Gavin Bryars' 'The Sinking of the Titanic' is, and I say this with confidence, one of the finest pieces of music you could ever wish to own. Written in 1969 it has journeyed through the lands of modern classical, experimental and electronic music netting dedicated followers on its way, and each and every time I hear it I become more convinced of its genius. Bryars wrote the piece to mirror the last moments of the doomed voyage, when the Titanic sunk and famously the band played on. According to survivors the music being played was a rendition of 'Autumn', an Episcopal hymn which forms the basis of Bryars' composition. The notes and phrases from the hymn are worked in and out of the piece, sinking through the waters, effected by time, nostalgia and the cavernous reverberations of the ship itself with each scrape and hiss worked into Bryars' incredible vision. For this special performance of the piece we see Bryars (on double bass) alongside Italian ensemble Alter Ego (not to be confused with the German electronic duo of the same name) and experimental turntablist Philip Jeck, and the result is arguably its most stunning rendition to date. The most noticeable addition is Jeck, whose expertise and unique style seems to fit like the final piece of the puzzle as his crackles and motifs melt into the architecture of the recording as if they had always been there. This additional layer of nostalgia brought forth by these found sounds adds a significant sense of history , forcing the mind back into hazy film footage and decomposed photos, a perfect match for the subject matter. Also of note are Alter Ego, who surprised me with their stunning renditions of Philip Glass recently, and work comparable magic here on Bryars' composition, with their ensemble bringing in the sounds of bottles, tape recorders, laptops and percussion on top of more traditional instruments. The sounds are merged together effortlessly to form a fog of harmony and memory, perfectly melting the themes which Bryars intended his piece to convey in the first place. Really words can't do justice to 'The Sinking of the Titanic', like William Basinski's 'The Disintegration Loops' there is a timelessness, a patience and an ineffable beauty to this music that almost impossible to describe. Unique, flawless and totally essential music.
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