This collection of pieces – along with the original Obscure releases of Irma and The Sinking of the Titanic – offered me my first exposure to Gavin Bryars' work and all made such a profound impression on the way in which I listen to and think about music that I have felt compelled to follow his work ever since – for some thirty years now.
The pieces on Hommages, including the two "bonus" pieces, are fairly homogenous and focused, nearly minimalist in their discipline. "My First Hommage", the opening piece, is a textural masterpice comprised of contrasting arpeggiated piano lines leading up to simply framed single notes, which cycle through their set variations and then repeat as simple semi-tone transpositions that create a remarkable harmonic lushness. In other pieces, similar harmonic contrasts build shifting patterns of tension and release without resoting to the more typical forms of overstatement, completely avoiding the artifice of drama. Transitions derive from inherent structural decisions, contrasts are often times slyly humorous and subtle. Occasional dissonances shade the generally agreeable harmonic clusters to create a fullness not typical of music resulting from such carefully mapped constraints. In fact, the unforced "naturalness"this music exhibits remains compeletely convincing and refreshing to this day.
The unifying idea here is that all these pieces are built from elements of existing works by other composers – Bryars sites his break with improvisational jazz and his study of Duchamp's work and ideas leading to creating these completely "synthetic" compositions by basing the works on "found material", or to use Duchamp's term, readymades. As such, rich veins of references to Busoni, Bill Evans, Ramsey, Satie and many others in both music and literature provide the basis for these pieces that strike me as none-the-less belonging almost entirely to Bryars. These threads run all the way from his early ensemble works up to and including his more recent reinvention of Medieval lauds and the manner in which he considers acoustical spaces in the most recent "Listening Room" suite.
More than a precursor to "sampling", Hommages takes many pivotal early 20th Century ideas about originating works of visual art finally and importantly into the sphere of music. Bryars' distinct sensibilities about authorship, the composer's role in origination and respect for the accomplishment of other artists in the broader context of human expression in a postmodern world makes this suite of readymades a singular and significant accomplishment.
1) My First Hommage
2) The English Mail-Coach
3) The Vespertine Park
5) Out of Zaleski's Gazebo
6) Danse Dieppoise