The Sinking Of The Titanic
Gavin Bryars - The Sinking Of The Titanic (1969-)
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Gavin Bryars
The Sinking Of The Titanic (1969-)

Originally written in 1969, The Sinking Of The Titanic is an open, semi-aleatoric piece of music by Gavin Bryars that's been developed over the years into pieces of varying lengths (anywhere from fifteen minutes to over an hour), both as a sound installation and actual concert performance. It's already been put out in recorded form twice already (once as a live recording, and once as a studio piece), but now finds new life yet again on this limited edition release from Touch Records.

In terms of personnel assembled alone, this version of Sinking The Titanic starts with a solid foundation. Known for their performances of Philip Glass work (among others), Alter Ego is a music ensemble out of Italy that specializes in contemporary performances, while ambient/experimental musician Philip Jeck mans the turntables and Bryars himself provides upright bass. Going for the endurance record (at least on recorded versions), these performers stretch the piece out to over seventy minutes as they expand on ideas introduced in other performances while adding their own flavors as well.

The biggest difference here are probably the additions by Jeck, who creeps in and out of the mix while nearly always making his presence felt. At times, he coats the recording in a thin haze of his magic decaying dust, while in others he drifts away and lets the sad orchestration of Alter Ego and Bryars creep through. In fact, the entire long opening section sounds like backing music for a dive to the bottom of the ocean wreckage as Jeck adds crackling loops while deep string drones sweep behind it. Eventually, the cloudy water clears, and the sad melody of "Autumn" (a hymn that the onboard string quartet of the Titanic played as it went down) swirls in.

As the piece progresses, recordings of survivors talking about their memories of that night crop up, along with lost bits of music from the era and other sounds. In one completely unexpected move, Alter Ego teases out a beautiful, and slightly uplifting moment about an hour into the recording that takes the performance in a different direction if only for a moment. Even more than the other recorded versions, this new version seems to convey a real true sense of disintegration of both physical objects and memories themselves. Live instrumentation rises up out of murky depths and then fragments and falls apart while spoken passages appear out of a half-remembered haze and then get clouded again or simply overtaken.

Recorded live at the 49th International Festival of Contemporary Music at The Venice Biennale in 2005, The Sinking Of The Titanic (1969-) contains certain elements of both the recorded in an empty water-tower live version (which is now out-of-print) released on Crepuscule Records in 1990 and the Point Records version released in 1995. Although you can't hear any crowd noise, the soft reverb of the live setting and some of the other imperfections (such as the soft spittle noises on the reeds of the woodwinds) work nicely within the context of the piece. An average person probably doesn't need three different versions of this recording in their collection, but if you're a fan of ambient music or even modern classical and you don't yet have it, this may very well be the best version to get.

rating: 8.7510
Aaron Coleman 2008-02-07 20:27:33