STEVE REICH — DIFFERENT TRAINS — 2004
The title piece, in fact three successive pieces evoke not only trains, travelling from New York To Los Angeles by train, but also three periods in history, 1- America before the war, 2- Europe During the war and 3- After the war, hence the period from 1939 to 1946. From the train itself Steve Reich keeps the rhythmic harassing, terrorizing lullaby of the shocks of the wheels on the rails, on every juncture between the rails, not to speak of the noise in the train that is trembling, vibrating in all possible way, percolating death at any moment in this living running snake of a train, not to speak of the whistle, and later the noises of the war, of the sirens and other bombings and dramatic yelling, howling. The words now and then tell us something historical, like “Germans invaded Hungary,” and other events of the type, and the fearful and frightened reactions of the child at the time and of the older vampirized man who remembers, recreates, reverberates the past forever in the future. No future, man, no future whatsoever.
To evoke this war in 2004 or any other period decades after it is both nostalgic and enslaving. To commemorate the past dramas, the historic catastrophes is nothing but locking ourselves in some kind of fatality, fate, lot that can only be dramatic again, as if the whole history of the human species was nothing but the deed of some devil in the disguise of some president, priest, pope, general, rabbi, you name it you have it. The man in black of Stephen King, the Dark Man of the same. You must not look back or you will lose your love forever and your wife will be turned into a statue of salt. Any man in a uniform, be it only a suit and a tie is the embodiment and the impersonation of that monster from beyond the limits of sanity. And that’s exactly what this music expresses obsessively and without any possible remission. You are on this train and you have to go on with it. The train is taking you into who knows what and where. The sacrificial millions in Auschwitz arrived on trains. The vacationers after 1936 in France and Germany went on vacation for the first time on trains. Underground trains and subway trains are performing their dictatorship in our lives day after day.
You do not have the train any more to believe that after the war the sirens may have stopped yelling and whistling, but the same obsessive rolling up and rolling down, herd-driving to the slaughterhouse is going on. At the end of the train rhythmic compulsion there is only one issue, one exit, one end: everyone will be put to death by life itself. Is it better to be slaughtered by life than by some weapons and armed guards or soldiers in uniforms or dressed as terrorists or bank robbers? This train metaphor leads to death and that is frightening, sickening, disheartening, insane. Don’t let yourself be attracted, charmed, fascinated, mesmerized by the landscape you can see from the train window. No matter what, no matter when, that train of life will lead you to death. I found the same despairing gloom in many songs by Leonard Cohen but here we have no empathy, no compensation, no escape, no black star, or in fact no star at all. Hallelujah!
First movement: From Chicago to New York. One of the fastest trains. The crack train from New York. From New York to Los Angeles. Different trains every time. From Chicago to New York. In 1939.(Virginia) 1939(Lawrence Davis). 1940. 1941. 1941 I guess it must have been.
Second movement: 1940. On my birthday The Germans walked-walked into Holland Germans invaded Hungary I was in 2nd grade I had a teacher A very tall man, his head was completely plastered smooth He said, “Black Crows- Black Crows invaded our country many years ago” And he pointed right at me No more school You must go away And she said, “Quick, go!” And he said, “Don’t breathe” Into the cattle wagons And for four days and four nights And then we went through these strange sounding names Polish-Polish names Lots of cattle wagons there They were loaded with people They shaved us They tattooed a number on our arm Flames going up in the sky It was smokey
Third movement: Then the war was over Are you sure The war is over Going to America To Los Angeles To New York From New York to Los Angeles One of the fastest trains But today they’re all gone There was one girl who had a beautiful voice And they loved to listen to the singing, The Germans And when she stopped singing they said, “More more,” and they applauded
There is some submissive acceptance of no future, no salvation, no resurrection, no redemption at all in this music and their lyrics. There is no possible compassion for the show that we could pass by and won’t. We are totally enchained in this drama and the drama is drowning us.
But the next piece, a triple piece again, the Triple Quartet is not in any way softened or made more bearable, acceptable, pacifying. The same obsessive compulsive rhythm that will drown us, made us drunk with insane unconsciousness and we will be able to pass to the other side of life, that is death, as if it were just going to sleep for ever and ever. Here and there a more harmonious musical phrase will play the loincloth of horror, the loincloth that will hide the horror of this life. There is nothing but horror in this life and like in Jacques Brel’s song about the “Flat Country of Flanders” ducks have to hang themselves to the clouds and we are these flocks of ducks herded to the hanging cloud cemetery and slaughterhouse. We will all end up dead in this forest of OCD autistic ghost haunted world. Let us die before the end to maybe get out of it and find silence, but we know it will be the silence of death because there cannot be silence in life since life is haunted by the ghosts of all the monsters who have fed their hunger on human flesh.
And the last quadruple piece, the Four Sections, are not worse at all. Just some xylophone player is using his hammer on our bones and ribs to produce a music that is so rhythmically oppressive that we submit and we go to death under the hammering of this lullaby of no hope.
I hate to say it but I feel trumped by this music, trumped and defeated. The game is over. The show is finished and yet it has to go on, so I will be the ghost that will haunt the world and the life of surviving innocent and unconscious virginal minds that can only be blind to the impossible escape and imagine there is some better world beyond the horrific setting of this life.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU