REICH WTC 9/11. Different Trains
Steve Reich began transforming speech into music in the mid 1960s. I vividly remember my first encounter with Come Out (1966) as a young music student, and how my initial reaction of dismissive exasperation quickly changed to one of mesmerised delight. Come Out worked its magic through overlapping loops of the spoken phrase ‘come out to show them’ moving out of phase, so that the actual meaning of the words became subsumed in musical abstraction.
In Different Trains (1988), Reich drastically changed course, using the cadence of spoken phrases to generate melodic ideas. The problem here is that the highly charged expressive content of the words is rarely matched by the musical outcome, and particularly when the subject is genocide – or, in the case of WTC 9/11 (2010), terrorism.
Both Different Trains and WTC 9/11 were written for, premiered and recorded by the Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch, 6/89, 11/11). The former has since been recorded by several other ensembles as well; but, as it is reliant on an existing soundtrack consisting of spoken phrases, special effects and a pre-recorded multitrack part for string quartet, the room for interpretative license is slim.
For this Megadisc release, the Quatour Tana worked with audio engineer Philippe Muller. Both works were recorded in a concert-hall setting with the pre-recorded portions played back on ATOHM loudspeakers while the quartet played live, as it were. The result gives the quartet more sonic presence, which – for better or for worse, depending on how you feel about these works – highlights the musical content rather than the texts. The Tana are not as rhythmically taut as the Kronos (or the London Steve Reich Ensemble in Different Trains – Warner, 11/11), but make up for this with playing that’s admirably supple and tonally variegated.