Notes for Huddersfield for performance of early works


Occasional Writings

The Squirrel and the Ricketty-Racketty Bridge

This piece was written for guitarist Derek Bailey in 1971 for inclusion on one of the first Incus Records, a label devoted to free improvised music. Derek and I had worked together for a number of years, along with drummer Tony Oxley, in the trio Joseph Holbrooke, which developed from a jazz trio into one of the first free improvisation groups in England. I had abandoned improvised music in 1966 and in writing this piece wanted to give Derek an approach that he would not come across in his improvising (which is always extremely inventive). Consequently I produced a piece in which the guitarist has to play two guitars simultaneously, both placed flat on their backs, using a hammer technique like that of a keyboard players thereby producing a pair of notes from either side of the finger. One hand plays constant quavers, like a long-suffering bassist in conventional jazz, with two fingers across pairs of frets while the other plays isolated notes and phrases, like a lazy soloist. There are verbal phrases within the music which, like their equivalent in the music of Erik Satie, are for the eyes of the performer only. Many of these phrases are culled (with a sense of irony) from jazz critical writing of the period. The guitar is retuned slightly – to E, B, G sharp, D, B, E – giving an E7 chord and allowing for a plagal cadence (A7 – E7) at the end after a rallentando.

The piece can be played by multiples of players. The recording was done by Derek alone, but the first live performance was given by Derek Bailey and John Tilbury (playing four guitars of course) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, in 1972 – a programme that also included the first performances of The Sinking of the Titanic, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, and a guest spot by the Portsmouth Sinfonia. A second recording was made with four players/ eight guitars on Brian Eno’s Obscure Records (Derek Bailey, Gavin Bryars, Brian Eno, Fred Frith).

Pre-Mediaeval Metrics

Made in Hong Kong

Private Music

Marvellous Aphorisms are Scattered Richly throughout these pages

These four pieces were published by the Experimental Music Catalogue, which I edited up to its demise in 1981 (it has since been reanimated by Christopher Hobbs) and are not works which I have in my catalogue any more. However, they do form part of what I was doing in the late 60’s and early 70’s: a form of experimental music that owed a great deal to the work of the Fluxus movement, especially to George Brecht and LaMonte Young’s early text pieces. The last three of them use only text as notation and were published in EMC’s Verbal Anthology, although the last one had a photograph as part of its notation in the original publication.

Pre-Mediaeval Metrics is a piece comprising entirely rhythms derived from the permitted combinations of metric patterns in Latin poetry. It can be played by any instrument or group of instruments.

Made in Hong Kong uses any number and kind of mechanical toys, musical and otherwise – an instrumentation which appeared frequently in experimental music, especially in works such as Cardew’s Schooltime Compositions.

Private Music was the first of a number of pieces in which only part of the musical or other information was available to the audience. In most the performer monitors material via headphones or other devices and passes on elements of this to the audience. The effect may be compared to hearing one side of a telephone conversation, something that was far less common in 1971 than it is now…. One possible role for the listener is to deduce what the total material might be.

Marvellous Aphorisms are Scattered Richly throughout these pages used a specially constructed pair of garments to conceal any number of mechanical or battery-operated electrical devices within them. I had bought a very large overcoat in 1968 at the Champaign-Urbana Salvation Army and two years later I had a fashion student at Portsmouth College of Art make lots of pockets in the lining, as well as make a waistcoat with lots of pockets to go under it. The various devices were put inside these pockets, the coat was buttoned up thereby concealing the devices and the performer activated them by fumbling within the coat. There is a photograph of me modelling this outfit in Michael Nyman’s book Experimental Music, a photograph showing a slim composer, with long curly hair and a moustache……

Gavin Bryars





Gavin Bryars