Michael Nyman Band, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

You could have called it The Joy of Exhaustion. The Michael Nyman Band brought two big local premieres, one dealing with the states of mind and body that occur during a long-distance race, the other doing much the same for intensive sexual activity. Constant, repetitive but subtly varied rhythmic motion: the character of Nyman's music makes it a natural for dealing with either pursuit. But the works are the latest in a line of pieces about the structure and workings of human beings, and perceptions of time in extreme states.

50,000 Pairs of Feet Can't Be Wrong, commissioned by the Great North Run Cultural Programme, was first played at the Sage in Gateshead before this year's half-marathon. It sprang from discussions with scientists about the physiology and experience of the runners. The piece ran with visuals by moShine; slow-motion shots and colourful abstract versions of muscle function or blood flow.

The music was a suite of 10 movements at widely varying paces. Its discontinuity at first seemed at odds with the subject, but it focused on different elements the nerve ends, the bone structure and worked towards a sense of near-stasis infused with a mix of pain and pleasure. It evoked states that music may not have visited before, at least this side of Africa.

I Sonetti Lussuriosi sets graphic erotic texts by the Renaissance poet and iconoclast Pietro Aretino, meant to go with explicit engravings. One amusing outcome was the Barbican's first under-the-counter programme, with pictures and translations and available only on request. This coy-ness was out of character with the work, which set the words in Nyman's straightforward way for the equally down-to-earth soprano Marie Angel.

The question was, what could music add? In the end, it served to dissolve the male-female differences as Angel voiced both participants' demands and satisfactions with the same energy and delight. Composed around the same time as 50,000 Pairs of Feet, it did similar time-bending things although the emotional climate was more heated, achieving an exultant grandeur. Nyman directed tautly from the piano.

Robert Maycock