Friday 26 January 2018, 7.30pm

Photo by Nick White /

Gavin Bryars - A Man in a Room, Gambling - Day Two

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A Man In A Room, Gambling at Cafe Oto
The Gavin Bryars Ensemble

“A Man In A Room, Gambling is an extraordinary aural sculpture, the invention of a mental space which exists solely in the mind of the listener. There is a man in a room gambling in your head.” – Adrian Searle, the Guardian

A collaboration between the Spanish visual artist Juan Muñoz and British composer Gavin Bryars, A Man In a Room Gambling comprises ten pieces on the art of slight of hand and how to cheat at cards.

This series of concerts at Cafe OTO will over three nights, and using different combinations, cover the full ten Man In a Room, Gambling pieces, with each concert having a unique first half.


Lauda Dolçe I: solo cello, electric guitar, double bass

Dancing with Pannonica: viola, cello, electric guitar, double bass

Lauda Dolçe I: solo cello, electric guitar, double bass

It Never Rains: viola, cello, electric guitar, double bass

Lauda Dolçe III: solo cello, electric guitar, double bass

- interval -

A Man in a Room, Gambling (7 pieces) 35'

Pieces 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10

Epilogue from Wonderlawn: solo viola, viola, cellos, electric guitar, double bass


Gavin Bryars on A Man in a Room, Gambling

In 1992 Artangel asked me to speak with the Spanish artist Juan Muñoz about a possible collaboration to create a series of pieces for radio. Naturally the idea of working with a sculptor in a non-visual medium was interesting and challenging, especially when it emerged that what we would be dealing with was the idea of describing actions, which themselves involve visual illusion and trickery, and to place them in a broadcasting framework.

Our discussion about radio resurrected my long-standing interest in the work of Glenn Gould, whose highly original approach to recording techniques in record production was paralleled by a vision of radio as a creative medium. (Radio as music). 

For our project, which was called eventually A Man in a Room Gambling, Juan wrote 10 texts, each one describing the manipulation of playing cards. Some of this material was culled from the writings of the extraordinary Canadian S. W. Erdnase and especially his book The Expert at the Card Table. We decided that each would last exactly 5 minutes and would be designed to be placed before the last radio News of the evening so that the programme, in Britain at least, would be experienced like our encounters with the Shipping Forecast. 

For his part, Juan imagined a listener driving along a motorway at night being bemused by this fleeting and perhaps enigmatic curiosity, in fact precisely the way in which most listeners encounter the Shipping Forecast.

In recording the speaking voice, of course, Juan read each of the texts at his own pace and each one lasted a different length of time, varying in length from 3 minutes to 4 minutes 30 seconds. Each text therefore had to be manipulated both to make it fit the 5 minute format in terms of the overall duration and to establish precise conventions whereby at the start of the programme Juan would be heard to say “Good Evening” and at the end “Thank you, and Good Night”. 

In addition, and perhaps crucially, each of the texts is accompanied by music, at exactly the same tempo for each, giving an overall unifying texture to each five-minute piece and to the whole set, each one broken into structural parts - a descriptive preamble, the action of taking the cards, the development of the cards' manipulation and the revelation of what has been achieved. 

The presence of the music also serves the additional function of intensifying the trickster's duplicity in the following way. When a listener is trying to follow the instructions he may encounter a passing melodic phrase in the accompanying music which takes his attention away from the description for a moment and once this happens he may be lost. Within certain programmes, too, there are additional verbal interjections. These take the form of brief repetitions of individual words by a Japanese speaker, who takes the implied role of an innocent bystander trying to practice the trick as the speaker describes it. In the ninth programme, which is presented in an apparently improvisational way, the speaker claims to have lost his prepared text and the ambience is changed with the addition of environmental sounds (the street outside tapas bars near Seville Cathedral) as though the trick is in reality being performed in its habitual location of the street.

The aim remains, to give the listener a hazy impression of what can be quite a dramatic activity and to generate in these five minutes a sense of an imaginary space....