Obscure #2: Hobbs/Adams/Bryars ‘Ensemble Pieces’


01 Christopher Hobbs ‘Aran’ (3:52)
02 John Adams ‘John Philip Sousa’ (4:24)
03 John Adams ‘Christian Zeal And Activity’ (11:38)
04 John Adams ‘Sentimentals’ (2:49)
05 Christopher Hobbs ‘McCrimmon Will Never Return’ (9:19)
06 Gavin Bryars ‘1, 2, 1-2-3-4’ (14:56)

Total time: 46:40
LP released on Island Records 1975

The possibility of an Island Records A&R manager asking the effeminate Roxy Music keyboard player to curate an experimental LP collection in 1975 somewhat belies our understanding today. Several points should be taken into account when considering Brian Eno‘s Obscure LP series:

  1. Eno left Roxy Music in 1973, when the band was about to split while still a top seller for Island – Island probably concerned with return on investment issues at this point;
  2. In 1974 and 75, Eno spent several months in hospital, hardly able to attend studio sessions and unable to tour or promote his ‘Here Comes The Warm Jets’ 1975 LP;
  3. There was understandably a need for an english take on american minimalism in music, a genre bringing pop-rock audiences to contemporary music since 1968 in the US;
  4. Eno’s strategy of blurring distinctions between high and popular art might have been considered as potentially dragging contemporary/classical music followers to pop, a promising perspective from an A&R point of view. On the other hand, the whole Minimalist music school’s project seems to re-instill tonality in contemporary music (as opposed to un-marketable Darmstadt abstract experiments);
  5. From 1968 to 1975, UK saw the emergence of Indeterminate, Improvised and Systems Music inititiatives all over the country by the likes of Scratch Orchestra, Portsmouth Sinfonia, Promenade Theatre Orchestra, Foster’s Social Orchestra, etc (cf Timeline bellow). This is a unique, specifically british phenomenon based on the UK’s long tradition of concert bands. Some of these orchestras even had chart hits at the time – there was indeed a popular demand for this music. Systems Music best describes the kind of (mostly) british music that incorporates elements from Fluxus action pieces, european improvised music of the ’70s, classical influences via Purcell and John Adams, self-build instruments and a british take on upper-class avant jazz.

This ‘Ensemble Pieces’ LP gathers 3 veterans of systems music and reads like a manifesto for things to come on Obscure. Christopher Hobbs was a member of AMM circa The Crypt and Laminal LPs. His 2 contributions are cheerful repetitve carolls on organ, bells and toy piano, closer to what he did with Promenade Theatre Orchestra than AMM. According to Wikipedia Aran is based on ‘a knitting pattern for an Aran sweater, with its different stitches, [determining] the pitches chosen and the instruments to play them’. John Adams contributes 3 austere and slowly evolving instrumental pieces from a live recording with his New Music Ensemble, San Francisco. Gavin Bryars‘1,2, 1-2-3-4’ is an extraordinary set up for ensemble where each interpret listens to a cassette on headphones and mimick the sounds he hears on his own instrument. All players hear the same music but play their specific part only, at the specific speed of their own cassette player and at the pace their skills and ability allows them. The basic composition is lounge/jazz music. Shifitng occurs early in the recording and soon the music sounds aleatoric. Musicians for this session are top notch players, like Derek Bailey, Cornelius Cardew or Bryars himself on bass. The wind parts are gorgeous, especially the trombone. A real treat.


. . . . . . . . . .



  • Improvisation trio Joseph Holbrooke with Derek Bailey (guitar), Gavin Bryars (double bass) and Tony Oxley (drums).


  • Hugh Davies (1943-2005) assitant to Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne from 1964 to 1966. A member of the latter’s Live Ensemble as well, he took part to the recording of Mikrophonie I in 1965.


  • Lou Gare and Keith Rowe members of the Mike Westbrook Band.
  • Creation of AMM improvised music ensemble.


  • Cornelius Cardew joins AMM along Eddie Prévost and Christopher Hobbs.
  • AMM playing at opening of Yoko Ono‘s exhibition ‘Unfinished Objects’ in November, Indica Gallery, London. Ono was a close friend of Cardew.
  • AMM‘s first LP ‘AMMUSIC‘ published by DNA.
  • John Cage performs the Saddle Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, London.


  • Cornelius Cardew writes Treatise (1963-67). Works as a graphic designer for Aldus Books, London.
  • AMM opening for Pink Floyd at London’s UFO Club (Jan. 27)


  • Cardew (teaching at London’s Morley College) launches the Scratch Orchestra with Howard Skempton and Michael Parsons, performing The Great Learning until 1972.
  • Spontaneous Music Ensemble ‘Karyobin’ LP.
  • Michael Nyman publishes an article on Cardew in The Spectator magazine, the first occurence of the term ‘minimalism’ applied to music.
  • John White‘s Drinking and Hooting Machine, system piece where each player alternatively blows over the top of a bottle and drink from it.


  • Brian Eno studies contemporary art and sound sculpture at the Winchester School of Arts. He’s then a member of Merchant Taylor’s Simultaneous Cabinet, as well as bands Maxwell’s Demon and joins the Scratch Orchestra.
  • Gavin Bryars composes ‘The Sinking of the Titanic’ (indeterminate music).
  • Christopher Hobbs joins The Scratch Orchestra.
  • Launch of Promenade Theatre Orchestra quartet with John White, Christopher Hobbs, Alec Hill, and Hugh Shrapnel, playing toy pianos and reed organs, a.o. instruments.
  • White Noise (David Vorhaus) ‘An Electric Storm’, Island Records. w/ Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson (as ‘Unit Delta Plus’).


  • Launch of the extremely popular Portsmouth Sinfonia orchestra incl. Bryars and Nyman as well as Eno on clarinet.
  • Music Improvisation Company LP, ECM, with Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and Hugh Davies on keyboards, the latter appearing on Obscure #4 by Toop and Eastley.


  • Cardew ‘The Great Learning Paragraphs 2 and 7’ LP, Deutsche Grammophon.
  • Gavin Bryars ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’, released on Obscure series in 1975 w/ a.o. Derek Bailey.
  • Cardew member of People’s Liberation Music along Keith Rowe.
  • Henry Wolff and Nancy Hennings ‘Tibetan Bells’, on Island Records
  • Basil Kirchin ‘Worlds Within Worlds’, Columbia Records, with Brian Eno sleevenotes. Kirchin: ‘There is no such thing as a long note’. Vol.2 on Island, 1973.


  • Relocating in Berlin, Cardew composed marxists songs and published his ‘Stockhausen Serves Imperialism’ book (Cardew had been assistant to Stockhausen from 1958 to 1960).
  • Eno part with Roxy Music.
  • Eno ‘No Pussyfooting’ w/ Robert Fripp.
  • Eno ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’ LP.
  • Ovary Lodge s/t LP, RCA-Victor (w/ Frank Perry, Keith Tippett and Roy Babbington, produced by Robert Fripp). Frank Perry will be featured on Obscure #4.


  • Eno in hospital for lung problems.
  • Portsmouth Sinfonia ‘Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics’ LP.
  • Eno ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’ LP.
  • Lady June‘s ‘Linguistic Leprosy’ LP w/ Eno
  • Michael Nyman publishes his influential book (written from 1970 to 72) on experimental music ‘Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, dealing with aleatoric, fluxus-inspired and performance music in UK and the US.


  • Eno in hospital after car injuries.
  • Eno ‘Another Green World’ LP.
  • Eno ‘Discreet Music’ LP.
  • ‘Evening Star’ LP w/ Fripp (November).
  • Eno ‘Oblique Strategies’ set of decision making cards for artists inspired by chinese cards discovered in the US.

21 Responses to “Obscure #2: Hobbs/Adams/Bryars ‘Ensemble Pieces’”

  1. 1 doroskedeho December 15, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    HOORAY. continuo!

  2. 2 continuo December 15, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Dou-itashi-mashite, Doroskedeho.

  3. 3 The Vegan Surgeons December 16, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Illuminating notes. Thanks a lot!

  4. 4 continuo December 16, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Just trying to make sense of what I could find here and there. Thanks for your comment.

  5. 5 Ben.H December 17, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Thanks very much for uploading this. It’s the last Obscure LP I hadn’t yet heard (8 on vinyl, 2 on mp3).

    A radio broadcast of the exact same live performance of “American Standard” can be found online at
    (“American Standard” starts about 50 minutes in.) I’d wondered before if it was the version used on this LP. It is, but it has a different production job.

    In particular, “Sentimentals” has been mixed to start underneath the ending of “Christian Zeal and Activity” (at about 7’24”), so the two blend together. In the actual concert, the two pieces were kept separate.

    The remainder of track 3 is actually the start of “Sentimentals”. Are the John Adams tracks banded or presented as a single track on the LP?

  6. 6 continuo December 17, 2008 at 7:12 am

    Hi Ben. Tracks are separate on the LP I have. Thanks for the interesting information.

  7. 7 enborRa December 17, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Aupa continuo.

    Muy interesantes los LPs y muy buenos tus dos últimos posts.
    Un saludo.
    Very interesting and very good LPs your last two posts.
    A greeting.

  8. 8 continuo December 18, 2008 at 1:24 am

    Your bilinguism is a peach, Ra.

  9. 9 YouBet December 20, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    i just stumbled upon your blog, quite amazed to stumble upon the obscure lp’s that i don’t have and haven’t heard! thanks so much. i just did some browsing through your pages and i see that the early part of 2009 will be spent enjoying the continuo school of music!

  10. 10 continuo December 23, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    You’re welcome. Thx for commenting.

  11. 11 CEO June 19, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Thank you very much for uploading the LP. If you come across the original LP, please send me an e-mail, for I’m interested in purchasing.

    Are you fan of Eno or fans of Adams?

  12. 12 continuo June 19, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I love Irish stout beer and Eno’s solo work from the 1970s. Thx for dropping by.

  13. 13 Paul January 5, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Hey Continuo,

    have you got Bryars Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet for Tape & Ensemble? I tried to buy it but can’t find it.

    Thanks for posting all this wonderful music!!



  14. 14 continuo January 6, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Hi Paul, Jesus Blood… seems easy to find if you look here.

  15. 15 Sedayne January 18, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Many years since I had a copy of this; ARAN is a long time favourite of mine. A piece of trivia – I remember it being used by Siouxie and the Banshees as crowd-rousing intro music during their 1981 tour with LKJ.

    Many thanks for posting. Reminds me of certain work by Lithuaian composer Bronius Kutavicius – in particular From the Jatvingian Stone.

  16. 16 continuo January 20, 2010 at 12:05 am

    The names you mention are unfamiliar to me, especially Kutavicius. Do you have a recommendation or even mp3s for this composer? Thanks for dropping by, anyway.

  17. 17 jeisat August 27, 2010 at 7:44 am

    The download seems to have stopped working

  18. 18 Christian July 12, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    will this download be available again?
    Your notes are so wonderful and informative.
    And the added comments are always thoughtful.
    This is such a great place to periodically stop by!

  19. 19 continuo July 12, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Thanks for your interest, Christian. May I suggest you visit Wolf Fifth blog, who re-posted this LP last June 2011?

  20. 20 toothaction July 6, 2013 at 12:53 am

    Wolf Fifth’s blog appears to be gone now… any other suggestions as to how to find this wonderful LP? Thanks!

  21. 21 continuo July 7, 2013 at 9:10 am


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