Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Irma" an opera by Tom Philips. Music by Gavin Bryars. Libretto by Fred Orton (1978) Obscure Records. Produced by Brian Eno.

"Irma" Obscure Records, produced by Brian Eno


"Irma: An Opera by Tom Philips.  Music by Gavin Bryars.  Libretto by Fred Orton" (1978).  Obscure Records.

April 28, 2015

I spent the day on the ninth floor of the federal court building on Temple and Spring.  I was on jury duty in a murder case, and I didn't get chosen, due that I wasn't paying any attention to the case on hand or the procedure or rules.  For one, I had a flask with me, and was drinking from it from the jury box.  The Sheriff took the flask away from me, and at one point I was falling asleep while being questioned by one of the attorneys. It was kind of embarrassing if I think of it, but like other unpleasant experiences, I like to store them away in the back of my head.   As soon as I was dismissed (they kept the flask), I walked towards the library on fifth and Flower.  On the way there I went to the Last Bookstore, not for their books, but their vinyl department.  My timing was perfect because I found a perfectly fine used disk of "Irma: An Opera by Tom Philips" in stock.  The price of the album is $19.95, and I immediately took the recording into my arms and paid for it.  Once I got home, I put on my "audio-technica air' headphones on, and went into another world with this album. 

The album is on Obscure Records, which are a label started by Brian Eno, during the mid 1970s.  He produced 10 albums for the label.  Now it doesn't exist.  If one is a collector, there is a need to have all ten albums.  If nothing else, for the design.  All of them are fantastic albums, and my favorite one of the bunch is "Irma."  



"Irma" is an opera by Tom Philips, but it seems when it came to the recording, Gavin Bryars took over, not only the opera, but also had Fred Orton write the libretto.  So, I'm not sure what is left of the Philips' version.  All I know is that Philips wasn't pleased with the results of the album that was released on Obscure Records.  Then again, Philips based his opera on a visual motif - 93 random phrases from the 1892 novel "A Human Document" by W.H. Malloch.  On the other hand, the album is excellent.  

The composer, Michael Nyman is on the record, and his piano playing to me is always uniquely his.  He can only play 'charm' that is his signature on a recording.  To me, he's the Noel Coward of serious (sort of "ha") music.  His playing is always witty and quite sophisticated.  "Irma" of course is all sophistication.  Although Obscure Records are thought of as releasing 'experimental music, ' there is nothing really experimental about "Irma," at the very least, the Obscure recording headed by Gavin Bryars.  Perhaps a touch eccentric, but what isn't eccentric in the works of a British citizen? I imagine if Lord Berniers was alive, he would be part of the Obscure Record label world. 



I was called back into Jury Duty, and beforehand, I made a MP3 of the album, so I can listen to it while in the courtroom.  The case, if I'm not mistaken, is about a police shoot-out with some other gang or another.  Not to my taste, really.  So hearing this album makes the time go faster and forces the tedium of a long arm of distance. The thing is I have to make sure the deputy or the judge does not see my earplugs.  

Portrait of Brian Eno by Tom Philips

As I watch (I really didn't listen) witness after witness giving some sort of tedious information, I started to think more about this recording of "Irma."   I find the music to be very soothing, but not in the 'new age' way - more in tuned with the beautiful melodies that are within this piece.  Tom Phillips wrote the opera as a conceptual piece, but Gavin Bryars turned that concept into a beautiful piece of music.   When you hear the word "opera" one thinks of a staging or a theatrical experience - but as far as I can tell, "Irma" is a music piece - and it is performed as a concert work - but not with actors -unless one thinks of the vocalists as acting out the libretto by Fred Orton.  The libretto was taken from the victorian novel, it has a romantic feeling, although one is not sure if that is the purpose of the piece or not.  The way I listen to "Irma" is totally emotional, and I'm impressed with the romantic sweep of its emotions.  Overall, when I hear a work by Bryars, it is usually emotionally tainted, in that it conveys a sense of romance and lost.  

Gavin Bryars

I have been listening to this album over and over again.  I never tire of it, and I often sing the phrase "love is help mate."   To me, it sounds like Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart."   Both equally doomed, and therefore music that is essential to one's health and being.  On the other hand, I suddenly noticed that the lawyers on both sides of the case are starting to look at me with some sense of contempt.  The judge's eyes are like darts aimed towards my heart.  Other jurists are looking straight ahead and pretend that I don't exist.  The lawyers are called to the bench, and I suspect that I won't last for more than three minutes. 






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