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Review: Steve Reich & Bill Morrison, Different Trains Live

Different Trains Live
Metal Liverpool
, 15th September-15th October 2016

Review, Ilona Walker
Pictures, Mark McNulty

On Thursday 28th October, Metal Liverpool was host to Steve Reich’s Grammy-award winning ‘Different Trains being played live by members of the London Contemporary Orchestra and Sound Intermedia and for the first time accompanied by a new film, specially commissioned from Bill Morrison.

An uneven patch of cobbled ground in between two train tracks provided the stage for the event. After a short introduction by Metal founder Jude Kelly OBE, Mats Bergström performed Reich’s ‘Electric Counterpoint’, before ‘Different Trains’ and its accompanying film were under way; a montage of black and white archive footage, depicting trains and the people who used them in the context of the Second World War.

This venue choice, together with the anticipation of the premiered, live, audio-visual  performance, certainly gathered a lot of attention, and the sellout crowd (among whom the directors of Tate Liverpool and FACT could be spotted, along with BBC 6 Music’s Stuart Maconie) buzzed with expectation.

The handout provided at the venue entrance described the moment the first ever passenger train passed through Edge Hill station in 1830 as ‘altering the course of human experience forever’. Through staging the performance – a three-movement piece for string quartet and tape that uses snippets of verbal archive, recounting memories of Europe and the US before, during, and after the Second World War – at the world’s oldest active train station, Edge Hill, Metal was hoping to tap into this piece of local heritage and draw a parallel between the theme of the piece and the performance’s location.

As it turned out the venue was nothing short of a strike of genius; the ground rumbling with the sound of real-life trains going past, while images of trains and train tracks were shown onscreen, brought the subject of the performance starkly to life.This was none more tangible during the composition’s second movement, where the piece focuses on Europe during the war. Arresting images of Jews being loaded on to and off of cattle wagons, and children in concentration camps showing their tattooed ID number to the camera, all chimed perfectly with the live violins and verbal archive.

In the third movement, After the War, the film returned to images of gleaming, straight tracks and complex junctions. And with it, visible prosperity, a clear indication of a resolution. Despite a total performance time of just under an hour the crowd seemed more than satisfied, and were encouraged to stay on for a celebration.

Metal is to be commended for staging such a momentous event that received national recognition, with national press, including, Channel 4 News and The Guardian helping to publicise the event. The performance is available to view for free as an installation at Metal until the 15th of October.