Quatuor Bozzini (the Bozzini Quartet) have tackled both experimental and traditional music in their fairly brief career, but for their second recording, they’ve chosen a piece that falls decisively into the former category.
Composed in 1968, Different Trains addresses several themes, all steeped in history both personal and cultural. Experimental composer/icon Steve Reich spent much of his childhood shuttling between his estranged parents on opposite coasts of the US. During the late 1930s and early ‘40s, when he grew up, this meant lots of time on trains. Reich is also Jewish; in addition to travel, distance and the romanticism of train travel, Different Trains is colored by a deep-rooted awareness of World War II and the spectre of the Holocaust. The war is what divides Different Trains into its three movements: America - Before the War; Europe - During the War; After the War.
The Quartet do an amazing job of evoking train sounds, from the inexorable cycles of the wheels to the shrill whistle blasts. Samples of actual trains from the relevant era are layered beneath the strings, and cut-and-pasted voice recordings reminisce disconnectedly about train routes and the war. The vocal samples are wrangled into a truly musical state, mostly by association; the strings echo the voices’ pitch and tone — going strong and staccato for a male’s clipped accents, legato for a softer, slower female.
Different Trains does what any good piece of music should do: addresses the personal in a larger cultural context. Quatuor Bozzini have done an excellent job of bringing it to life.