Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gavin Bryers, Phillip Jeck, Alter Ego - the Sinking of the Titanic

Gavin Bryars / Philip Jeck / Alter Ego
The Sinking of the Titanic
(12.2007, Touch)
Verdict = Audio Perfection

Whether to your dismay, relief or ultimate indifference, I am beginning to try and distance myself from indulgences in overtly experimental and avant garde music. Heaven knows I have definitely had my fill. There is a part of me that could continue my addiction well on into oblivion, but there is another part of me that lays cold and dead upon such indulgences. Continually repeating ventures into the often heartless experiments on texture and tone can become mindless and useless, cluttering what has already been appreciated before it. I have always been a little over enthusiastic about the stuff anyway. I mean how many drone records does any one person really need? I suppose it would be important to make a concession here. I do plan on remaining open to those releases that seem truly relevant and that I believe should be appreciated on a grander scale than their genre platform would traditionally allow; those with heart. But again, gone is the indulgence. Now that that ridiculous preface is out of the way and anyone reading has the opportunity to call me out in the future for what I am reviewing, I would like to say that The Sinking of the Titanic as released here by Touch is archetype for the exception. In fact, I may be providing a disservice here by coupling The Sinking of the Titanic with those faceless experiments at all. Before now I was unfamiliar with the piece so I am going to recount the players here for anyone who is similarly out of sync with the history of this masterwork. Gavin Bryars is the composer of The Sinking of the Titanic which was first penned over 39 years ago. Philip Jeck is a renowned electronic manipulator and turntablist and Alter Ego is a chamber ensemble who, with Jeck, recreated Bryar’s masterpiece, as recorded here, at the International Festival of Contemporary Music at The Venice Biennale in 2005. From what I understand, Bryar’s accompanied on the double bass for the performance as well. The piece is kind of an ode to the hearsay of a chamber group from the Titanic that courageously played into the night until the last moment as the ship sunk until they too were engulfed with the ship. Incorporating a light static buzz, various clicks and bells, a few audio samples and the more traditionally classical instruments from Alter Ego to perpetuate the wash of melody, this most recent rendition of The Sinking of the Titanic is an undeniable emotional powerhouse. Acting as a requiem, the work creeks and moans as if it were panning the underwater grave of the giant ship. Portions literally had me tearing up. The recorded performance is on par with (if it doesn’t completely exceed) William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops or Johann Johannsson’s Virulegu Forsetar and is similarly slow moving like a drifting mountain. There is also a steep sense of history stuck in the The Sinking of the Titanic that is reminiscent of old photographs and film that slowly decays and becomes more beautiful with age. This is classical ambience at its best, evoking something deeply personal and sentimental in its powerful movements. In the end, words really can’t define the impact of it. The piece spans 72 minutes long without any cuts to separate tracks, so to experience it in its entirety is to get comfortable and to be patient. The experience is wholly worth it though and is not something to be passed up because of the constraints of its length. There are plenty of token experimental or avant garde albums out there that you could sink your teeth into nowadays for casually enjoyment, but if you want a unique, involving experience; if you are looking for that one record that will do justice to the impossibility of its concept, The Sinking of the Titanic is for you.

-Mr. Thistle

Listen to clips from The Sinking of the Tintanic on Boomkat


Justin Snow said...

I just read about this record on Aquarius' new arrivals list and have been meaning to pick it up. I'm glad to have read another impressive review about it. I certainly need to get this in the future.

I found your blog when searching for info about White Rainbow's new CD, Sky Drips Drifts, and it's really great. I like the way you give verdicts about records instead of a simple 1-10 rating system. I also just thought I'd let you know that I linked to your blog so I will be checking back frequently.

Mr. Thistle said...

Thanks for the kind remarks. Appreciate it muchly.