Chris Watson - El Trein Fantasma

Now and again you are hit by the rhythmic power of the sounds... El Divisadero - which comes on like a phantom of Kraftwerk’s Metal on Metal. The echo of the sleepers is also a powerful percussive element on Mexico DF, but this is on the whole an unhurried, silent and powerful recording. And very highly recommended.

 

 

Touch Records / http://www.konkurrent.nl

 

It doesn’t sound the most promising of recommendations for the casual general listener – go on, listen to a set of recordings of a train journey through Mexico, it’s great. Outside of rail enthusiasts (yes there are people who do this – and I know some who collect LPs of train noises) and old Cabaret Voltaire fans (yes, the LP is created by THAT Chris Watson), I would be hard pressed to find an obvious “target market” for this LP.

But you should give it a listen; regardless of impressions. It’s not an ambient record as such - the sounds are often too definite – the beginning of the journey is signalled blatantly in La Annunciante (“last call for the ghost train”) though you could, given some perseverance - approach it as an ambient LP. And there is a clear narrative, the journey itself. No, this is closer to what Billy Drummond was driving at with his project The 17: the idea of random sounds being beautiful, the notion that sound itself doesn’t have to be arranged or pre-determined for it to be stimulating or moving as a “piece” or “concept”. As such, the LP reminds me of a time when having missed the last train from Amsterdam to Leiden we sat on Amdam’s freezing Central Station, slowly being hypnotised by the clanks thumps and metallic rhythms of a large train-like vehicle that seemed to be mending the track. It was a beautiful, indescribable moment a portal seldom glimpsed sonic world that is promoted here.

I have a strong suspicion that Watson is trying to overawe us with the vast space of Mexico; the idea that once you’re out of this train, you’re meat for the birds.  There’s hazy, languid air to this record; it does feel deserted and at times pretty foreboding (Los Mochis and Sierra Tarahumara). Birds, flies, farmyard animal noises rule only rarely do humans interject, and then most often through the agency of the machinery associated with the railway (listen to the echoing clanks and groans on Chihuahua – or the interplay of wind and train, as on Aguascalintes).

Now and again you are hit by the rhythmic power of the sounds:  one knock out track that gives a feeling of structure and direction is El Divisadero - which comes on like a phantom of Kraftwerk’s Metal on Metal. The echo of the sleepers is also a powerful percussive element on Mexico DF, but this is on the whole an unhurried, silent and powerful recording. And very highly recommended.