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Carolyn Carlson and Gavin Bryars have worked together several times over the last fifteen years. Initially Carolyn used some of his music for her work, notably A Man in a Room, Gambling and Sub Rosa, but later they hve made new works through collaboration. They made together her solo work Writings on Water for the Venice Biennale, with a string orchestra conducted by Bryars, and this was subsequently performed in Paris, Madrid and Montpellier. Her Giotto solo, to Bryars’ The Black River, was performed with the composer as organist, at a chateau in Normandy.
Pneuma, however, is the first full-length ballet that they have created together. The ideas come from Carolyn’s reading of the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s Air and Dreams, allied to other poetic and visual sources (notably the extraordinary Book of Symbols), and focuses on seven specific extracts from this work. The music takes the same seven sections for its overall structure, though in a less specific way. The orchestration has some unusual aspects. For example, violins are omitted giving a richer, darker and homogeneous string sound – something that Bryars has done many times, starting with his first opera Medea, at Lyon and Paris, in 1984. The wind section too comprises dark sonorities, with no flutes or oboes. In addition there is the addition of the remarkable improvising turntablist Philip Jeck, with whom Bryars has worked for many years – on several versions of The Sinking of the Titanic, and on The Stones of the Arch (for the Kronos Quartet and Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices).