over time listeners may identify more and more with the hobo's fatigue. The field recording of the old man is quoted to be a favorite of junkyard minstrel Tom Waits, who shows up here near the finale of the piece to sing alongside and around the tramp in unison and in counter melodies. In the final minutes, Waits is left to sing alone with high strings, only to wander off into the cavernous darkness from which the piece came. This melancholy and repetitive disc may test the patience as it wears on, though Bryars squeezes every drop of sweetness he can into the slowly shifting score. It is said that no matter how many different ways you paint a house, it is still essentially the same house. Here, it is the hobo's verse that holds the piece together, but ironically it's also the thing that keeps it from taking flight with its relentless constancy; it is repeated over 150 times. The meditative and haunting qualities this disc should have run dry quickly, but if the concept of this piece is intriguing, turn instead to Bryars' far superior piece, "The Sinking of the Titanic," for a more rewarding experience. © TiVo
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Classical - Released July 15, 2016 | GB Records

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Classical - Released September 1, 1986 | ECM New Series

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Rock - Released April 22, 2012 | GB Records

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Classical - Released April 5, 2010 | GB Records

This recording of music by Gavin Bryars, featuring his Ensemble, was made live at the 2008 Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway, and is testimony to his commitment to the particular vitality of live performance. The pieces, written between 2002 and 2008, are laudas, a form of non-liturgical religious song in Latin that flowered between the 13th and 16th centuries. Laudas were simple, popular songs, accessible to performers and audiences without musical training, and Bryars essentially sticks to that definition, although the listener is grateful that the singers recorded here have beautiful, obviously trained voices, because Bryars' laudas are not always so simple that just anyone could pick them up. The melodies are mostly modal and often follow the contours of medieval song; in fact, it's possible to imagine that, except for the accompaniment of the Gavin Bryars Ensemble (viola, cello, double bass, electric guitar, and on a few tracks, trumpet), these could be songs written half a millennium ago. Fans of the composer will recognize his stylistic imprint in these pieces, in their generous lyricism and piquant harmonies. Soprano Anna Maria Friman and tenor John Potter sing with exceptional purity and intensity, sometimes as soloists and sometime in duet, and several tracks feature instrumental versions of the songs. Almost every track uses a different combination of voices and instruments, so the album has an engaging diversity of timbres that offsets the melodic similarity of some of the songs. The Bryars Ensemble plays his understated accompaniments with delicacy, subtly complementing the voices and never overwhelming them. The sound is very close, but clean and ambient. This appealing CD should be of interest to fans of the composer and of contemporary vocal music, and perhaps to early music fans as well © Stephen Eddins /TiVo
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Classical - Released April 22, 2003 | GB Records

One welcome side-development that has happened largely because of the so-called "classical music crisis" is the advent of prominent composers, such as Philip Glass and Brian Eno, beginning their own boutique labels. This has led to the introduction of some works to the active catalog that we would not otherwise have enjoyed, and it is particularly appropriate that British composer Gavin Bryars has joined the fold with his own GB Records. The first release, although numbered as "002," is Biped, Bryars' 1999 ballet score for Merce Cunningham's dance company. Bryars leads an ensemble of only four musicians, playing keyboard and bass, Sophie Harris performs on the cello, James Woodrow contributes Robert Fripp-esque and spaghetti western-styled electric guitar, and Cunningham's regular music director Takehisa Kosugi is allowed to improvise on violin and percussion. One would swear this has to be a bigger group, and Bryars utilizes a pre-recorded "bed," but most of the music is obviously live. As in all things Bryars, Biped is very low-key, establishing a sort of tense stasis in the opening sections, with quiet, but ominous percussion thundering in the distance. The middle section is sparser, with isolated details and gestures coming in and out of a three-dimensional perspective to add up to a mysterious, luminous nocturnal landscape. From the fourth section the music opens up to reveal a harmonious plateau that has been lurking underneath the texture much of the time, bringing the work to a conclusion in the final two sections that is both satisfying and rewarding. While the running time of 45 minutes may seem a tad short for some, Biped is a complete musical experience in itself and does not need, nor does it seem to invite, filler material. At times Biped could make one think of Merce Cunningham's feet -- leathery and somewhat twisted out of shape from their long use in dance, but sinewy and incredibly strong with not a square centimeter of fat. Bryars' music has never been represented on disc in any measure commensurate with his ability to create it, and hopefully GB Records will be able to attract enough support to continue filling the gap. © TiVo
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Classical - Released April 22, 2003 | GB Records

Lockerbie Memorial Concert is the third release on composer Gavin Bryars' boutique label GB Records, and is taken from a concert given December 21, 1998, at Westminster Cathedral as an observance of the 10th anniversary of the explosion of Pam Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Likely an act of terrorism, this event claimed 270 lives, one of them being sound engineer Bill Cadman, a close friend of the composer. The audience for this carefully chosen program included family members of Lockerbie disaster victims, and they were treated to an evening of music presented by the Hilliard Ensemble and Fretwork under the direction of Bryars himself. Of the original Bryars works featured here, Incipit Vita Nova, In Nomine (after Purcell), and the Cadman Requiem have appeared on CD before any studio-made recordings, although Incipit Vita Nova is presented in a configuration for an instrumental consort rather than for voices and strings as on the ECM New Series album Vita Nova. For most Bryars' fans, the Point Music disc of Cadman Requiem came and went so quickly, copies of it appeared impossible to locate, let alone obtain. So consequently, much of this music will come to us as new, and Lockerbie Memorial Concert is definitely the first release of anything from Bryars' First Book of Madrigals. Along the way, the program is spiced with older works by Antoine Busnois, Henry Purcell, Nicolas Gombert, and John Jenkins. Westminster Cathedral, needless to say, is a live and very loud room, and there is some kind of constant ambient background noise throughout the recording. The performance, however, comes off without a hitch, excepting a measure or two of stray intonation in the Cadman Requiem -- given the typically subtle, yet wayward harmonies of Bryars' idiom that's not too bad an average, even for a singing group as expert as the Hilliard Ensemble. Nevertheless, these details are small and insignificant when one measures the overall impact of the Lockerbie Memorial Concert, which seems to have been a moving and meaningful one for those who attended, and doubtless was a memorable event for the composer. The flow between the older works and Bryars' newer ones is seamless, and it is an excellent example of the sense of identification with Renaissance and early Baroque music that Bryars explores in his work, in addition to an emotional and dignified memorial to those whose voices were silenced forever. © TiVo
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Rock - Released October 23, 2007 | Mode