Different Trains 1947

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence. To commemorate such a cultural and historical turning-point, the arts institution Metal Liverpool have partnered with the Barbican, Warp Records, and Boiler Room, to present a new interpretation of Steve Reich’s 1988 work Different Trains.

As one of the first pieces outside mainstream music to use sampling, Reich’s original mixed a string quartet with recorded dialogue taken from interviews with Americans and Europeans before, during and after World War II. Based on his own train journeys between his divorced parents based in New York and Los Angeles, Reich reimagined how he, as a Jew, would’ve been sent on trains across Europe during the second world war. The voices on the composition provide melody while speaking on themes of dislocation and railway migration owing to the tumultuous events of the War.

Re-contextualising this work to relate to the Partition-enforced migratory events in 1947 India, musicians Actress, Jack Barnett of These New Puritans, producer Sandunes, percussionist Jivraj Singh, and vocalist Priya Purushothaman have come together to create an entirely new work, inspired by Reich’s score yet shifting focus to Indian independence.

As the original was accompanied by archive footage of the War-era railway, so Different Trains 1947 also incorporates researched and manipulated archival material of India in 1947, as well as interviews with Indians and British Asians living today, woven together by visual artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. Having previously created the Nick Cave film 20 000 Days on Earth, as well as the Gil Scott-Heron documentary Who Is Gil Scott-Heron?, Forsyth and Pollard took on the Different Trains project as a new audio-visual challenge, further exploring their fascinations with the intersections of musical and visual histories.

We spoke to filmmakers Forsyth and Pollard, as well as musicians Jack Barnett and Priya Purushothaman, ahead of a special performance at London’s Barbican, about their approach to reworking Reich’s piece, the challenges and necessities of reinterpretation, and how far the themes of Different Trains still resonate today.

Read the interview in Hero Magazine.

[This piece was published on 29/09/17]