Vinyl treasure. A heartbreakingly beautiful, eerie elegy to a tragic event, Gavin Bryars’ magnum opus - a pinnacle of the c.20th classical canon - is finally available on vinyl again via Superior Viaduct some half century since it was issued on Eno’s Obscure label.
Gavin Bryars’ Eno-produced ‘The Sinking of the Titanic’ artfully evokes the liner’s in-house band continuing to play as it sank into the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912. Its understated string arrangements and use of Cageian indeterminate strategy set a haunting precedent for later works by the likes of The Caretaker, Akira Rabelais and Stephan Mathieu, heralding the culmination of a phase shift between popular classical music, proper, and its experimental paths beyond convention into realms of pure sonification. No doubt it’s one of those works that simply stops you in you tracks and effortlessly holds the attention for the duration.
The B-side, ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me’ is also deeply regarded for its ebbing tape loop of a London street singer set to strings by Derek Bailey, Michael Nyman and John White. Also of a immediately poignant register, the piece holds in subtle contrast to the tragedy of the other, gradually layering wind and strings to the central motif with quietly devastating effect that has prompted Tom Waits to claim it as his favourite piece of music.
Both pieces are a sterling early testament to Bryars' affective work since the ‘60s, tying up paths with fellow Yorkshireman and jazz-man Derek Bailey and future soundtrack composer Michael Nyman, and leading the way for his formation of the highly esteemed Portsmouth Sinfonia. We kinda hate to say it from this side of the Pennines, but this is truly music of God’s own country.