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.



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