on March 11, 2003
Different Train is one of Steve Reich's most talked-about pieces. It was inspired by his personal memories of his experience as a child riding trains a lot all over the United States to visit each of his divorced parents, & also interviews he did with holocaust survivors about their experiences aboard European trains in WWII. The string quartet's job is mostly to match speech melody, & there are other trainy sounds mixed in, too. The music is very muscular, very compelling.
Electric Counterpoint is some of Reich's most beautiful music if you ask me. Each note is absolutely clear; the music changes gradually in increments with great awareness of keeping the listener never bored but always interested. The guitar virtuosity of Pat Metheny does a lot for the piece, too. For one thing, Reich finished his drafts of the music with Metheny telling him where the notes could go given the physical shape of guitars. For me, Electric Counterpoint is probably much more enjoyable to listen to than Different Trains. Wonderful music.
Different Trains is an important Reich piece to be familiar, but I'd even highly recommend this cd just for Electric Counterpoint. This cd is very high on the list of Steve Reich cd's to get.
on June 17, 2001
This was always going to be a controversial album. Wherever Pat Metheny treads, he brings fans. Some may be disappointed to hear their axe hero performing a piece by another composer which offers scant opportunity for the musician's individuality to shine through. Some may bypass the Kronos Quartet piece altogether, thinking the use of the Casio FZ-1 sampler somewhat elementary compared to the sounds Metheny has extracted over the years from his beloved Synclavier.
But if they did that, they would be missing a treat. 'Different Trains' is almost Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" with a point of view. Rhythmic trains sounds are generated by a classical string quartet. The sampled voice-overs don't always work for me -- I would imagine this was the first and last record Reich's governess would ever provide the vocals for -- but there is deep emotion in the recollections of the Holocaust survivors. After the intro, the best movement is track #3, 'After the War'.
Prior to 'Electric Counterpoint', Reich had written mainly for keyboard, hammered instruments and percussion. The piece is credited solely to Reich, but both Reich and Metheny have admitted that Pat provided considerable guidance on what would be unplayable on guitar. It is typical of the Reich brand of hypnotic music, and it is outstanding. Reich has specified that in order to perform it live, the soloist should pre-record up to ten guitar tracks and two electric bass parts, and then play the final 11th guitar part live against the tape. But it would be fascinating to hear the results if the whole thing was performed live by a 13-piece band -- two bassists and 11 guitarists! Chaos perhaps?!
If you like this type of music, then my recommendation, as ever, is to buy either version of 'Music for 18 Musicians'. Reich still hasn't done better than this 1978 masterpiece.
on September 19, 2000
As I listen to Different Trains for the hundredth time, I reflect upon what this music means to me. I don't think I had ever experienced anything quite like it before...
It's magic, I believe... How else could something so distant and far gone come back to life through music? How else could something we all try to remove from our spoiled memories drill its way into our heads? How else could music be so powerful as to force us to admit: "it's true, it all really happened"? All of a sudden it's real, more real than it had ever been before. Holocaust, that is.
The twentieth century was the century of sight, they say... Photography, the cinema and TV have made our vision keener. This is good, no doubt, but there are counterparts. Through television, our eyes have gotten to be so familiar with death and the horrors of war, they no longer move our brains, or hearts. It all looks the same, therefore it all feels the same. Like fiction.
Steve Reich asks us not to look, or watch, or even "see," but to close our eyes and listen carefully for once... It's music, he has in store for us, but not the music we are used to... You see, art has no "ethical sympathies," says Oscar Wilde (and I agree with him). So music - perhaps art's most sublime form - should be concerned with Beauty and not with Reality. And that's the way it is, usually, and rightly so. I believe in Aesthetics, and I wouldn't want music to become a political ground. But if someone comes along who manages to combine beautiful music with Reality - or rather, to make a "documentary in music" - there can't possibly be any harm in that...
On the contrary, I believe, it can open a new channel into our hearts, pierce our recalcitrant consciences, allowing them to bleed at last. Different Trains, in my case at any rate, succeeded in doing just that. It threw History right at me, and it hurt - but oh so beautifully... It felt good letting it all out. It felt like through "hearing" my eyes could regain their power, and "see" what had always been there.
on February 24, 1999
Having never been a major aficionado of Minimalist music, my first real introduction to it was via Godfrey Reggio's movie Koyaanisqatsi. The soundtrack to that film, by Philip Glass, was enthralling. It made me seek out his and other composer's music. As part of that search, I picked up Steve Reich's Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint recording about ten years ago. I included it, almost as an afterthought, as part of one of those mail order "buy 10 CDs for a penny!" promotions. The last thing I wrote on the order card, I remember, was this Steve Reich CD. My thought at the time was, "Oh well, I don't know what he sounds like, but it should be interesting." Guess which recording, among all of those I got through that mail order fiasco, is the only one that I still listen to regularly? You got it, Steve Reich's Different Trains. I didn't realize what I was getting. . . . It took time to grow on me. I listened to it maybe three or four times that first year. It was typical minimalist fare; repetitive sound images flowing and changing in organic patterns. It is only now, 10 years later, that I can comprehend what is happening on this CD. Somehow, Steve Reich managed to take the often starkly cold patterns and theories of Minimalism and infuse them with immense humanity. The two separate pieces: "Different Trains" and "Electric Counterpoint" are widely different in tone and intent, but work together strangely well. "Different Trains" is a combination of oversampled recordings by the Kronos Quartet, the recordings of trains, and sound bites from interviews with people who rode on trains during the 1940s. The speech recordings provide 10 or 15 simple phrases such as ". . . from Chicago to New York." These phrases provide the tonal images that are the 'melody' of the piece. The slow transition from people speaking about traveling in American trains to a sudden realization that one is now listening to Holocaust survivors speaking about trains that run to death camps is heart breaking. The second piece, Electric Counterpoint, is a massively oversampled piece built up from the recordings of the guitar work of Pat Metheny. Electric Counterpoint is optimistic, flowing, and surprisingly energetic. I heartily recommend this recording as a masterpiece of 20th century composition and performance. I listen to it at least once a month just for the shear joy it provides.
on April 4, 2002
This is perhaps both Reich's best work and the Kronos Quartet's finest performance. Different Trains is simply phenomenal. The piece consists of short "pitched" fragments of interviews Reich conducted, with always one instrument doubling the voice on the same pitch, over a quasi-minimalist texture with a few additional sounds (train whistles and such) in the background. The subject matter is train rides before, during, and after World War II, with the middle section obviously involving Holocaust stories. Uplifting, mesmerizing, heart-breaking, this piece is a must-have. Kronos is at their best, playing with great rhythmic clarity and an unusually nice sound for them.
Electric Counterpoint is a nice addition to this disc. While it doesn't have the emotional content of Different Trains, it certainly provides an enjoyable listening experience. A reviewer below with more knowledge than I of the electric guitar and this performer has gone into greater detail.
on February 27, 2004
Steve Reich can be undigestable at times and not the easiest of composers to listen to, it's as if your listening to a record with the needle sticking to the groove with very little developement...so it's safe to say that you certainly have to be in a certain mood to appreciate this kind of music but it does have it's rewards. The c.d is divided up into two sections, "Different Trains" with the Kronos Quartet as good as usual. The momentum of the music depicts the progression of trains through out America and Europe and what they represent, human voices reciting historical dates.
The second work on the disc "Electric Counterpoint" almost seems as though it doesn't belong on the same disc but it's in my opinion the diamond in the rough. I have been a Pat Metheny fan long before Steve Reich and it's the main driving point in owning the disc, brilliant guitar playing.
on June 24, 2002
I would like to love this CD. I have always admired Reich. And the concept is powerful. The Kronos quartet pairs with prerecorded sounds of steam engines to compare the composer's early love of trains with the trains in Europe taking Jews to the gas chamber. Powerful idea. But for me, minimalism just doesn't have the dramatic oomph to deal with the subject matter and so the piece feels like an "idea" rather than an emotional response to the holocaust. The second work on the disc, Electric Counterpoint, also seems to be treading water. The material doesn't feel much different from Reich's more ground breaking work of the early 60s and 70s.
All and all, for me this is a disappointing recording.
on May 13, 2003
Reich often provides his listeners an inward journey, but this journey on different trains tells a story. The liner notes tell of his riding trains in the United States back and forth between family and parallels the events happening in Europe during World War II. It is strongly affective.
Too, the Pat Metheny performance on this work is lyrical, and though I was first a Reich fan before I fell for Metheny's work, I think that Pat has imparted some wisdom for Steve in changing this work to be more "idiomatic" of the soul of the guitar.
One of my favorite Reich albums.
on July 5, 1999
The outstanding sounds of this albums makes you feel very strange. The first part (Different Trains) is a musical version of history. Is learning more about the Holocaust and the suffering of the jewish people in WWII; a story told by a mute witness of the events: the train. Electric Counterpoint is the second part of the album and it gives to the listener a moment of peace after the previous tracks. Pat Metheny's fingers dance on the strings as on every interpretation made by him. The whole composition is fabulous, Reich is one of the genious in Twentieth Century.
on October 18, 1999
I originally heard about this CD from the Kronos Quartet's best of album: "Released," which includes "America Before the War." Although beautiful in and of itself, the true brilliance of Reich's composition comes from the juxtaposition of alternating domestic, wartime, and domestic imagery in the respective movements. I was familiar with Electric Counterpoint from samples in albums by the Orb, but the samples obviously did not retain the sensitivity of the original composition. I could not give this album a higher recommendation