27 June 2009

Different Trains

"Different Trains began because of my childhood four-day train trips across America between my divorced parents. There was also the American tradition of train songs: 'John Henry', 'Night Train', 'Soul Train', 'Chattanooga Choo Choo'. I got recordings of American and European trains. Then I started making recordings of my childhood nanny, Virginia, who accompanied me, and Mr Davis, a retired Pullman Porter from that era. I then realised these were the same years that Hitler was taking over Europe and killing every Jew he could find. So I went to sound archives of holocaust survivors speaking about what happened to them – and the trains they rode. Then I set myself a rule: don't change the pitch of the voices by using a computer. This was an homage from the living to the dead and I had to preserve the integrity of all the voices. So every time there is a new speaker, there is a different tempo and a different key. And that constraint forced me into coming up with a completely different musical work, one that both looked back to my earliest work with speech tape-loops, and forward to what I would do in the future with video artist Beryl Korot. If someone had suggested that I write 'a piece about the Holocaust' I'd have said 'absolutely no' – it's too enormous to presume to deal with. But, just as I was using the actual voices of my nanny and the Pullman Porter talking about their lives, I could use the actual voices of Holocaust survivors talking about their lives as well. This created a piece where the documentary reality and the musical reality become one and the same. And if it works – and I believe it does – that's why." ~ Steve Reich
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* From The Guardian here.

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