Virgin Editions EG
Michael Nyman Band
Andrew Findon: tenor, baritone saxophone
David Fuest: clarinet, bass clarinet
John Greaves: bass guitar
John Harle: soprano, alto saxophone
Michael Nyman: piano, kurzweill
Elisabeth Perry: violin, viola
David Roach: soprano, alto saxophone
Stephen Saunders: bass trombone, euphonium
This work has a complex history. In its visual form it was commissioned as a part of a Channel 4 series of artists’ videos. Paul Richards and I cooked up a rich brew: the kiss itself acted out according to a minimal narrative by a male and female singer; a text taken from art history (only loosely, if at all, related to this narrative), and the Qantel paintbox used to paint over in real time the recorded video images (a pioneering technique in 1985).
The early musical decisions were structural: it was essential for me that the two singers should come from two different vocal traditions -the male from the classical, trained, ‘reading’ tradition, the female from the popular, self-trained, non-reading world (and it was preferable if her native language were not English -there had been some loose talk that she should represent an Etruscan). The two singers would sing at a distance, in alternating sections, only joining together at the end in a kind of duet in which their texts presented conflict rather than agreement. The baritone part, written for Omar Ebrahim, would be rather normal, stiff, controlled, while Anne Pigalle’s part was looser more improvisational, less secure. For the sound-only version on the record Dagmar Krause took over the female part, giving it a unique colour and intensity.
The text is an assemblage of extracts from various 15th [century texts, keeping phrases such as] “Images were introduced because people cannot retain what they hear but they do remember if they see images”, deliciously open to misinterpretation: I deliberately and ironically wanted to give the erroneous impression that I believed that the visual images that are frequently combined with my music are stronger that the musical images; whereas in fact the text referred to the introduction of painted religious images which were provided for the unlearned, who were unable to understand or remember biblical texts. (One critic, at least, came to my defence.)
Musically, The Kiss took a small corner field with added sixths from a larger-scale work I was composing at the time (Basic Black, choreographed by Farell Dyde for the Houston Ballet) and magnified it. (Curiously enough the two-piano version of Basic Black, Taking a Line for a Second Walk, was ‘improvised over’ by Dagmar Krause in a memorable concert at the Bloomsbury Theatre in 1986 in which Evan Parker similarly ‘covered’ the two-piano version of Water Dances.) And the musical family tree developed as the repeating 2-bar meoldy that closes The Kiss became the opening of Vital Statistics, an opera written in 1987 in collaboration with Paul Richards and Victoria Hardie which in some respects develops some of the musical and conceptual material of The Kiss, which thus became an unperformed, remembered prologue.
The Kiss was subtitled ‘an operatic duet’ and has spawned an opera which itself is incomplete (and currently in the process of becoming something else). Nose-List Song, specially written for this album and as yet (like The Kiss and Tango between the lines) unperformed live (unlike all my other recorded work), is the fourth ‘number’ in my projected Tristam Shandy opera which occupied me sporadically during the eighties (and awaits a commission for completion during the nineties). As occasion demanded, when a text was required for a particular purpose, I would leaf through Sterne’s masterpiece for something suitable, and on this occasion I turned almost at random to Chapter 1 of Volume IV, ‘Slawkenbergius’s Tale’. A stranger rides into the town of Strasbourg, having travelled from the promontory of Noses. His own nose immediately becomes the centre of public interest and elicits comments of wonderment from bystanders. The text for Nose-List Songextracts all the descriptions of the stranger’s nose and strings them together in a list. This is the third of my vocal lists -the second is a list, made by Sterne himself (Tristam Shandy, Volume VII Chapter 12) of a bizarre vocabulary of love (Love is Certainly, at least Alphabetically Speaking, 1983) while the first is Bird List Song, written for performance in Peter Greenaway’s film The Falls in 1980. This consists of a series of names of birds (unknown to me at the time) sung, or rather intoned, by a soprano on a high A which happens to be the note common to four dominant sevenths (A - F - B - D) which provide the unvarying harmonic underpinning to a series of contiuously evolving, overlayed instrumental melodies. Nose-List Song takes these four dominant sevenths, disposes them in a variety of different permutations as the starting point for a wrok more differentiated -by means of changes in tempo and dynamics, and a less restricted voice part- than its ‘model’, Bird List Song.
Tango between the Lines
A musical ‘alloy’ bringin together two difficult but realted musical materials. the connection with the tango is somewhat imaginary.
Images were Introduced
The first of a number of memorable collaborations with, explorations of, the sheer beauty and sensuality of Sarah Leonard’s voice, or rather the brilliant upper register of her voice. (Nose-List Song and the CBS Masterworks recording of The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat feature Sarah’s ‘normal’ register in settings of texts, whereas the high voice is always textless -in Memorial, the full version of which in 1985 contained a live version of Images were Introduced as well as the movement now, confusingly called Memorial in The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover; L’Escargot, the closing music for A Zed and two Naughts; and duetting with Nicole Tibbes in the score for Rosemary Butcher’s Touch the Earth. And, most remarkably, in Les Murs des F?d?r?s from La Travers?e de Paris we hear both Sarah Leonard’s, the low (text by Rimbaud) and the high simulaneously.) Images were Introduced was assembled from materials loosely disposed in Peter Greenaway’s documentary 26 Bathrooms.
Water Dances is a composition to which Peter Greenaway added water images in his film Making a Splash (1984). I subsequently expanded it into a concert work in eight movements lasting around 40 minutes. Six movements are each derived from a chord progression D - G - C - A, derived from a Monteverdi madrigal, while two movements introduce a new chord structure C - Eb - Ab - G -the fifth movement is a deliberate harmonic ‘remake’ of the second, while the eighth is otherwise unrelated to the previous movements and takes the work in a totally different direction. ‘Stroking’ is the second movement of the extended work, ‘Gliding’ the fifth and ‘Synchronising’ the eighth.