On Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains’

I have listened to this a few times and enjoyed it.  Now I am making the connection between it and my current work on ways of conveying the sense of time in different ways in sound.

“Mr. Reich’s 1988 piece, Different Trains, marked a new compositional method, rooted in It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out, in which speech recordings generate the musical material for musical instruments.”    – Al Filreis 

“Back in the 1960’s Steve Reich hit on a marvellously simple idea. He noticed that if a fragment of recorded interview was looped and recorded interview was looped and repeated, a melodic pattern would mysteriously emerge from it. In Different Trains, written in 1988, he elaborated on this idea, taking phrases from interviews with travellers and train staff and weaving them into a continuous musical texture of live and pre-recorded string quartets. The effectiveness of the piece hinges on the audibility of the process. We hear a musical motif suggested in the voice, and enjoy the way its made hard and definite – crystallised, you might say – in the thick weave of the layers quartet parts.”

This piece came out of Reich’s trips on trains in the states during World War 2, also referencing the reality of holocaust trains during the same time period.

To me the piece evokes a sense of moving towards something very fast.  The combination of the strings playing paradiddles, the repetitive presence of the train whistle and speech, and the ever-increasing tempo create this urgency.

I think my current work responds to this and uses the same concept of composition out of non-musical sound as well as musical elements.  I am trying to create a sense of constant movement at one speed throughout rather than an ever-increasing pace a Reich accomplished here.



Live Noise Experiments

This is a series of performances done in the Media Project Space at Wimbledon.  The first was just Billy Paul Rousseau and myself creating banks of texture that evolved over time with varying tone and mood.

The second was Billy Paul Rousseau, Chris Hopkins, Rob Miles, and myself.  The sounds created in this event were higher in intensity and with faster progression as change happened more often with four people working at once.  Material ranged from computer generated synthetic sounds, vocal noises running through delays and effects, distorted YouTube clips and other audio samples.  This session was a bit of a collage of sound media and noise that made a unique form of music.



equipment and setup:

mixer and small pa from Wimbledon College

several laptops running through various pedals

microphones sent through effects chain

computer programs:  Reason, Logic, Density

tape decks/radios by Robert Miles

christmas lights….

Listening at The Horse Hospital

This was a unique and cozy event held in The Horse Hospital gallery right behind the Russell Square underground station.  Around 20 people gathered to sit and listen in the dark to a hour and a half collection of audio clips compiled by Larry Sider of The School of Sound.  The inspiration for this event was the fact that seldom do we sit and strictly listen to sound pieces or music like we sit and watch television or films.

The Light and Shadow Salon: Listening:  Curated by The School of Sound, Presented by Larry Sider,  Attended Friday, 25 November at The Horse Hospital. 

Underground Research

I confess until this point I have not done much research into the history of the London Underground system.  The majority of my work has been collecting material on the current environment of the tube.  In one interview the practicalities of the tube and a few differences from when the tube was introduced in London were discussed.  Without consciously making the decision, I think I was focusing strictly on current, everyday interactions that occur on the tube, rather than stating facts on the history.  I am toying with the idea of dropping a few relevant facts into the structure to give perspective of how the current tube system came to be.

Underground History Website


“Today, London Underground is a major business with three million passenger journeys made every day, serving 275 stations and over 408 km of railway.”     –Transport for London History Page


“The London Underground (also known as The Tube or The Underground) is a rapid transit system serving a large part of Greater London and some parts of BuckinghamshireHertfordshire and Essex in England. It is the oldest underground railway in the world, the first section of which opened in 1863 on what are now the Circle &Hammersmith & City lines and part of the Metropolitan line.[3] In 1890 it became the first to operate electric trains.[4]The whole network is commonly referred to by Londoners and in official publicity as the Tube,[5] although that term originally applied only to the deep-level bored lines, along which run trains of a smaller and more circular cross-section, to distinguish them from the sub-surface “cut and cover” lines that were built first.”    -Wikipedia….



Post Group Tutorial and Friends in Your Field Update

Currently the critical practice body of work is progressing nicely.  I am working on condensing the overall length of the piece from almost 30 minutes of ideas to exactly 10 minutes.  I feel that precise specifications and goals  for the end product will help me define  and push the point.  At times there is almost a sense of rush.  The piece is still focusing on the options of speed in a sound story, with the tube as the main topic.  Separate clips are separated by the click of a tape recorder being turned on and off.  Right now it looks like there will be four clips, the order of which is still being decided.  Real time, fast forward, cuts from real-time similar to film,  non-diegetic music layered in.

John Smith: Unusual Red Cardigan

On  Saturday the 5th of November I traveled to Hoxton, London to the Peer gallery and witnessed John Smith’s exhibition of the Unusual Red Cardigan.  The event is a unique experience as the small gallery is very discrete and tucked away from the busier places of London.  I was buzzed into to an small, almost empty dark room with one other person watching Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum.  The original short film from 1976 was layered over a more recent reshoot in color of the same topic and scene creating a very interesting collage of two films.  I think it can relate to my work in documentary and critical practice as it deals with everyday situations and  documents life in a very objective way.  This is similar to the way I am dealing with the tube.

“Acclaimed artist filmmaker and lifelong east Londoner John Smith will present a major new multi-media installation. His starting point is one of his best-known works, The Girl Chewing Gum, which he made as a student in 1976. Smith revisits this work, both in terms of its continuing legacy and also in a literal sense, filming the same street corner in Dalston 35 years on.  From this video work, Smith then leads us on a narrative journey that explores ideas around identity and anonymity – both his own (as perhaps underlined by the ubiquitousness of his name), and that of his two main protagonists, the girl who chews gum in his film and an on-line seller of his video containing this work.”


Documentary Progress

Shot above shows that material is being collected.  The main issues now are how to edit down the material and what form the documentary should follow.  The goal being 30 minutes makes it difficult to go in a linear fashion through the lines on a sensible and realistic route.  I am dealing with the changes in perspective throughout and still keeping the listener engaged.

I want to showcase individual sounds from most of the lines if possible.  One way to do this is having a sequence where different lines fade in and out over short periods of time to give contrast and draw attention to the uniqueness some of the lines display.

Also, with the recent extensive closures on the weekends it is hard to get an interview with an individual praising the tube. I am getting a lot of frustration from people, which may give this documentary a one-sided view. I was trying to avoid this and keep to an objective balanced capturing of the network that connects london.

Documentary Update

Lately I have been recording hours worth of riding the tube and trying catch interesting conversation, and occasionally interviewing individuals for their opinion of the Underground system.  The goal right now is for a 30 minute sound documentary of the tube.    I was fortunate to be able to talk to a busker who was playing right outside of the Hammersmith station, and therefor outside the boundary where I am not allowed to interview.   For any film or photography the tube officials have to grant permission as well as collect a fee.  I have not paid the fee or received permission to be documenting the tube but the rules do state anything about sound recordings.  Still, I am collecting my sounds somewhat discretely.