Gavin Bryars and Juan Muñoz: A Man In A Room, Gambling (Complete) (CD, GB Records, 1992)

So, let’s start with the facts. This consists of ten works for string quartet, composed by Gavin Bryars and performed by the Balanescu Quartet, over which the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz reads instructions on how to cheat at cards. In some of the later segments, occasion phrases are repeated by a confused-sounding Japanese man (Yukio Fujishima, of whom the internet knows nothing except this credit). The readings are phrased as if they form part of a series of 5 minute radio programmes. The aim was to create a feeling like the shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4.

Sounds kinda strange, right? Well, it is kinda strange, but it’s also kinda awesome. String quartets aren’t the sort of thing I’d go for normally — I’m not a big fan of chamber music, although I’d obviously take your Bryars over your Schuberts every time — but it works well here, the dynamics of the music subtly complementing the phrasing of the readings. Muñoz’s voice is rich and soothing. The overall effect is gently hypnotic. A deft touch is the way each segment starts with something like “Good evening, and welcome back to A Man In A Room, Gambling”: that “back”, which is present right from the first episode, makes me feel like I’m dipping into some continuous narrative. Despite the difference in subject matter, there is a sense that this is a kindred spirit of the shipping forecast: not being be a card sharp, I don’t fully understand the technical instructions, and the effect is like I’m eavesdropping on a communication not intended for me, yet deeply appealing in its rhythmic syntax and repeated formulations. (I should mention that I am, or at any rate used to be, a bit of a shipping forecast junkie.) This does get some strange looks if I play it with people around, but I really like it.

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