Gavin Bryars

These two orchestral pieces based on simple tape loops have struck a resounding chord with non-classical audiences - particularly ambient fans - and stand among the most unique pieces of late-20th century music in any genre.

artist:
Gavin Bryars

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Minimalism, contemporary classical

decades active:
70's - 00's

essential releases:

  • Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1993, Point Music)
  • Sinking Of The Titanic (1995, Point Music)

Reviewed by Mike G

Gavin Bryars' music is hard to categorise; contemporary classical and minimalist are terms that pop up fairly regularly whenever this UK composer's name is mentioned. Yet these two orchestral pieces based on simple tape loops have struck a resounding chord with non-classical audiences - particularly ambient fans - and stand among the most unique pieces of late-20th century music in any genre.

The version of Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1993) listed above is a later and superior re-recording of a piece Bryars first released in the 70's on Brian Eno's label Obscure Records. Using a looped excerpt from a tape of an old tramp singing, Bryars gradually evolves a slow orchestral arrangement around it which grows in intensity over 70-plus minutes and is eventually joined towards the end by the gravely voiced Tom Waits. Hypnotic, gentle and deeply affecting, Jesus Blood has been known to reduce grown men to tears. There's no point trying to analyse why: just hear it.

The Sinking Of The Titanic (1995) is also extraordinary. Although more cerebral and lacking the emotional simplicity of Jesus Blood, it still can bring an almighty lump to the throat. Using the hymn "Autumn" as his departure point, Bryars imagines what it was like to be on the infamous sinking ship as the house band continued to play its soothing melody. He combines the sounds of voices taken from survivor's interviews with all manner of eerie sounds and watery effects, eventually transforming the melody into a chilling, ghostly echo. It's a quietly stunning exercise in theatre of the mind.

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