John Berger (Times)


Occasional Writings

The appearance of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing in 1972 coincided with the beginning of a three-year period when I wrote no music. I was teaching in a Fine Art department at the time and had been inveigled into doing some art history teaching (which I had never done before) by my friend and colleague Fred Orton. Eventually Fred and I taught together a two-year course on the work of Marcel Duchamp. John Berger’s book and the extraordinary television series, where he gives the impression of having no script, was an inspiration and I found his whole approach to looking at art so incredibly fresh and original. There was no way that I could match the breadth of his knowledge about art, but I could, and did, try to emulate his ability to make surprising connections.

25 years later we met, in Madrid when I was working with Juan Muñoz, and we became friends. As it happens he cannot be at the performances of my work with Juan in Madrid this month since he is so involved with the season of his work in England. I was happy, though, to write music for the radio (and now CD) version of his correspondence with John Christie I Send You this Cadmium Red where he demonstrates again, as in the TV series, his unique ability as a performer. It was there too in his quasi-improvised meditation on a penknife at the memorial for Juan at the Tate Modern in 2001.

Perhaps he should do a sequel – Ways of Talking. He can make you think that you are the only person in the world to hear what he is saying and he is certainly the most intelligent person I have ever met.

Gavin Bryars