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Gavin Bryars (Composer/Double Bass): Gavin Bryars: The Sinking of the Titanic

Track List

>Sinking of the Titanic, The - (studio)

Album Reviews:

Uncut (p.83) - 5 stars out of 5 -- "[A] dreamlike evocation of the Titanic's final moments....The moment when the music slips beneath the icy waters remains devastatingly poignant."

The Wire (p.56) - "THE SINKING OF THE TITANIC is intensely moving because of the complexity of emotions it invokes..."

Mojo (Publisher) (p.113) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "It finds Philip Jeck's turntable electronics invoking crackling ice and baleful metal, while Italian ensemble Alter Ego's strings, woodwind and glass-bottle percussion eddy from the depths."

Mojo (Publisher) (p.66) - Ranked #37 in Mojo's "The 50 Best Albums Of 2008" -- "[The album] lent eerie atmosphere to Bryars' ethereal orchestrations..."

Record Collector (magazine) (p.86) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Gavin Bryars' constantly evolving semi-aleatoric nautical masterwork gets another facelift with this highly evocative interpretation of RMS Titanic's final moments."

Album Notes

Selections recorded in Le Château d'Eau, Borges, France; Westleton Church, Suffolk, England; and DAT Studios, Cricklewood, London.

One of the two works for which composer Gavin Bryars is best known (the other being "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet"), his epochal "The Sinking of the Titanic" had been recorded three times in the 25 years since its creation. The first, for Brian Eno's Obscure label, was a landmark recording, but went swiftly out of print and became a much sought after collector's item, while the third, a relatively bland performance on Point, was widely distributed in the late '90s. In between, on the independent Belgian label Les Disques du Crepuscule, Bryars recorded what is possibly the definitive version though again, it is a difficult disc to locate. The composition is an attempt to metaphorically replicate the disaster of 1912 utilizing various elements associated with it, including the songs and hymns reported played on board that evening both before the iceberg was struck and as the ship was sinking. It's structured as an "open" piece, in that material subsequently uncovered may be added and information that becomes discredited may be discarded. The overall mood is, befittingly, sub-aqueous with long sustained tones on the strings, bass clarinet, and horn written to give the impression of sounds traveling great distances beneath the sea. This album was recorded in a large, abandoned water tower that adds enormously to its reverberative nature. The hymns used (particularly "Autumn," which modern listeners will recognize as being very similar to "Amazing Grace") take on a remarkably plaintive and ethereal character as the image of an undersea orchestra takes form. Bryars also incorporates taped narration from survivors and various underwater sounds, including the forlorn pinging of sonar, carrying the enormous and melancholy weight of searchers for the wreckage. Indeed, much of the great success of this work is its combination of minimalist compositional technique, the emotional impact of the hymns, and the scientific examination of the event from a distance over time. Always in the background is Bryars' romantic notion of the sounds of the drowning orchestra still reverberating beneath the waves. The Sinking of the Titanic is arguably one of the signal compositions of the 20th century and an extraordinarily beautiful work. While the performance on the Point label is serviceable, the interested listener is well advised to search out either this recording or the original on Obscure. ~ Brian Olewnick


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