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    Different trains: an essay in memorialising

    Frosh, Stephen (2017) Different trains: an essay in memorialising. American Imago 74 (1), pp. 1-22. ISSN 0065-860X.

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    Steve Reich’s Different Trains, a work for string quartet and tape written in 1988, is widely recognised as one of the most significant musical compositions of the last thirty years. Built around speech samples that are mimicked by the quartet, alongside recorded sounds of train whistles and sirens, Different Trains can be an overwhelming experience of mechanical power and also of memory and loss. Reich famously wrote about the central conceit of Different Trains: ‘I travelled back and forth between New York and Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942 accompanied by my governess. While these trips were exciting and romantic at the time, I now look back and think that, if I had been in Europe during this period, as a Jew I would have had to ride very different trains.’ The piece is in three sections. The first, America – Before the war, recalls Reich’s experience travelling between his divorced parents. The second, Europe – During the war uses the sampled speech of three Holocaust survivors to evoke the trains that took so many to their deaths. The third section, After the war, offers some kind of integration of these two experiences, but not a reconciliation. The musical strength of Different Trains is immense. In this paper, however, my interest is more psychoanalytic, focusing on what the piece conveys about the complex issue of how to respond to trauma in ways that balance empathic identification and ‘austere’ separateness and resolve into creative forms of memorialisation.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Steve Reich, Different Trains, Holocaust, memorialisation, psychoanalysis
    School: School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Psychosocial Studies
    Research Centres and Institutes: Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics (MAMSIE)
    Depositing User: Stephen Frosh
    Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2017 13:16
    Last Modified: 10 Jun 2021 10:32


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