Duration: c.30’
Instrumentation: bass clarinet, piano, 2 violas, cello, bass, percussion (one player: bells, vibraphone, tam-tam, bass drum)
First Performance: Alix Goolden Hall, Victoria Conservatory, Victoria BC, Canada June 19th 1999


April 1, 1999

Gavin’s Notes:

Unless The Eye Catch Fire (1999) (World premiere)

For 2 violas, cello, bass, piano, bass clarinet, percussion

I was very struck by the material sent to me last summer by film director Anna Tchernakova relating to her film based on the short story by P.K.Page. I read the story, I saw some early footage, I became acquainted with other work by P.K. and by Anna and I was very happy to make what is my first serious foray into writing music for a film. Music is central to the film, indeed the film itself will open and close with images from this concert performance. We agreed that the music should have an autonomous existence as chamber music and should not be merely a sequence of musical cues. It does, of course, endeavour to be at one with the poignancy of the text and the eloquence of its filmed realisation and ultimately forms part of an overall sound design.

The music is in 6 parts each having a relationship – sometimes clear sometimes oblique – to a simple chorale which appears in different guises. The first part is a short and simple statement of this chorale. Some sections begin with a statement of this material but then lead to different developments from it. In two sections (sections 2 and 4) the theme is not stated but rather covered by its development. The last variation, which features the unison double bass and bass clarinet, ends with a brief coda, reminiscent of a pipe lament. The instrumentation is close to that of my own ensemble which tends to feature the darker, richer sonorities of the lower strings, supported by the bass clarinet, allied to the brighter sounds of keyboard and tuned percussion. This instrumental balance and contrast – between darkness and light, richness and austerity – is intended to be at one with both text and film.

The six parts of Unless The Eye Catch Fire are as follows:

I Chorale

II Variation 1 – covered

III Variation 2 – major/minor

IV intermezzo

V Variation 3 – waltz

VI Variation 4 – minor/major



Gavin Bryars