Different Trains

Steve Reich

Different Trains has been performed in Berlin, Harrington, Jonquière, Kortrijk, Montréal, Ottawa and Saint-Irénée…

In Different Trains, I use a new method of composing that has its origins in my previous compositions for magnetic tapes: It’s Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966). The general idea is to use recordings of conversations as musical material.

The idea for this composition comes from my childhood. When I was 1 year old, my parents separated. My mother moved to Los Angeles and my father stayed in New York. As they took turns looking after me from 1939 to 1942, I regularly commuted by train between New York and Los Angeles, accompanied by my housekeeper. Although those trips were exciting and romantic at the time, I now think that as a Jew — if I had been in Europe during that period — I would probably have taken quite different trains. With this in mind, I wanted to write a work that accurately expressed this situation. This is what I did to prepare the tape:

  1. I recorded my housekeeper Virginia, now in her seventies, who recalls our train journeys.
  2. I recorded a former sleeping car employee on the New York-Los Angeles line, now retired and over eighty years old: Mr. Lawrence Davis, who tells his life story.
  3. I have collected recordings of Holocaust survivors: Rachella, Paul and Rachel, all about my age and now living in America, who talk about their experiences.
  4. I have collected recorded sounds of American and European trains from the 1930s and 1940s.

In order to combine conversations on tape and string instruments, I selected brief examples of speeches, with varying degrees of tone difference, and transcribed them as accurately as possible into musical notation.

Then the string instruments literally imitate the melody of the speech. The conversation examples and train noises were transferred to magnetic tape using keyboard sampling and a computer. Three separate string quartets were also added to the pre-recorded tape and the final quartet, played by musicians, was added during the concert.

Different Trains consists of three movements; movement being taken here in the broadest sense of the word because the tempi change frequently in each movement: America; Before the war Europe; During the war; After the war

This composition is therefore a reality both on a documentary and musical level and opens a new direction. It is a direction that will soon lead, I hope, to a new kind of multi-media theater combining documentary, music and video.

[Note translated from the IRCAM website: brahms.ircam.fr/works/work/11259/]

Different Trains

  • Steve Reich
  • Year of composition: 1988
  • Duration: 27:02
  • Instrumentation: string quartet, stereo fixed medium [three pre-recorded string quartets] and stereo fixed medium


On disc


31 July 2004
Harrington (Québec)
5 Nove 2004
Série QB
Montréal (Québec)
6 Nove 2004
Série QB
Montréal (Québec)
21 May 2005
Jonquière (Québec)
2 Octo 2006
8:00 pm
Berlin (Germany)
12 Janu 2008
8:00 pm
Série QB
Montréal (Québec)
3 Augu 2008
8:00 pm
Ottawa (Ontario, Canada)
3 May 2015
2:00 pm
Kortrijk (Belgium)
15 June 2018
4:00 pm
RadfordReichTorres Maldonado
Saint-Irénée (Québec)
23 Nove 2020
7:30 pm
Montréal (Québec)