Lost Music

My research today took a poetic wander. In thinking about the electromagnetic environment and how 'on land' we are submerged in modulated mumblings, my thoughts turned to the electromagnetically silent world of the deep, a world where radio and light don't penetrate, a world that can only be felt through other senses; the skin, the emotions, sound. Today I started looking at the Titanic. Armin's work through his and Hivenetworks Hidden Histories project, has already highlighted the community memory of this tragedy and through their early research, pinpointed one aspect that I found mesmerisingly intruiging; the music that was still being played when the ship went down.

‘What happens to music as it is played in water? On a purely physical level, of course, it simply stops since the strings would fail to produce much of a sound (it was a string sextet that played at the end, since the two pianists with the band had no instruments available on the Boat Deck). On a poetic level, however, the music, once generated in water, would continue to reverberate for long periods of time in the more sound-efficient medium of water and the music would descend with the ship to the ocean bed and remain there, repeating over and over until the ship returns to the surface and the sounds re-emerge’ Gavin Bryars

So today I spent with music, and the musings of the endless 'Last Tune' that the water surrounding the Titanic holds. I re-listened once again to 'The Sinking of the Titanic', a 1973 version of the Eno supported composition of Gavin Bryars, where the last tune of 'Autumn' is played over and over, interspersed with references to human life, quietly passing through the threshold of air to water, to continue for ever at the depth of 3,800 metres.

In looking at Bryars however, I had to listen and take into account more modern takes on this composition. One such interpretation is by London-based musician/artist Robin Rimbaud who works under the name Scanner. Whilst (for me) Bryars composition takes into account the directly quiet relationship between the music and the water, Rimbaud's seems more of an account of the entire disaster. The recent composition is certainly more dramatic, yet in some respects more obvious. Although following Bryar's lead with 'Autumn' as its intro, and some rather nice sound effects such as creaky boards, the compostion departed from the original around the central point, where the Bodhrán sounding a valiance of the third class, made sure that the celtic heart would never be forgotten. There thus followed an audio account of one of the passengers, that nicely brought the listener back round to the more mystical elements of fate. The track then started to disappear with slightly staccato but effective 'cut offs' of sound, interspersing music with the sound of a crowd, until eventually silence. The performance, which was recorded live in 2007, has the sound of the (slightly unsure) audience clapping at the end, which brings the acoustics nicely back round to rain...

Scanners performance can be downloaded for free here.

The final hymn played during those last 5 minutes of the ship's life is identified in an account by Harold Bride, the junior wireless operator, in an interview for the New York Times of April 19th 1912

"...from aft came the tunes of the band..... The ship was gradually turning on her nose - just like a duck that goes down for a dive. I had only one thing on my mind - to get away from the suction. The band was still playing. I guess all of the band went down. They were playing "Autumn" then. I swam with all my might. I suppose I was 150 feet away when the Titanic, on her nose, with her afterquarter sticking straight up in the air, began to settle slowly.... The way the band kept playing was a noble thing. I heard it first while we were still working wireless, when there was a ragtime tune for us, and the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my lifebelt on, it was still on deck playing "Autumn". How they ever did it I cannot imagine." Gavin Bryars