April 15, 2018

1,000,001 CDs 10: Gavin Bryars ~ The Sinkinig of the Titanic

Willy Stöwer ~ Der Untergang der Titanic ("Sinking of the Titanic")
- Engraving - 1912

Ever since I was a kid I've been fascinated by an event that happend 28 years before I was born on April 15th, 2012.         

On Sunday, April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg at around 23:40 (ship's time). In the early morning of Monday, April 15, at 02:20 (05:18 GMT) it sank in the Atlantic Ocean. More than 1,500 people died, which made it one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.    

The first published work by British minimalist composer Gavin Bryars, was The Sinking of the Titanic. The work was inspired by the story that the band on the RMS Titanic continued to perform as the ship sank that night in 1912, it recreates how the music performed by the band would reverberate through the water some time after they ceased performing. Composed between 1969 and 1972, the work is now considered one of the classics of British experimental music.

front cover photo by Ore/Titanic Ventures 
photo of CD by Styrous®

The work dates back to 1969, when Bryars wrote a short piece for an exhibition in support of art students at Portsmouth. In keeping with work done by contemporary collective Art & Language, the work was initially a single page of A4 paper with typed instructions. The instructions referred to how the work should sound and how it might be created but were not a score as such.     

back cover photo by Ore/Titanic Ventures 
photo of CD by Styrous®

It was first recorded in 1975 when it became the first release on Brian Eno's Obscure Records. It was subsequently rerecorded in a much longer version in 1990. This recording was performed by the Gavin Bryars Ensemble on April 13–14, 1990, at the Printemps de Bourges festival in France. The work was performed in a Napoleonic-era water tower; the musicians performed in the basement of the tower and the audience listened on the ground floor. The empty top floors of the water tower acted as a giant reverberation chamber. It was released on Les Disques du Crepuscule, catalogue number TWI 922-2.

back cover photo by Ore/Titanic Ventures 
photo of CD by Styrous®

The performance includes a Morse code signal played on woodblocks and the sound of the iceberg as it collided with the ship amongst other new sources. The music is quiet, echoey at times, ethereal and dreamy.  It comprises only one cut that lasts over one hour.        

back cover photo by Ore/Titanic Ventures 
photo of CD by Styrous®

photo by Ore/Titanic Ventures 
photo of libretto by Styrous®

photo by Styrous®

The Sinking of the Titanic has been described as an "indeterminate" and "open work", which has changed as new information on the disaster comes to light. The work was originally scored for small orchestra and tape, but has expanded to include other sources such as music boxes and turntables.  

The Titanic
 RMS Titanic departing Southampton - April 10, 1912 
photo by F.G.O. Stuart  

The wireless operator Harold Bride on the Titanic had witnessed the house band continue to perform as the ship sank. In April 1912, Bride had told the New York Times:
"The band was still playing. I guess all of the band went down. They were playing Autumn then. I swam with all my might. I suppose I was 150 feet away when the Titanic on her nose, with her after-quartet sticking straight up in the air, began to settle - slowly....the way the band kept playing was a noble thing.....and the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my lifebelt on, it was still on deck playing "Autumn". How they ever did it I cannot imagine."    
The Titanic had two different groups of musicians that played on that first and last voyage: a trio of violin, cello and piano who played just outside the A la Carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien; and a quintet of musicians who played at other locations, led by violinist Wallace Hartley.  

Titanic musicians [top to bottom]: 
Fred Clark, Percy Taylor, G. Krins, Wallace Hartley [center of the picture], 
Ted Brailey, Jock Hume, George Woodward, and Roger Bricoux [not shown].

All of them died when the Titanic sunk 12,415 ft. or 2.4 miles to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. There are conflicting reports among survivors regarding the last song the band played as the ship was sinking. It was either, Songe d'Automne, composed by Archibald Joyce and based on a poem by Paul Verlaine, or Nearer My God to Thee, a 19th-century Christian hymn by Sarah Flower Adams, that was performed by the musicians.  

The wreck of the  the Titanic was discovered by Robert Ballard in 1986. He talks about the wreck on a series of presentations by National Geographic on YouTube (link below).     

There is a monument to the Titanic disaster located on Queen's Island, an area of land at the entrance of Belfast Lough which was reclaimed from the water in the mid-19th century. It was used for many years by the shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, who built huge slipways and graving docks to accommodate the simultaneous construction of the RMS Olympic and the RMS Titanic. The structure puts me in mind of the Dazzle Ships used in World War I & II, and were the inspiration for the album cover for the OMD album, Dazzle Ships (link below).        


1 - The Sinking Of The Titanic - 60:13

Companies, etc.

    Mastered At – Autograph Sound Recording Ltd.
    Glass Mastered At – DADC Austria
    Recorded At – Le Chateau d'Eau, Bourges


    Bass Clarinet – Roger Heaton
    Double Bass, Effects [Occasionally With Octave Pedals] – Gavin Bryars
    Effects [Sound Effects] – Paul Bull
    Engineer – Chris Ekers
    Horn [Tenor Horn], Percussion [Woodblocks, Tam-tam], Keyboards [Korg M1] – Dave Smith (3)
    Mastered By [Digitally Mastered] – Chris Ekers, Nick Gilpin
    Mixed By [Mixed Direct To 2-track Digital] – Mike Furness
    Other [Co-ordinator For Original Live Project In Bourges] – Cyril Lefebvre, Jacques Caumont, Jennifer Gough-Cooper
    Percussion [Tam-tam, Woodblocks], Bells, Marimba, Cymbal, Bass Drum – Martin Allen
    Performer – Gavin Bryars Ensemble
    Photography [Front Photo And Back Booklet Photo] – Ore/Titanic Ventures
    Photography By [Back Cover] – Martin Allen
    Producer – Chris Ekers, Gavin Bryars
    Viola – Alexander Balanescu, John Carney*


This is not a CD re-issue of the 1975 release, but a new recording of the original composition made in 1990 during a live performance in the Chateau D'Eau, Bourges (April 1990). It is much longer than other versions.

Digitally mastered at Autograph Sound Recording Ltd using a DAR sound station.
Barcode and Other Identifiers

    Barcode: 5413303209226
    Matrix / Runout: TWI-922-2 13 A1 MASTERED BY DADC AUSTRIA
    Rights Society: BIEM SABAM
    Label Code: LC 7565

Gavin Bryars ‎– The Sinking Of The Titanic
Label: Les Disques Du Crépuscule ‎– TWI 922-2
Format: CD, Album
Country: Belgium
Released: 1990
Genre: Electronic
Style: Modern Classical, Minimal, Experimental, Ambient

Viewfinder links:         
Music & Mayhem
Net links:         
Gavin Bryers website ~ "The Sinking of the Titanic Point recording"      
American Music Preservation ~           
        What Was The Last Tune Played On The Titanic?         
Sing the Song In My Heart ~ 
        Autumn, the night of Titanic’s Sinking   
YouTube links:         
Nearer My God To Thee (from the film, Titanic)         
National Geographic ~ Titanic's Graveyard       
5 Titanic Survivors & Their Stories          
Styrous® ~ Sunday, April 15, 2018          


No comments:

Post a Comment

PLEASE NOTE: comments are moderated BEFORE they are posted so DO NOT appear immediately.

Thank you.