Steve Reich's Different Trains, a work for string quartet and tape written in 1988, is widely recognized 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 Different Trains: "I travelled back and forth between New York and Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942…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." This essay focuses on what the piece conveys about responding to trauma in ways that balance empathic identification and austere separateness and resolve into creative forms of memorialization.


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