A Man in a Room, Gambling

Juan Muñoz / Gavin Bryars

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4
17 September 1997 - 20 September 1997

Audio: A Man in a Room, Gambling (excerpt)

2 minutes 15 seconds
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A series of ten five minute compositions based on card tricks, and inspired in part by the shipping broadcasts on BBC Radio. Conceived by Spanish artist Juan Muñoz and made with English composer Gavin Bryars, the pieces were made for a late-night radio listener.

Each work orchestrates a dynamic of manipulation and revelation. Muñoz's voice describes the techniques of classic card tricks, the duplicity based on the duped player believing they have seen something they have not, and failing to see something they should have. He explains El Trile (The Thee Card Trick), how to deal cards from the bottom of the pack, how to palm cards and so on. In each piece, the trickery is doubled as Bryars's music distracts the listener from the spoken word.

Originally experienced as a series of BBC Radio 4 broadcasts in 1992, the work was then performed live in Madrid in 1996 and at the BBC Maida Vale Studios, London in 1997 with Muñoz reading and the Gavin Bryars Ensemble playing. In a further deception, the evening was introduced by the familiar voice of BBC Radio 4 – Peter Donaldson – who read the shipping forecast before introducing the concert, implying to the live audience that the event was being broadcast live, when in fact it was not.

A CD of A Man in a Room, Gambling was released in 1997.

This excerpt of A Man in a Room, Gambling is also available to stream from Soundcloud.

Image: Juan Muñoz at the live recording of A Man in a Room, Gambling at the BBC Maida Vale Studios, London, 1997. Photograph: Steven White

Making A Man in a Room, Gambling

by James Lingwood
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Making A Man in a Room, Gambling

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.

Read the complete essay

Image: The Gavin Bryars Ensemble and broadcaster Peter Donaldson performing A Man in a Room, Gambling by Gavin Bryars and Juan Muñoz at the BBC Maida Vale Studios, London, 1997. Photograph: Steven White

Gavin Byars on A Man in a Room, Gambling

An essay
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Juan imagined a listener driving along a motorway at night being bemused by this fleeting and perhaps enigmatic curiosity...

Gavin Byars 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... 

Read Byars's full essay

This is a modified and shortened version of the article that Gavin Byars wrote on Juan Muñoz for Parkett Magazine.

About the artists

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Gavin Bryars

Gavin Bryars first came to be recognised in professional music realms as a jazz bassist working with improvisers Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley in the 1960s. He subsequently collaborated with John Cage and Cornelius Cardew and was instrumental in founding the legendary Portsmouth Sinfonia. Bryars’ first major work as a composer The Sinking of the Titanic in 1969, which was released by Brian Eno’s Obscure Records in 1975 and remixed by Aphex Twin as Raising the Titanic in 1994. Bryars has collaborated with many artists and choreographers including Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe and Christian Boltanski.

Juan Muñoz

Juan Muñoz was an artist from Madrid, raised under the Franco regime. He worked on two projects with Artangel, Untitled (Monument) in 1992 and A Man in a Room, Gambling with Gavin Bryars in 1997.

Although also working in performance and audio, he is most known for his figurative works and large scale installations with which he explored size and space; notably Double Bind, the second Unilever commission for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Showing early on in his career at the ICA and the Lisson Gallery, London, Muñoz went on to exhibit internationally.

Since his death, there have been major retrospective exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Tate Modern and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.


Images: (left and above) Juan Muñoz reading at the live recording of A Man in a Room, Gambling by Juan Muñoz and Gavin Bryars at the BBC Maida Vale Studios, London, 1997. Photographs: Steven White


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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

Rather than using objects, or working in a gallery space, 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. Bryars’s orchestration, rather than simply decorating the space, provides a kind of architecture for the work, its lighting, atmosphere, pace and choreography. In the work, the distinction between one art form and another are broken down, to the extent that they become irrelevant. – Adrian Searle, the Guardian, 18 September 1997

His voice, with the hard, short vowels of the Spanish accent, gave an appropriately sinister tone to his words; the voice of an old card-harp who has seen it all and who has only limited patience with his students. […] an evocative and even confessional warm, sultry and intriguing voice which spoke of shady dealings. – Juan Cruz, Art Monthly, November 1997

Gavin Bryars’s first release since 1995’s acclaimed Farewell To Philosophy is an elegant drawing together of his various compositional strands. Composed in collaboration with “illusionist” Juan Muñoz A Man In A Room, Gambling is essentially a set of instructions on how to cheat at card set to music. Muñoz provides the sensuously Latin-toned commentary (imagine Raoul Julia crossed with Paul Daniels, but not a lot) while The Gavin Bryars Ensemble essay some wonderfully plangent chamber music – the immaculately pressed entertainment at some louche red velvet casino. – David Sheppard, Q, October 1997

Production Credits

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Production Credits

The Gavin Bryars Ensemble with Juan Muñoz 
Introduced by Peter Donaldson 

Speaking voice – Juan Muñoz
Violins – Patricia Calnan, Harriet Davies
Viola – Bill Hawkes
Cellos – Sophie Harris, Ziella Bryars, Orlanda Bryars 
BasslPiano/Korg MI – Gavin Bryars 
Piano/Co-ordinator Bass – Dave Smith
Clarinet – Roger Heaton 
Electric/Acoustic Guitars – James Woodrow
Percussion – Martin Allen, Gerald Kirby
Sound – Chris Ekers 
Company Manager – Carole Hulk

Thanks to all at Point Music. All works by kind permission of Schott & Co, Publishers / Gavin Bryars Management.

Images: The Gavin Bryars Ensemble performing A Man in a Room, Gambling by Gavin Bryars and Juan Muñoz at the BBC Maida Vale Studios, London, 1997. Photograph: Steven White


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Who made this possible?


Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England and the private patronage of the Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.