One welcome side-development that has happened largely because of the so-called "classical music crisis" is the advent of prominent composers, such as Philip Glass and Brian Eno, beginning their own boutique labels. This has led to the introduction of some works to the active catalog that we would not otherwise have enjoyed, and it is particularly appropriate that British composer Gavin Bryars has joined the fold with his own GB Records. The first release, although numbered as "002," is Biped, Bryars' 1999 ballet score for Merce Cunningham's dance company. Bryars leads an ensemble of only four musicians, playing keyboard and bass, Sophie Harris performs on the cello, James Woodrow contributes Robert Fripp-esque and spaghetti western-styled electric guitar, and Cunningham's regular music director Takehisa Kosugi is allowed to improvise on violin and percussion. One would swear this has to be a bigger group, and Bryars utilizes a pre-recorded "bed," but most of the music is obviously live.
As in all things Bryars, Biped is very low-key, establishing a sort of tense stasis in the opening sections, with quiet, but ominous percussion thundering in the distance. The middle section is sparser, with isolated details and gestures coming in and out of a three-dimensional perspective to add up to a mysterious, luminous nocturnal landscape.
From the fourth section the music opens up to reveal a harmonious plateau that has been lurking underneath the texture much of the time, bringing the work to a conclusion in the final two sections that is both satisfying and rewarding. While the running time of 45 minutes may seem a tad short for some, Biped is a complete musical experience in itself and does not need, nor does it seem to invite, filler material.
At times Biped could make one think of Merce Cunningham's feet -- leathery and somewhat twisted out of shape from their long use in dance, but sinewy and incredibly strong with not a square centimeter of fat. Bryars' music has never been represented on disc in any measure commensurate with his ability to create it, and hopefully GB Records will be able to attract enough support to continue filling the gap.