Bryars and the late
Juan Muñoz collaborated on a
project that described card manipulation
– tricks, many of them from the writings
of S W Erdnase – in ten texts each lasting
five minutes. Bryars had remembered
the radio Shipping Forecast, that nightly
alert, and formulated the project to
appear after the evening news so that
listeners could encounter A Man in a
Room, Gambling rather as they would
the Shipping Forecast. The text, read
by Muñoz, was introduced exactly
the same way – Good Evening –
and ends at 4.52 precisely the same
way as well – Thank you and Good
Night. Accompanying the text is
a string quartet. They play at the same
sort of tempo throughout.
That’s the theory.
In practice I got out a deck of cards
and listened along. As Bryars warns
in his notes one momentary distraction
and one loses the thread completely.
I suffered ten such distractions and
finally contented myself with cutting
the pack and playing solitaire as I
listened, lacking the trickster’s mind
and ambition or indeed the rudimentary
intelligence to follow what I was being
told. The tricks are genuine by the
way – sorting three cards in a pack,
the Mexican Row etc.
What is fascinating
however are the little narrative incidents
that lend this project its strange power.
Muñoz opens the first programme
(Bottom Dealing), his Spanish accent
lending an even more complex narrative
twist to the proceedings, with the words
once again – a "once again"
to which we have not been privy and
which has presumably, so the conceit
must go, been going on for some time.
Immediately we are led into a teasing
and soothingly difficult world. The
quartet play music that is lyrical,
impressionistic, with aptly judged and
timed accompaniments to key moments
in the text, along with mock Wagnerian
portentousness. Did you see it?
asks Muñoz, twice, of one trick.
Each programme adheres pretty much to
this model – ostinati in the second
leading to real tension, unison strings
in the third – with increasing expressivity
especially for the lower strings prefiguring
the words, again twice, It’s
amazing, the repetitions taking
on dramatic narrative heightening. These
moments, addressed to the listener,
are both confidential and startling.
By Programme Five things
are beginning to come unstuck. A Japanese
speaker repeats certain words – who
he is or why he’s there we don’t know
– but Muñoz’s words as on
every evening envelop us in the
drowsy inevitability of it all, giving
us the promise of permanence and the
sense of a continuous, everlasting now.
A pizzicato opening to the Sixth programme
gives density and changing texture to
the inevitability of the announcer’s
unchanging introductory welcome and
it leads to some keening depth, almost
a threnody complexity and sense of anticipation
behind Taking Cards from the Bottom.
By Seven the Japanese voice is more
explicit, copying the Spanish reader,
getting words and phrases subtly wrong;
all this summons up a strange loop of
linguistic dislocation. In Nine, Three
Card Trick – The Mexican Row we hear,
behind Muñoz the tape sounds
of bustling Seville – a programme we
have actually heard previously but is
now placed in a new context of projected
al fresco crypto-realism. By now things
have moved beyond the anticipated to
a sense of heightened reality, the practical
application of learned lessons – and
it’s no surprise and yet still rather
sad when we hear Muñoz wish us
Good Night and Lots of Luck at
the end of Programme Ten. Now it’s down