Gavin and Me


(Click for better focus.) Consequent to the recent post I wrote about analyzing Gavin Bryars’s music, the man himself nicely got in touch with me, and since he was going to be in New York City anyway, we had lunch today, along with Tony Creamer (major supporter and fan of new music) and Norman Ryan, Gavin’s publisher at Schott. Gavin’s and my conversation really took off when we realized what big fans we both are of the music of Kaikhosru Sorabji; he was actually in touch with Sorabji, and presented the first concert of Sorabji’s music in Italy in 1979. I think it was the first time I’ve ever had a personal conversation with anyone who knew more about Sorabji than I do. And Gavin signed my copy of the score to his Piano Concerto “The Solway Canal,” which I bought at Doblinger’s in Vienna last week. Sorabji was heavily inspired by Busoni; I’ve always been heavily inspired by Busoni; Busoni’s Piano Concerto includes a male chorus; Gavin’s Piano Concerto includes a male chorus; the pianist Geoffrey Douglas Madge has made recordings of Busoni’s Piano Concerto, Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum, and my Sunken City Piano Concerto; and so on, Q.E.D. Or something. Busoni/Sorabji/Bryars/Gann is some kind of nexus of affinities.



  1. Bill B. says

    I’m so glad you mentioned Doblinger’s and am pleased that the store still exists (and long may that be so). Among my fondest memories of Vienna are the afternoons spent in the back room (the “previously owned” music room) where you could, and I did, find almost anything. I bought so much that the store offered to send it to the states free of charge (I wonder if they would still do that …). No serious musician’s trip to that city would be complete without a trip to Doblinger’s.

  2. says

    Thanks for “humanizing” Gavin Bryars here. When I was delivering some of my own CDs to a local library, the buyer, who was from England, raved to me about his music. Now that I am hearing about him twice, I will go take a listen.

    • says

      “Jesus Blood” one of those bucket list pieces. Oh! you’re in for a treat.

      And Kyle for Sorabjiites everywhere here’s Jonathan Powell playing Arabesque-nocturne from the recent WP of Piano Symphony No 06.

  3. says

    Hi Kyle,

    Glad you’ve met Gavin, who’s an amazing composer and thinker. If you’re interested, I’ve got a long passage in my chapter in the anthology Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research (University of Leuven Press, just out) on the scientific method that Gavin rigorously applied to all data on the sinking of the Titanic for his piece of the same name, whether that data was feasible or not. And coming up in Ben Piekut’s book Tomorrow is the Question: New Directions in Experimental Music (University of Michigan Press, early 2014), my chapter focuses on the so-called Leicester School of composition/performance, based around the music programme that Gavin created at Leicester Polytechnic/De Montfort University, where he gathered a kind of dream team of composers, performers, and improvisers (including John White, Dave Smith, Christopher Hobbs, Ian Mitchell, Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford and others). It shows that this group was the centre of a unique musical identity, ideology, and culture, which affected not just the education in the department, but also the thinking of the composers and performers who taught there.

    Gavin very kindly allowed me a long interview for this chapter. Unfortunately the Leicester performance course is gone, replaced by a rather more ‘usual’ music technology department, but for the time it lasted, the department focused on central figures like Satie, ‘also-rans’ of music history such as Sorabji and Lord Berners, arrangements for percussion ensemble (required of all students), experimental indeterminacy and free improvisation. No Great Works by right or by tradition. No Stockhausen, music complexity, Wagner, Brahms. Guest artists came by quite frequently; in fact, I often found more good concerts in Leicester than in London in the 1980s. It was a buzz of creativity all round, with interaction with the drama and dance departments (and visual arts early on). All because of Gavin Bryars.

    You would have loved it there, I think, Kyle.

  4. Nikolaus says

    Professor Gann,

    Could you share your thoughts on this quote by Steven Pinker?


    “As far as biological cause and effect are concerned, music is useless. It shows no signs of design for attaining a goal such as long life, grandchildren, or accurate perception and prediction of the world.

    Compared with language, vision, social reasoning, and physical know-how, music could vanish from our species and the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged. Music appears to be a pure pleasure technology, a cocktail of recreational drugs that we ingest through the ear to stimulate a mass of pleasure circuits at once.”

    KG replies: That’s way out of my pay scale. I’m still waiting for a scientist, any scientist, to say something about music that makes any difference.