May 28, 2012

16. Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet & The Sinking of the Titanic - Gavin Bryars

Two lengthy art pieces packing emotional punch. Cast-iron testament that the experimental and constructivist may cleave to the power to move. 

Gavin Bryars is not light on methodological muscle, working across jazz, free improv, minimalism, avant-garde and neoclassicism. A founding member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia - an orchestra whose membership consisted of performers who “embrace the full range of musical competence” (there’s a euphemism in there somewhere). Sinfonia members included erstwhile pal Brian Eno whose Obscure Records label put out several Bryars works in the mid-70s including the Titanic piece herein.

Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971) loops around a field-recording of homeless man vocalising-improvising a hymn. Over the loop, are built rich harmonies, played by live ensemble; slowly increasing in density, and impact before gradual fade. The piece was first recorded for use in a documentary chronicle of street life in and around London’s Elephant and Castle:
When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.
 - Bryars 

The Sinking of the Titanic (1969), indeterministically allows performers to render various sound sources related to the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Cue heart-tugging, uplifting and perfectly poised melodic motif of Nearer My God To TheeAmazing Grace against ambient backdrop of chilly ocean noise.

 Oddi wrth y brawd

[Sundry bonus sunderings and landings in Comments]


Y Brawd said...


Moongazing Hare - The Sunderland Wreck

Richard Skelton - Landings

kingpossum said...

Blessings! Thank you for the narrative that accompanies the Bryars, I'd not seen that before.

And for course for the MH and Skelton goodies as well. May your days be filled with good health and happiness always.

roy rocket said...

Always makes the dogs bark does 'Jesus' Blood', especially when Waits joins the party. Methylating.

cavorting with nudists said...

I think that motif is not "Amazing Grace" (sure hope not--I loathe that song) but "Nearer My God to Thee," which was reportedly sung by the passengers as the old tub went down.

Anonymous said...

Amazing Grace again & again for those who love & loathe it :,266

Enjoy or suffer...

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