Friday, December 4, 2009

Leftovers (Long Songs) : Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Gavin Bryars : Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (part 1)


(Don't worry if you can't hear any music during the first seconds, it will come, the songs is a crescendo and starts at a very low level)

I first heard this astonishing piece of music at a dance show by French choregrapher Maguy Marin. When we got out of the theater everybody wanted to know where this strange song came from.

English composer Gavin Bryars once recorded a tramp singing a religious song in the streets of London. Then, as he recalls,

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.

It's one of the most moving things I've ever heard.

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