Gavin Bryars / Philip Jeck / Alter Ego, The Sinking Of The Titanic

Adam Sweeting

By Adam Sweeting

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Composer Gavin Bryars has devised several versions of his 1969 piece, "The Sinking of the Titanic," for concert and installation purposes. This latest incarnation, captured in a live recording from Venice in 2005, enlists the help of Italian new-music ensemble Alter Ego, with conceptual artist Philip Jeck manning the turntables. What you don't get with the audio version is Andrew Hooker's accompanying film, but the sonic layerings and shifting audio perspectives, materialising eerily through Jeck's haze of static, gradually ratchet up a powerful emotional pull.

Hypnotic and haunting, this is the sound of classical minimalism at its most accessible.

Bryars 'starting point was the story of how the Titanic's band had stayed aboard the sinking leviathan, playing an Episcopal hymn called "Autumn" as the vessel took its final plunge. As the performers create a skein of evocative effects — throbbing engines, watery metallic echoes, clanging ship's bells, recorded voices of Titanic survivors — fragments of the hymn float up like a sad farewell from the black depths of the Atlantic. Bryars 'interplay of music and interrelated sounds opens an emotional porthole into the story of the Titanic and its freight of tragedy, memory and myth.