“Sinking Of The Titanic” was written in 1969, but didn’t make its first appearance on record until 1975 when it shared an LP with Gavin Bryars’ other best known work, “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. That recording was 25 minutes long. This live version, taped in Venice in October 2005, is more than 70. Bryars plays double bass on this recording, accompanied by Italian modern classical ensemble Alter Ego and turntablist Philip Jeck.
If I were to do a list of my 100 favourite albums ever (rest easy – I haven’t, although who knows – one day!), then the 1975 Obscure Records release would be very high on it. So it is fairly difficult to approach a radically different, and radically lengthened version of something that is burned strongly into my brain.
For the uninitiated, “Sinking Of The Titanic” is a piece based around an old hymn called “Autumn” that the doomed liner’s band were said to have played as it sank, even as it plunged underwater at an almost perpendicular angle. It incorporates fragments of interviews with survivors of the disaster, and is one of the most moving pieces in the modern classical music canon. It was re-recorded in 1990 for Point Records (a version I don’t know), and even remixed by Richard D James in 1994.
The new recording starts with amplified vinyl static courtesy of Jeck, and it’s a full 18 minutes before the familiar, haunting strains of “Autumn” are first heard. The playing is rougher, but there is a much greater degree of improvisation on the main theme. The survivors’ testimonies are also much clearer, and all the more moving for it. I’m not sure yet which version I prefer. The 1975 recording has a hypnotic, repetitive quality, but the new one has a punchier and clearer sound. I particularly like Jeck’s contributions. To misquote the Au Pairs, it’s obvious – they’re equal but different.
1. The Sinking Of The Titanic 72:35