Right then, sorry for the delay - I’ve been in meetings all day today.
My pick is The Sinking of the Titanic, by Philip Jeck, Gavin Bryars and Alter Ego.
The piece was originally written by Gavin Bryars in 1969 and was intended to mirror the last fateful moments of that ship and the people on board.
The music springs from a persistent story that the band continued to play even whilst the ship went down. This story originated from one of the Titanic’s wireless operators, Harold Bride:
“[T]he 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. That, and the way Phillips (the senior wireless operator) kept sending after the Captain told him his life was his own, and to look out for himself, are two things that stand out in my mind over all the rest…”
Built around the repetition of the hymn, the piece falls in and out of focus. Over time, disintegrating and disappearing, becoming more enveloped with reverb and losing the higher frequencies in an attempt to reflect the fact that the way sound travels in water.
There are a number of versions of the piece, but for me the version with Philip Jeck and Alter Ego is the definitive one. Jeck’s manipulation of turntables and electronics somehow giving an eerie sense of technology collapsing under the power of nature.
Whether or not that story is really true I have no idea, but to me the idea of those musicians giving the only gift they could to so many people in their last moments brings a lump to my throat. And when I listen to this it feels as appropriate a tribute to those musicians, that story and the others who lost their lives as anyone could conceive.
Over to all of you!