of Electroacoustic Music
Different Trains for string quartet and pre-recorded tape was composed in 1988. It was intended as a step towards a new „documentary music video theater“, a path which originally dates back to the early tape pieces It’s Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966) and lead for instance to the multimedia opera The Cave (premiered in Vienna, 1993). Different Trains was commissioned by Betty Freeman for the Kronos Quartet, and was first performed on November 2, 1988 at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall by Kronos Quartet.
During his childhood, Steve Reich between 1939 and 1942 used to travel by train back and forth between New York and Los Angeles where his divorced parents were living. Reich was between 2 and 5 years old and was accompanied by his governess Virginia Mitchell. In this composition he revisited the experience of traveling in America as a young Jewish boy and put this in contrast with Jewish people being taken by train to concentration camps in Europe at exactly the same time during the war.
The piece is in three movements (played without pauses), which are entitled:
- America – Before the war
- Europe – During the war
- After the war
Reich used various speech materials in the tape, also transcribing them into music. Several fragments of interviews derive from recorded speech of some of the persona that had accompanied his journeys, in particular Virginia Mitchell, who was now in her seventies, and Lawrence Davis, a retired Pullman porter who rode lines between New York and Los Angeles, now in his eighties. He also used the voices of three survivors of the Holocaust, Rachel, Rachella and Paul, who came to America after the war (gathered from tape archives of Holocaust survivors), as well as American and European train sounds of the ‘30s and ‘40s.
The first two voices are used in the first movement, the other three in the second, all of them in the third. The voice fragments in the tape are directly synchronized to the viola and cello parts (the female and the male voices, respectively) in both the first and the second quartet (which are respectively played live and from tape). Other anecdotic sounds are used in the tape, as well; these are rhythmic mechanical train noises, phase shifting bells, as well as different train whistles in different transpositions, which are mounted synchronously to the tape. Sirens, representing sounds of war, are also used in the second part of the composition.
As far as the dramaturgy is concerned, the text in the first movement makes reference to American cities (New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles) and specific dates (from 1939 to 1941) using the voices of Mrs. Mitchell and Mr. Davis. Between the first two movements the sound of sirens, a change to “dark harmonies” and different sounds of train whistles mark the shift from America to Europe. During the second movement Rachel, Rachella and Paul recount some personal experiences of the Holocaust. Both parts have in common a moto perpetuo formed by a paradiddle rhythm, which represents a “train motif”. The third movement refers to the time after the war, when Rachel, Rachella and Paul arrive in America. It exhibits a polyphonic character, and the speech fragments render the full motivic material in contrast to the first two movements, where, although they define tempo and pitch structure, the “paradiddle” pattern remains the rhythmic ground. Additionally, the re-statement of some elements of the first movement («from New York to Los Angeles», «one of the fastest trains») suggest a kind of reprise. Finally, in the coda, the text returns to the war, relating now a short anecdote («There was one girl») in a non-fragmentary way.
The first system of the score includes the material to be played by the live quartet. It also indicates texts in viola and violoncello under the phrases that are synchronously doubling the voices heard on tape. At some places there are also texts notated in the second quartet recorded on tape. Systems two to four describe the sonic material as played by the first channel of the tape (there are three systems throughout the score, only between bars 296 and 369 of the first movement a fourth quartet is played back). The second channel contains the voices and the anecdotic sounds.
The performance material has to be purchased from Boosey & Hawkes. It includes a score, single string parts and an audio CD with the pre-recorded material.
The study pocket score from Boosey & Hawkes (1998, HPS 1168, © 1988 by Hendon Music, Inc. a B&H company) includes the following:
– A “Note by the Composer” in English, German and French: it is dated August 1988 and contains a description of his artistic intentions, of the sonic materials (with a transcription of a voice recording) and of the formal disposition of the piece;
– A “Performance Note”, also in the three languages: four issues regarding setup, sound diffusion, equalization, amplification and mixing are addressed in detail. It includes a “Drawing of the performance setup”. Furthermore, an “Errata and Addendum” is provided as a separate sheet, with a fifth remark concerning the panning of the two-channel tape;
– A “Transcript of Speech Recordings”.
The audio material consists of pre-recorded material performed by the Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch Records 79176-2) in 1989. The Audio CD has three stereo tracks and the stereo channels are laid out as follows: channel 1 contains pre-recorded strings and channel 2 includes the voices, train whistles and sirens. The stereo files have a simple rate of 44.1 KHz/16-bit, with a respective duration of: Track 1: 9’00’’; Track 2: 7’32’’; Track 3: 10’30’’.
In addition to the four string parts and the material cited above, the performance score includes the document “Notes to the Performers” (in English, German and French) containing all five technical remarks.
Paul Sacher Stiftung
- Sketches, Scores (fair copies, drafts), Text Fragments, Press Clippings, List of Performances in USA, Radio Interviews.
- “Work tapes 1/88 – 8/88: Interview with Laurence “Happy” Davies, retired Pullman-Porter, 27.01.1988; V. Mitchell and S. Reich talking about Trains, 15.12.1987; Air Raid Sirens, 1987; “One of the fastest Trains…”: stereo, 2 spur, 38 cm/sec., 27 cm reel, duration: 1. part: 16’34’’; 2. part: 10’23’’;
- “Recording dates back to 22.12.1988. Masterdisk Corporation, NY”: audio cassette, stereo; duration: track 1: 16’32’’; track 2: 10’34’’; track 3: 14’41’’)
- “Performance Tape 1 and 2”: 4 channel tape, 38 cm/sec., 27 cm reel, duration: 1. part: 16’45’’; 2. part: 10’30’’
Authorial / Editorial instruction
With respect to the spatial disposition of the musicians and the technical equipment, there is a graphic chart in the score (Performance Notes); the players should be positioned in the usual quartet setting. They should be provided with two monitor speakers. Two additional speakers in front of the audience should be placed at the sides of the stage. The author provides indications about the possible levels of amplification and equalization, leaving a certain amount of freedom to the performer of the electronic part.
The synchronization is based on the pre-recorded strings heard through monitors. Adapting it to their needs, violins will get more of the left channel (strings), viola and cello more of the right channel (voices). Reich recognizes that the monitors play an active role also as diffusers, since the volume needed for monitoring purposes implies a significant loudness. No click-track is given, nor is the use of headphones allowed for monitoring purposes.
Reich asks for a close amplification, obtained by using, where possible, Lavalier-style microphones, in order to be able to increase the gain and to reduce the risk of feedback. The panning of the sound diffusion should mirror the placement of the instruments on stage.
Reich asks for active mixing in concert both of live instruments and pre-recorded voices, following the principle according to which there should be no ambiguity as to what is pre-recorded and what is played live. He also by and large recommends to play the recorded voices louder with respect to the pre-recorded strings, and to work carefully on equalization, in order to compensate for the documentary-like quality of the voice recordings, to support the live viola and cello and to reduce the any eventual sharpness of the live violins. In general, a clear distinction between the “bolder” live strings and the more distant pre-recorded strings should be achieved.
The study on the performance of this piece showed several issues.
Firstly, understanding the words might become particularly critical in the last third of the second movement. This is also due to the fact that in the second movement the fragments are rarely repeated. Therefore, the fifth “performance note”, about monitoring and routing, is particularly important with regard to this issue. The prescription implies that in any case both performers and audience get a different panning of the tape: the “more or less” centered panning (note #5) applies only to the front loudspeakers, not to the monitors, which should be separated and adjusted according to the needs of the players (note #3). In this case a suitable position of monitors and a good balance between monitoring and front system is needed in order to give to the audience a compact sound image of the tape where the pre-recorded voice is predominant.
Secondly, carrying out tests with an additional center speaker hanging from the ceiling in two different Halls (ZHdK concert halls 1 and 3) provided a more stable sound image and better intelligibility of the words in the noisy documentary fragments compared to the setup proposed by the composer. Another possible solution in order to achieve clarity could be placing a central loudspeaker on the floor at the edge of the stage. In any case, whether using a center speaker or not, it is recommendable to time-align the front and center speakers with the monitor speakers to increase speech intelligibility.
Thirdly, the question whether viola and violoncello need more voice (doubling) or more strings (synchronization) in their monitoring was discussed with the musicians. Mixing the voice in and out in the monitors, too, and not only in the front loudspeakers, was a good compromise. According to the recommendations, Lavalier microphones were used for the amplification of the instruments. During the rehearsals and concert, a little bit of reverb was added to the instruments and routed to the main system left/right and to two speakers on the left and right side in order to “integrate” the sound.
Finally, as far as tuning is concerned, it is advisable to tune the instruments as 440 Hz, since measurements showed this to be the tuning of the pre-recorded instruments.
Aschheim, Victoria; Dubnow, Simone. Searing memory with the document: Gerhard Richter’s early photo-paintings and Steve Reich’s “Different Trains”, Cambridge: Harvard College, 2010
Cumming, Naomi, The Horror of Identification: Reich’s Different Trains, in Perspectives of New Music, 35/1 (1997), pp. 129-152.
Dadelsen, Hans Christian von, Diesseits und jenseits von Raum und Zeit: Steve Reichs ‘Different Trains’, in Nähe und Distanz. Nachgedachte Musik der Gegenwart, ed. Wolfgang Gratzner, Hofheim: Wolke, 1996, pp. 235–246.
Fox, Christopher, Steve Reich’s Different Trains, Tempo, 172 (1990), pp. 2–8.
Reich, Steve, Different Trains (1988), in Writings on Music 1965–2000, ed. and introduction Paul Hillier, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 151-155.
Gratzner, Wolfgang, Answer to Questions about ‘Different Trains’ (1994). Interview with Steve Reich, in Writings on Music 1965–2000, ed. and introduction Paul Hillier, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 180-183.
Miklaszewska, Joanna, Contemporary Music Documenting the Nazi Terror: Steve Reich’s Different Trains, in The Polish Journal of the Arts and Culture, 8/5 (2013), pp. 223-234.
Potter, Keith, Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Cambridge 2000.
Reich, Steve. Concerning ‘Different Trains’, in Nähe und Distanz. Nachgedachte Musik der Gegenwart, ed. Wolfgang Gratzner, Hofheim: Wolke, 1996, pp. 224-233.
Schwarz K. Robert, Minimalists, London: Phaidon Press, 1996.
Wlodarski, Amy Lynn, The Testimonial Aesthetics of ‘Different Trains’, in Journal of the American Musicological Society, 63/1 (Spring 2010), pp. 99-141.
Kim R. Y., From New York to Vermont: Conversation with Steve Reich, http://www.stevereich.com/articles/NY-VT.html [21.03.2015].
CD releases (selection)
Elektra Nonesuch Records 79176-2 (1989), Performer: Kronos Quartet,
Format: stereo; SR/bit depth: 44.1 kHz/16 bit; Duration: 8’59, 7’31, 10’20
|Type||String quartet and pre-recorded performance tape|
|Publisher||Boosey & Hawkes|
|Renter||Boosey & Hawkes, HPS 1168, © 1988|
|Format||Score + CD|
|SR/Bittiefe||48 Hz /16 Bit|
|Duration||Track 1. 9:00; Track 2. 7:32; Track 3. 10:30|
|Paul Sacher Stiftung||Drafts and sketches; Audio material|
Commercial releases (selection)
|Elektra Nonesuch 1989||Elektra Nonesuch Records 79176-2, Kronos Quartet.|