Gavin BRYARS (b.1943)
I Send You This Cadmium Red [43:03]
The Island Chapel (1997) [18:19]
John Christie and John Berger (speaking voices, I Send You…) with Roger Heaton (clarinets), James Woodrow (electric guitar), Bill Hawkes (viola), Gavin Bryars (double-bass). Melanie Pappenheim (voice) Sophie Harris (cello) Gavin Bryars (electric keyboard, The Island Chapel)
rec. BBC 2002 (I Send You…), and St. Nicholas’ Chapel, St. Ives, Cornwall, UK, 1997 (The Island Chapel)

The book “I Send You This Cadmium Red” is a series of correspondence - letters, not e-mails - between the authors, filmmaker/artist John Christie and writer/critic/artist John Berger. These artists had worked together before, but the whole subject or starting point of the content on this CD commenced in 1997 when, on enquiring on whether he would like to begin another project, John Berger replied to John Christie, “Just send me a colour.” The initial references to and opinions and definitions given to various colours widen to broader questions and issues: artistic, philosophical, literary or poetic. The calmly read and intriguingly paced letters are accompanied by Gavin Bryar’s slowly moving, darkly instrumented chorale, which suits the texts well and lends weight to the words. The whole project is turned into an ‘art’ work with added depth and resonance. I did find myself listening to the music more than the words and then realising I hadn’t absorbed the spoken content, but this is part of the fun of this kind of recording: one can always go back and focus on different things.
I Send You This Cadmium Red is very nicely produced in what was originally a BBC broadcast, and only misses the visual elements of all the drawings and other handmade artifacts which make the original book such a fascinating work of art in its own right.
The disc is rounded off with a piece by Gavin Bryars called The Island Chapel, written specifically for performance in St. Nicholas Chapel in St. Ives and with one of those serendipitous connections with John Christie which makes its inclusion here entirely logical. The location specific nature of the music is somewhat lost in the swathes of electronic keyboard noise, which washes through most of the music and gives it a rather androgynous new-agey feel. Melanie Pappenheim sings the moody texts by Etel Adnan with appropriate tenderness, but while the ideas of light and space are initially communicated effectively I found myself becoming profoundly irritated by that electronic synth sound at a very basic level. I have nothing against electronics, but do have issues when a vague imitation of an entire string orchestra is being constantly served up where the environment and sense of natural spirituality would seem to cry out for something far more organic. The solo cello is as good as lost in the general sound picture, and the whole thing might as well have been shoved together in a home studio. I really gain no sense of place, and while Bryars’ music is as usual attractively harmonised and lyrical, the only thing I take away is that keyboard buzzing in my ears. Gavin Bryars’s almost trademark sounds of bowed vibraphone and the like would seem to have been almost made for this ‘less is more’ concept, so I really have no idea on which rails this piece is supposed to be running.
The only other annoying thing about this is the booklet, which, cleverly illustrated with chunks of primary colour, renders a sizeable section of black-on-dark-blue text as good as illegible. I Send You This Cadmium Red is an intriguing and effectively produced production - something a cut above the usual kinds of things you find on audio books. The content is essentially more book than music, but the whole is one of mutual enhancement. I’m not sure it is something I will play much after having run through it a few times for this review, but the idea is inspiring and filled with food for the imagination.
Dominy Clements