The Sinking of the Titanic

José Carlos Diaz experiences first hand the immersive qualities of versatile virtuosos The a.P.A.t.T Orchestra…

This past weekend marked the centenary of the fatefully quiet night when the Titanic struck an iceberg. Calm swiftly turned to pandemonium as the ship sank into the ocean depths taking the lives of over 1,500 people. To commemorate the sinking of the Titanic, the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra presented a special concert, within the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s new exhibition, Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story. The exhibition itself secures Liverpool’s bond with the disaster by emphasising its relationship with the RMS Titanic of the White Star Line; it was registered in Liverpool and many passengers and crew had family ties with Merseyside. The relationship is further brought home in the exhibition, with artefacts, imagery and testimonials about the doomed voyage. It is the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra members who have now created their own Titanic narrative by forming a communal musical gathering to mark the night of 14th April 1912.

Based in Liverpool the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra is an experimental ensemble with an open-membership scheme, welcoming anyone interested in musical performance. Jon Hering, director of the ensemble, conducts each performance, which can range from 30-40 participants, many who are active musicians throughout Liverpool. Hering recently organised a series of concerts at some of Liverpool’s most historical locales: the Sefton Park bandstand, the World Museum, and Lutyen’s Crypt at the Metropolitan Cathedral. These alternative venues and the musical selections chosen have made the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra concerts an experience not to be missed. Hering prefers historical and unusual settings that break away from traditional musical presentations, his goal being that the orchestra never plays at the same place twice, the Maritime Museum acting as stage on this occasion.

In memoriam, the orchestra presented the experimental and conceptual musical score The Sinking of the Titanic, by composer Gavin Bryars. The 1969 work was inspired by the famous accounts suggesting that the Titanic’s orchestra played on while the ship descended into the icy waters. The a.P.A.t.T. musicians scattered themselves throughout the gallery, clustered and alone, with instruments in hand and fenced in by Titanic related artefacts, memorabilia, and newsreels. The space was crammed with visitors, many unaware of what was about to take place, until solid bell chimes instructed the musicians to begin.

The string instruments started with a delicate melody reminiscent of the hymn Amazing Grace, and suddenly more blissful music emerged from all around, regardless of the moving traffic of people and the audio made from exhibition displays. Wandering throughout the space led one to poetic and haunting encounters with string quartets, horns, flutes, accordions, cellos, and musicians using curious instruments such as a bottle of water attached to an amplifier and a bicycle spoke played with a violin bow. I spotted a friend, seated near antique garments from a notable Titanic passenger, contributing to the music with a bag of marbles, bells, a ladies fan, and hair comb. Hering informed me that “there was also a 34-inch gong, a wind-up gramophone playing 78 rpm records, a MIDI guitar, a toy piano and various percussion instruments, as well as some prerecorded and manipulated material.”

The Sinking of the Titanic is a musical composition that resurrects the Titanic’s watery descent when the original orchestra played their final concert and many perished. The a.P.A.t.T Orchestra successfully reinterpreted Bryars’ seminal work with an evocative performance filled with an essence of melancholy by using musical instruments and creating sounds that insinuated distress, submergence, and the supernatural presence of those lost at sea. Even as a.P.A.t.T performed, a baby crying nearby added an intense eeriness to the anniversary of a tragedy that still fascinates and unsettles us today.

José Carlos Diaz

The exhibition Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story is on view through 21 April 2013 at Merseyside Maritime Museum, free entry

If you would like to join the a.P.A.t.T Orchestra for a future event please contact:  apattorchestra[@]

Posted on 18/04/2012 by thedoublenegative