Bryars: Biped

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bryars
LABELS: GB Records
WORKS: Biped
PERFORMER: James Woodrow (electric guitar), Takehisa Kosugi (violin), Sophie Harris (cello), Gavin Bryars (keyboard, double bass)
CATALOGUE NO: BCGBCD 02 (distr. New Note)
Critical metaphors abound for the various approaches adopted by composers who favour fairly spartan compositional techniques, so I’ll make no apology for describing this work as ‘oceanic’. From a distance an ocean seems to be a uniform, level surface. Move in closer and it becomes clear that the surface is in motion. Go beneath the surface and the whole environment is alive with constant movement, with currents and cross-currents, flurries of activity from the inhabitants and so on. With its seemingly homogenous structure actually being the sum of a great many smaller moving parts, Biped comes across in exactly this way. The instrumentation seems sparse, but sustained sounds predominate and the judiciously improvised percussion element adds some graceful punctuation. The harmonies and dynamics are for the most part quite conventional, but the wholly unpredictable transitions of detail allow the piece to be stimulating on one level yet tranquil on another.

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The recorded sound also juggles this paradox well, being somehow both precise and slightly distant (in a good way). Originally commissioned as a dance piece by Merce Cunningham, the music makes a fascinating aural experience. Roger Thomas