White's SS*


Duration: 18’
Instrumentation (original version): 2 pianos.
First performance: Centrum Bellevue, Amsterdam (Holland Festival) 10 June 1977.
Instrumentation(“tour” version): 2 pianos, 3 players at one marimba, tuba.
First performance: Chapelle de la Sorbonne, Paris (Festival d'Automne),16 November 1979.

White's SS (1977)

White's S S is the first piece that I wrote originally as a two piano work. It was written for John White and myself to play in a weekend of minimal music at the Holland Festival in June 1977, although, in the event, Christopher Hobbs and I played it. The title is taken from something John White once said: "Systems and Sentimentality are the S S of my Reich". I am sure that he was aware of the the two meanings of the word "reich", certainly I was when I wrote it for such a context where all the major figures of minimal music of the period, with the exception of Steve Reich, were there.  The piece consists of a series of slow arpeggiated chords accompanying a slow tune, in tremoloed octaves in both pianos. There are subsequent versions with additional instruments, notably with John White adding a tuba to the bass part.


White's SS (1977) for Crepuscule re-issue

The performers were Gavin Bryars and Christopher Hobbs, piano; John White, tuba. I cannot be certain exactly when and where it was recorded - it could have been in Scraptoft, near Leicester, where I ran a music department from 1978 (if it was after 1978).

It was written for a series of concerts at the Holland Festival in  1977 when they had a weekend of 'minimal music' which included people such as Terry Riley, LaMonte Young, Philip Glass, Louis Andriessen,  Pandit Pran Nath plus Chris Hobbs and myself as a duo. Chris and John had sort of fallen out at that time and so it was a question of which

of the two would play. So this was just for two pianos. The festival was arranged so that everyone played in three places, and everyone was able to hear everyone else's concert if they wished. The first performance was in Amsterdam, followed by Rotterdam and Utrecht. Later, when Chris and John were reconciled, we performed it in Brussels in a concert organised by Belgian Radio, for which Wim Mertens was the producer (he wasn't really composing then), at the Theatre du Bourse. Michel Duval and I had met earlier and he was later to start Crepuscule, a bit on the model of Eno's Obscure Records (the names of the labels have a similar resonance).

I made an ensemble version with two pianos, tuba and tuned percussion for my first concert in France - at the Chapelle de la Sorbonne as part of the Festival d'Automne in 1979. I also recorded the trio version in 1979 for a projected label of my own ("Mnemonic", the same name as my subsequent self publishing) though I never managed to release anything. I still have masters of my pieces plus others my John White, Dave Smith and Ben Mason. I don't think that this is the one on the CD, though it could be. This was recorded at a studio in Islington run by an American who I'd met in La Jolla in 1973 called Joe Julian.

The piece came about during a long period when I worked closely with John White, who I consider one of the great unsung masters of composition in England. He wrote a lot of so called 'systems' music from the late 60's through tot he early 80's and once said "Systems and Sentimentality are the SS of my Reich" - hence the title (and I relished the double entendre of "Reich").

In 1980 I did an album for Crepuscule ("Hommages") and about that time Michel Duval asked about including something on a kind of sampler cassette and I suggested White's SS.

The use of the tremolo in the slow right hand melody relates to my passion at that time for the music of Percy Grainger, something which John and I shared. Grainger wrote a piece which was part of a projected series called "Sentimentals"- though he only wrote Sentimentals 1 ("Colonial Song).

Gavin Bryars