by James Lingwood
It was through Alberto Iglesias – Juan Muñoz’s brother-in-law, a composer – that Juan began to think about making a collaborative work with Gavin Bryars.
The starting point was the medium of radio, and the idea of a listener, in a room on their own, late at night. I think this most intimate of audiences was the one that Juan liked the most. They talked a lot about the possibilities of radio, and Gavin introduced us to some extraordinary work made for the medium – in particular Glenn Gould’s The Idea of North.
I can’t remember precisely when the idea of a collaboration based on card tricks emerged, but certainly Gavin and Juan shared a mutual admiration for the Canadian trickster Erdnase, who’d published a book about card tricks in the 1920s.
There were ten five minute pieces, based on descriptions of deceptions, conceived specifically for the space of late night radio. Juan loved the idea that these works should inhabit a similar space and time to the Shipping Forecasts on BBC Radio. Initially, he imagined that a professional actor should read the works, but fortunately Gavin persuaded him that he should read himself. The voice and the music, originally scored for a string quartet and then enlarged for live performance, married beautifully.
The work was initially recorded and broadcast in 1992. Five years later, a CD of the recordings was released and we decided to present some live performances. The BBC Recording Studios in Maida Vale, with all of the paraphernalia of microphones and booms for live broadcast scattered around the studio, offered a possibility to do something more than a straightforward concert. Again, Juan was persuaded to read the pieces live. He was positioned, reading his script from a green baize covered card table, towards the back of the studio, as if in a world of his own. The Gavin Bryars Ensemble was positioned closer to the audience.
Peter Donaldson, one of the most familiar voices on BBC radio, introduced the evening with a gentle fiction that we were about to go live on radio, which we weren’t. He then ended the concert by reading the Shipping Forecast ….