I recently found myself fascinated by a log of the messages sent by the Titanic in its final hours. So, I’m reading these messages and realizing that the radio operators on the Titanic weren’t actually speaking to people on other ships. They couldn’t pick up the phone and hear the voices of their potential rescuers. Instead, they had to tap on an instrument, sending out a series of short and long beeps, to spell out their messages in Morse code. And the messages were sent out invisibly, into the night, through the air, while the operators sat there and hoped that someone, somewhere would hear it.
I wanted to know what those message sounded like, so I began the process of learning Morse code and sounding out the words. I discovered that many of the messages created interesting rhythms. As I searched for more rhythms in the messages, I decided to build a software program that would let me adjust how the morse code tones were produced. I wanted to vary the length of the dashes vs the dots, the timing between each letter, the timing between each word, and what it would sound like if only the dashes were sounded. This month, for issue #33 of The A Song A Month Club, I’ve composed a song for you built from the rhythms of those final messages before the Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean.
- The song begins with the band repeating the Titanic’s first message: “CQD” (the traditional distress call before SOS was adopted), playing the note E for dashes and E an octave lower for the dots.
- Section 2 begins at :58 seconds, with the guitar repeating “MGY” (the Titanic’s callsign which they sent to indicate who was in distress), playing low E for the dots but varying which note plays the dashes.
- The first contact the Titanic hears from another ship is from the Carpathia, the steamship that ultimately rescued survivors of the Titanic (which had missed all of the distress signals but was contacting the Titanic to let them know there were messages from Newfoundland for them). The Titanic sends them “Come at once. We have struck a berg”. Section 3 is built off of this message, with the bass coming in at 2:37 playing the rhythm of just the dashes of “Come at once”.
- Amidst this chaos, the Titanic is asked about the weather, to which it replies “Clear and calm”. Section 4 begins at 3:57 with the piano playing chords in the rhythm of the Morse code for “calm” and ending with the final message “CQD”, which is abruptly cut off as the Titanic loses all power.
At full speed, it took the Carpathia four hours to reach the Titanic which had sunk 2 hours before it arrived. It’s hard to comprehend such aloneness.