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Reich: Different Trains, Electric Counterpoint / Kronos Quartet, Pat Metheny
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Different Trains (1988) will probably go down in history as Reich's masterpiece. And deservedly so. Reich's phase-shifting minimalism is made dazzlingly entertaining in Different Trains, which is scored for string quartet and digitally sampled voices that repeat bits of speech concerning trains and Reich's experience with them growing up. The sinister part here is than some trains carried Jews to death camps. That's here as well. The Kronos Quartet has also never sounded better. Electric Counterpoint (1987) has one guitar--Pat Metheny in this case-- playing to 10 pre-recorded motifs, also on guitar. You absolutely need this. --Paul Cook

Customer Reviews:

  • good Steve Reich to have
    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....more info

  • Couldn't ask for more
    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...more info
  • It Just Misses for Me
    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....more info

  • Great stuff
    Different Trains never really floated my boat. Past the novelty of synching the quartet with the voice recordings, there isn't really a lot there when compared to his acclaimed Music for 18 Musicians.

    Electric Counterpoint, on the other hand, is phenominal. It's a wonderful blend of minimalist rhythm with human chords, overtones, and harmony. Worth getting by itself. The third part, though it's only 4:17, is easily the standout piece on the CD....more info

  • Different Trains
    This was my first time listening to minimalism and this is incredible. "Different Trains" is very well written....more info
  • An extended exercise in pointlessness
    Most of the reviewers of this product have been admirers of Steve Reich's work, and I imagine that most people who have read this far will also be fans of the guy, so I hope that nobody will offended if I offer a minority opinion.

    I am not an admirer of Steve Reich's work. I am not a fan of minimalist music in general, although I have enjoyed some recordings of earlier Philip Glass (such as the original version of "Einstein on the Beach") for their sheer energy. When it comes to twentieth-century composers, I listen to the stuff that people like Reich and Glass were originally in reaction to: Schoenberg, Webern, Boulez. If we're talking about American composers, give me Nancarrow, Zappa and even Cage.

    I have listened to this CD on various occasions, invariably in other people's houses, and I am frankly baffled why anyone could want to listen to something that makes your playback equipment sound faulty. The lack of variety, the slow rate of change, the things that people who like Reich's music prize in his work, seem to me to be obvious flaws. I am, simply, at a loss to understand not only why anyone would want to write music like this in the first place but also why anyone else would want to listen to it. In "Different Trains", the ways in which the strings replicate the tones of the sampled voices seems to me a gimmick. It's cute for about a minute but it then becomes quickly boring, and after that maddeningly annoying.

    This is of course because I am averse to minimalism generally. Rock music (which I like) can of course be minimalist, but decent rock music has an excitement and energy that I don't find in Reich's music. The only emotion that Reich's music inspires in me is a strong wish to turn it off. Frank Zappa summed it up for me in his one-word dismissal of minimalist music in general: "monochromonotony".

    So, if you like listening to the aural equivalent of a Carl Andre arrangement of bricks, good luck to you. Happy listening. I do not want to spoil your enjoyment of this music, but I regret the overwhelming dominance of minimalism as the form of serious music most sponsored by major record companies from the late 70s to relatively recently. It's easy to see why Reich and Glass could be made into superstars; their music is mostly bland, banal and inoffensive and does not - unlike the work of Webern, Nancarrow or Zappa - demand active listening. You can put it on in the background and ignore it. In the meantime, far more inventive and involving music was being written, and major record companies wouldn't go near it. But that's CBS's and Nonesuch's fault more than it is Reich's.

    I still can't stand his records, though. ...more info
  • Lyrical work
    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....more info

  • a passage to the underworld, and a ride back to life
    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....more info

  • Breathtaking and Emotional
    I heard "Before the War" in a Music class I was recently enrolled in. I thought the use of word painting to convey the sense of trains was fantastic, so i bought the album and checked it out. I hadn't head anything by Reich before, but I am so happy I bought this album.

    It isn't for your casual listener. Don't expect to play this CD and hear a variety of melodies and arrangements. Different Trains uses minimalism to convey an experience that takes you through all aspects of World War II. The pieces also uses clips from interviews Reich conducted with people who lived through the times. At different times, Reich will sample these clips in the music, while the melody imitates. The second piece, During the War, immediately changes mood with its blaring sirens and darker overtones. The resolution, After the War, wraps it all up perfectly.

    This is truly a remarkable album, and I recommend it for anybody who wants to experience an amazing story through deep music. Electric Counterpoint, while not as captivating as Trains, is also a fantastic piece to listen to alone with your eyes closed. Let this music overtake you. ...more info
  • A masterpiece of humanized Minimalism
    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....more info
  • Essential Steve Reich
    The two works on this disc are essential listening for anyone with even the slightest interest in Steve Reich. For those who don't know the composer, there are perhaps easier places to start - the Music for Mallet Instruments, Octet, Music for 18 Musicians, for instance.

    It's now nearly 20 years since these pieces were recorded. Different Trains juxtaposes the Kronos Quartet with taped railway announcements, words overheard on trains, lines relating to train journeys etc. Throughout, there's a true integration of the form, since the strings pick up rhythmic and melodic lines from the spoken words, develop them, amplify them.

    Electric Counterpoint is performed on an electric guitar. Pat Metheney plays against pre-recorded tapes to create something like a complex - but surprisingly easy on the ear - fugue (well, canon).

    I have one criticism of the disc in that I have always found the recording quality of Different Trains just too much "in the face". It's too close for my liking, but the problem isn't great enough to detract from the playing or the piece.
    ...more info
  • Different Albums
    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....more info

  • Different Trains is the canonical Reich piece
    It's beautiful, dramatic, minimalist in concept, and complex in soundscape. The Kronos Quartet does a great job with this chamber music material. Trains in the US and trains in the Holocaust. The sounds of passengers and conductors. The trains themselves....more info