Goldie – “Sea of Tears”

A 12 minute drum-n-bass symphonic masterpiece from the CD Timeless that I just listened to again for the first time in awhile.

Here’s a guide for those who’ve never heard it and might think they don’t have 12 minutes to spare. Maybe this will nudge you to make a bit of contemplative space in your day…

So if you click the play button below … you will first hear a purely electronic descending sequence of notes (F-C-F sharp) put through various effects, and have no idea where you are. It’s a mysterious, metallic landscape, a kind of limbo. (But that three note sequence will be shifting around within new contexts throughout the whole piece.) The guitar theme layered on top of this at 0:48 adds to the enigma, and if you are not patient (!) you might decide to hit Stop and find a cat video or something. But of course this would be a big mistake! BECAUSE …

At 1:36 the drums come in (this is d-n-b after all), and they play an unusual pattern of bars that alternate 4 beats, then 3, then 4, then 5. So now we are off… But where are we going?…

Suddenly at 2:48 the beats regularize into 4 as a jazzy, gorgeous theme on guitar enters: spacious and warm. Pure joy. This is the point, when I first heard it way back when, when I realized something quite amazing was taking place…

So we have nearly two minutes of this before just as suddenly the drums stop as a woman’s voice simply says “tears.” And we hear samples of breaking waves and seagulls crying in the distance joining the mix. Gradually, over the next half-minute or so, everything else fades out except for strings playing two notes, the voice repeating “tears,” and the sea and seagulls.

Then we are in another limbo, because at this point even the strings are gone, and we’re listening to sea and seagulls and nothing else. This is at 5:12, smack in the middle of the track: how cool is that? But then, over the continuing samples … the first voice we heard asks a question, and another voice, a child’s, replies:

“What are you doing here?”
“Washing away the tears.”

Thwack to the heart. And it always makes me think of the end of Allen Ginsberg’s poem for his friend Jack Kerouac too – “Memory Gardens”:

Well, while I’m here I’ll
do the work –
and what’s the Work?
To ease the pain of living.
Everything else, drunken
dumbshow.

But we are just halfway through! A new guitar line enters of simple plaintiveness. This is all we hear for a minute or so, the guitar over the sea and gulls. And at this point, another miraculous moment. At 6:34 the first voice reenters, saying “wash … away … the tears.” And a wordless vocal line enters too, and strings, with the previous guitar line returning. And then … the drums return, and there is a hint of crying in the mix, while the vocal line acquires words: “sea … of tears.”

But you know what? This track is still not out of new and beautiful ideas. Because at 7:48 we get yet another version of the initial three-note sequence – and the crying returns, and for nearly two minutes it’s almost unbearable…

Until 9:25 … and yet another guitar line, again simple, lovely. The crying now stops, and we just hear the guitar and three-note synth sequence, with drums and bass, a mysterious landscape akin to the opening. We float in this world until 11:00, when the drums stop again, for the last time, the previously crying woman says “sea … of … tears,” and then “wash … away … the tears … tears,” and then “wash … away … my tears.”

And the last 20 seconds are just the sound of the sea…

So – normally I wouldn’t want to try and do that kind of analysis here but I’ve always been in awe of how intricate and organically unfolding this piece is, and thought I would try to convey this in the hope that someone straying onto the site who might otherwise be dubious about the full potential of electronic/dance genres of music might be reminded that genius arises anywhere it likes…

The point, as always, is to listen for yourself. Which, since I will now shut up (!), you now can do.

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