The story goes that the musicians working aboard the RMS Titanic kept on playing for as long as possible in order to calm the passengers. One of the survivors later reported: “Many brave things were done that night but none more brave than by those few men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea... the music they played serving alike as their own immortal requiem and their right to be recorded on the rolls of undying fame.”
The English double bassist and minimalist composer Gavin Bryars (1943) composed The Sinking of the Titanic, a composition for strings and electronics, on the basis of this story in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bryars imagined how the musicians kept repeating the same hymn over and over as they sank deeper and deeper into the ocean. Inspired by the experiments of John Cage, Morton Feldman and Earle Brown, the hymn becomes submerged ever deeper under interviews with survivors, Morse code signals played on wood blocks, sound effects that attempt to reconstruct the impact of the iceberg on the ship’s hull, and so forth.